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Storm clouds remain over health care debate as legislative session begins

PETITION0529 RN CTJFor the first time in 12 years, Florida ended its regular session without a state budget, prompting legislators to reconvene — starting Monday — to finish the work.

But in a fitting nod to the atmospherics, the opening day of the three-week special session is also the official opening of the hurricane season — and the health care debate that sidetracked the state’s $80 billion budget debate continues to spawn political storms.

As of Friday, legislators did not have agreement on the size of the health care-induced budget hole, which means they can’t start budget negotiations. They don’t agree on how to craft a long-term fix to provide health insurance to the uninsured.

They agree tax cuts are good. But, because of the health care conflict, they don’t agree on how much they can afford this year. And the question of how much money to direct to Amendment 1, the water and land-buying initiative approved by 75 percent of voters last fall, is mired amid discord over whether to use it to buy land to clean the Everglades.

“We know how to get this done from where we are. It just may require a lot more compromise," said an optimistic Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, House Appropriations Committee chairman, believes there is middle ground. “We’re all in agreement we’ll get a budget," he said. “What we don’t agree on is how much flexibility to give each side to get there.”

The session begins at 1 p.m. Monday. The House will begin by scheduling a hearing on the Senate’s health insurance reform plan called the Florida Health Insurance Exchange, or FHIX — something it refused to do during the regular session.

More here.

Photo: Petitioners gather last week outside the office of Rep. Jose Oliva, the Miami Republican whose districts includes some of the highest number of uninsured in the state.