Florida Legislative Session Wraps: Medicaid, Early Voting, Budget & More

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By: Garin Flowers

Tallahassee, Fla. -- After a whirlwind of activity, the 2013 Florida Legislative Session has officially ended.

Several bills are on their way to the Governor, but other issues weren't solved.

All day people were saying Sine Die, a phrase signifying the close of the legislative session, and even with the big accomplishments, one big issue still lingers.

With the drop of the handkerchiefs, the 2013 Legislative Session came to an end tonight.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford congratulated each other.

They both vowed to make this session smoother, and it seemed to be just that, wrapping at 7 p.m., which is earlier than previous years.

"You are a great man Senate President; thank you very much for being a great friend," Will Weatherford, House Speaker, said.

Then Governor Rick Scott crashed the party.

"We dramatically increased the funding for education and were giving our classroom teachers a pay raise," Rick Scott, Governor, Florida, said.

Pay raises for teachers was one big accomplishment for the legislative budget that passed, but session also ended with unfinished business.

Legislators did not agree on a plan for extended medicaid.

Governor Scott has the authority to call a special meeting for legislators to gather again; if that happens it could be any time in the summer or fall.

Associated Press Release

No Medicaid decision from Fla. Legislature

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Democratic leaders want Gov. Rick Scott to veto the state budget or call a special session after the Legislature adjourned without passing an expansion of the state's Medicaid plan.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said some low-income Floridians are not benefiting from the budget.

In an unusual alliance, Scott, Senate Republicans, Democrats, Florida hospitals, health advocates and a diverse mix of business and labor groups all supported a bill that would have drawn down more than $50 billion from the federal government over the next decade. That would have allowed an estimated 1.1 million low-income Floridians to purchase private insurance.

But the Florida House leaders refused to consider that proposal, saying they didn't want to take funds tied to President Barack Obama's health care plan.

Associated Press Release

Legislature passes bill to extend early voting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A bill that would expand early voting days and sites is now heading to Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

The House and Senate approved the bill Friday, the last day of the legislative session. It would allow elections supervisors to hold up to 14 days of early voting instead of the current eight days. It also would expand sites where early voting can be held.

The bill (HB 7013) attempts to address problems with long lines and counting delays that once again made Florida the butt of late night television jokes during the presidential election.

The bill was passed two years after the Republican-led Legislature and Scott cut early voting from 14 days to eight.

The bill would also move back the presidential primary to comply with national party rules.

Associated Press Release

Fla. Legislature passes 74.5 billion budget

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Legislature is sending a $74.5 billion state budget to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida Senate passed the budget by unanimous vote. The Florida House then approved the measure 106-11.

Flush with cash for the first time in seven years, the budget includes more than $1 billion for public schools.

It also includes a state worker pay raise and money for teacher pay raises.

Legislators included a 3 percent tuition hike for college and university students. Scott has remained steadfastly opposed to tuition hikes.

The budget does not include any federal aid to cover additional people under Medicaid, a key component of the federal health care overhaul.

But lawmakers kept intact a benefit that allows top state officials to pay very little for their own health insurance.

Associated Press Release

Cancer treatment bill clears Fla. Legislature

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida lawmakers have passed legislation that would require health insurers to provide the same level of coverage for cancer treatments given orally as those drugs administered intravenously.

The measure (HB 1159) cleared its final votes in the House and Senate shortly before the 60-day session Friday evening. The legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.

The cancer coverage proposal was championed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican whose mother died of cancer.

An emotional Benacquisto was hugged by several of her colleagues after the Senate passed the bill on a 37-2 vote.

The cancer treatment provisions were tucked into a larger bill dealing with several health-care issues.

Cancer medications in pill form are often much more expensive than those drugs given intravenously.

Associated Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The 60-day legislative session is coming to an end as lawmakers plan to vote on a budget and scramble to get other bills passed before going home.

Friday will be the last day of a session that has already seen several major bills signed into law, including a ban on Internet cafes that offer slot machine-like games, a wide-ranging ethics bill, an increase in campaign contribution limits and more.

But the Legislature still has to pass the budget -- the only thing it's required to do each year. And there are many other bills lawmakers hope to get to Gov. Scott's desk -- not the least of which is an elections bill that will allow an expansion of early voting days and sites.

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