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GOP Legislature Stings Crist with Overrides

By: John Kennedy, News Service Florida
By: John Kennedy, News Service Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 16, 2010 --

The Republican-ruled Florida Legislature took what may prove a final swipe Tuesday at independent, lame-duck Gov. Charlie Crist, overriding seven bills and a spending provision he vetoed last spring, while also setting the stage for a major overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program.

The three-hour special session – on the heels of Tuesday’s organizational session -- marked only the third time in 24 years that a Florida governor’s vetoes were turned back by lawmakers, with lame-ducks stung in both previous instances. Democratic Govs. Bob Graham in 1986 and Lawton Chiles in 1998 both had vetoed legislation overridden by lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the bills overridden all easily drew the needed two-thirds support in the GOP-dominated House and Senate. Crist has been roundly criticized by leading Republicans since breaking with the party in April to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as a no-party candidate.

“We’re still friends, we don’t think politically the same as we used to,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, before adding, “today was about good public policy.”

While the House pushed through most of the overrides with little debate, the most contentious exchanges Tuesday swirled in the Senate.

Several senators questioned revived legislation that would give lawmakers authority to block state agency rules that could cost businesses $1 million over five years and another that spends $31.3 million in federal stimulus money to cover rebates owed thousands of Floridians who installed qualified air-conditioning systems or made solar improvements.

A non-binding memorial to Congress underscoring the Legislature’s intent to revamp the state’s Medicaid program drew the most heat because it touted plans to expand the state’s five-county managed-care pilot program statewide.

“If you think you get a lot of calls now, put people in HMOs and the phones will ring off the hook in your district,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “This is more than an intent. We are setting policy here.”

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston also said the move signaled the Senate was buying into an overhaul of the almost $20 billion program advanced last year by the House, but rejected by senators.

“Medicaid is broken,” Rich conceded. “But the memorial is not a blank piece of paper. It lays out portions of a bill…that was very distressing to many of us in this chamber.”

But Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, managed to get the memorial through on a voice vote by cautioning it primarily was designed to show, “We’re no longer going to just kick the can down the road another year.”

The Senate also wrestled briefly over the rule-making measure, one of the few issues that caused the House to pause.

“Frankly, I don’t think we have the time to look at those potentially thousands of rules,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

But Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, shot back, warning that lawmakers needed to be a check on bureaucracy. “We have state agencies that make rules, and those rules become laws without any legislative oversight, whatsoever,” Van Zant said. “Those laws are then imposed on our citizens.”

For leading Republicans, many of whom were campaigning earlier this month on shrinking government and cutting spending, the three-hour special override session included some apparent contradictions.

Revived by lawmakers was a $9.7 million budget item vetoed by Crist for Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville. The spending, which makes the state eligible for another $12 million in federal Medicaid matching money, will help provide health coverage for an additional 18,000 uninsured Floridians.

Lawmakers also resolved the state’s outstanding commitments to homeowners and businesses who took part in a pair of energy rebate programs, agreeing to direct $31.3 million in federal stimulus money to cover what’s owed thousands of Floridians who installed qualified air-conditioning systems or made solar improvements.

Another measure reinstated allows farmland put up for sale to retain existing agricultural property-tax exemptions, while also tripling a one-cent citrus box fee to raise $3 million for industry research.

While lawmakers raced ahead with the overrides, about 100 tea party activists from groups around Florida spent the day at the Capitol, huddled in a fourth-floor Senate committee room exchanging ideas on issues.

Most criticized state spending practices, including the Legislature’s support for high-speed rail, Central Florida’s SunRail commuter train, while supporting lawmakers’ decision Tuesday to delay the start of a septic tank evaluation program.

“We’re here to send a message,” said Henry Kelley, a leader of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party and an organizer of Tuesday’s gathering, which drew a handful of lawmakers as speakers. “We want that to be a positive message. But we want the Legislature to know we will hold them accountable.”

He added, “We know that showing up in March is going to be too late.”

For his part, Haridopolos acknowledged that not all of Tuesday’s overrides would sit well with the conservative voters who played such a central role in this month’s Republican victories in Congress and legislatures across the nation.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to do things perfectly,” Haridopolos said.
House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, said the chambers will continue to mark their own courses.
“The Legislature today sent a message to the rest of state government,” Cantera said. “We are an independent branch of government and we will be conducting ourselves in that way over the next two years.”

SENATE SESSION (SPECIAL SESSION): TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2010

CONVENES: The Senate convened at 3:01 p.m. with Senate President Mike Haridopolos presiding. A quorum of 24-0 was present.

READING THE CALL: Haridopolos asked the secretary of the Senate to read the special session call. Sen. John Thrasher then introduced several bills to the Senate’s special order calendar that the chamber intended to undo vetoes from Gov. Charlie Crist on.

IF V IS FOR VETO, O IS FOR OVERRIDE: The first bill taken up was SB 1516, which requires the creation of a statewide database of state-owned property. The Senate quickly voted 38-1 to override the governor’s veto, with only Sen. Paula Dockery voting no. The Senate then approved SR 8A, which changed the implementation date to Nov. 17, on a 38-0 vote. Other bills considered for veto overrides included:

-SB 1842, which requires local governments to allow the public to provide input during the early stages of transportation projects. On a motion from Sen. Mike Bennett, the Senate voted to override Crist’s veto 39-0. The Senate then unanimously approved SR 10A, which moves the implementation date to Nov. 17.

A NEW BILL: The Senate took a break from overriding vetoes to take up SR 2A, which delays from January to July the implementation of a new requirement that septic tanks be inspected every five years. The requirement was included in a wide-ranging springs bill signed last spring by Crist, so the Senate had to take up new legislation to push back the implementation. Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, spoke against the delay, saying it was part of a bill it took the Legislature five years to approve, but sponsor Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who plans to push for a full repeal during special session, said the inspections needed more review. The delay was ultimately approved 38-1, with only Jones voting no.

NOT A BILL, BUT MORE NEW POLICY: The Senate then moved to a Republican-backed memorial to move forward on measures to change the delivery and Medicaid services, including expanding a pilot project in which recipients obtain services through managed care programs. Sen. Joe Negron rose to explain the measure, which several senators, including Republican Mike Fasano and Nan Rich, said moved too far beyond framing the coming debate. Instead Fasano said, the memorial foreshadow the Legislature’s intent to move to managed care by using the word “intention.” “The first few whereas are great,” Fasano quipped. Rich, the Democratic Leader, agreed, saying “this memorial is putting the cart before the horse” by containing provisions that might ultimately end up in final legislation. After the most lengthy debate of the one-day special session, the memorial was approved on a voice vote.

The Senate briefly stood informal recess.

OVER FROM THE HOUSE: The Senate returned to overriding vetoes from Gov. Charlie Crist, taking up measures that were approved by the Florida House. The measures included:

-HB 545, which would require new disclosures of hurricane mitigation information for home sellers. The override was passed 35-0. HR 1A, which pushes the effective date to Nov. 17, was substituted for SR 12A. The measure was approved 37-0.

-HB 569, which makes changes to rules for collection of yard trash. The veto was overridden 39-0, as was SR 14A, which moves the implementation date to Nov. 17.

-HB 981, which makes changes to the agricultural classification for tax purposes. The veto was overridden 35-2, with Sens. Mike Fasano and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voting no. SR 16A, which moves the implementation date to Nov. 17, was approved 38-0.

-HB 1385, which would make changes to state law on petroleum tank remediation. The veto was overridden 39-0. HR 7A, which moves the implementation date to Nov. 17, was substituted for SR 18A and approved 39-0

SHANDS HOSPITAL FUNDING: A line item in the 2010/11 budget, vetoed by Crist May 28, earmarked $9.7 million to Shands Teaching Hospital for providing care to indigent patients. Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, who district includes the hospital, said the funding would also impact facilities in Jacksonville and Miami. The measure was approved 39-0. HR 11A was substituted for SR 22A and also unanimously approved.

RE-MAKING THE RULES FOR RULEMAKING: The Senate then took up HB 1565, which would require the Legislature to ratify rule changes that adversely affect small businesses if the impact is more than $1 million over five years. The measure also requires agencies to include economic analyses of rules and their impact on business exceeds $1 million over five years. Sen. Mike Bennett said it would be better to have the Legislature setting the rules “than some bureaucrat over on Capital Circle.” The measure was approved 32-7, with Sens. Eleanor Sobel, Nan Rich, Arthenia Joyner, Mike Fasano, Thad Altman, Larcenia Bullard, and Paula Dockery all voted no. HR 9A, which moves the implementation date to Nov. 17, was approved.

SOLAR REBATES: The Senate took up HB 15A putting money into a solar and energy efficient rebate program. The program was created, but the money wasn’t allocated. “A lot of people were lied to I think it was a bad sale,” said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. “Let’s give the people what we promised them.” The measure passed 36-2.

RECESSES: The Senate adjourned sine die at 5:49 p.m.

HOUSE SESSION (SPECIAL SESSION)– TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2010

CONVENES:
HOUSE SESSION (SPECIAL SESSION) – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2010Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. Contact news@newsserviceflorida.comCONVENES: The House convened at 3:02 p.m.
Quorum: 120 members present.

House Rules Committee chairman Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, outlined the duties of the day and gave members a roadmap of the bills that would be brought up during the special session. The House took up six measures that originated in the chamber during the regular session.

VETO MESSAGES: House took up veto messages from Gov. Charlie Crist.

HB 545: The bill was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. As written the bill removed a requirements sellers of homes provide buyers with mitigation information on hurricane-proofing. The override passed 120-0. Lawmakers followed the vote by taking up HJR 1A, which a changes the effective date of HB 545 to Nov. 17.
The bill passed 120-0.

HB 569: The bill, vetoed by Gov. Crist on June 1, allowed yard waste to be disposed of in Class I landfills. At the request of Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, the House voted to override Crist’s veto on a 114-5 vote.

House members then took up HJR 3A, which changes the effective date of HB 545 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 120-0.

HB 981: The bill, vetoed by Gov. Crist May 15, allowed agricultural land to maintain its classification if it is sold and continues to be used for agricultural purposes. At the request of Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, the House voted to override the veto on a 120-0 vote. House members then took up HJR 5A, which changes the effective date of HB 981 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 120-0.

HB 1385: The bill, vetoed by Crist June 1, would make changes to state law on petroleum tank remediation. At the request of Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apoka, the House voted to override the veto by a 119-1 vote, with Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, casting the only negative vote. The chamber then took up HJR 7A, which changes the effective date of HB 1385 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 120-0.

HB 1565: The bill, vetoed by Crist on May 28, would require the Legislature to ratify rule changes that adversely affect small businesses if the impact is more than $1 million over five years. The measure also requires agencies to include economic analyses of rules and their impact on business exceeds $1 million over five years. At the request of Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, the chamber voted to override the veto on a 99-21 vote.

A number of Democrats opposed the measure, saying it would hinder the ability of agencies to expeditiously do their work. Members then took up HJR 9A, which moved the effective date of HB 1565 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 101-18.

SHANDS HOSPITAL FUNDING: A line item in the 2010/11 budget, vetoed by Crist May 28, earmarked $9.7 million to Shands Teaching Hospital for providing care to indigent patients. At the request of Rep. Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, and Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, members voted to override the veto on a 120-0 vote. House members then took up HJR 11A, which restored the funding as of Nov. 17, and passed it 120-0.

HB 15A: House takes up measure to earmarked $31.2 million in federal stimulus money to pay homeowners who participated in the Florida Energy Rebate program, which offered consumers rebates from $500 to $20,000 for converting to solar. “We have an obligation to our constituents to uphold promises the government makes,” said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. The bill passed 118-0.

RECESS: Finished with bills that originated in the House, Cannon took an informal recess at 4:28 p.m.

RECONVENES: House reconvened at 5:20 p.m. to take up remaining business.

SENATE MESSAGES:

SB 1516: The House took up SB 1516, which required the Department f Environmental Protection to provide a statewide inventory of state-owned lands. The bill passed 116-1. House members then took up SJR 8A, which changed the effective date of SB 1516 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 117-0.

SB 1842: House members took up SB 1842, would give private landowners notice when transportation projects are being planned. The bill was vetoed by Crist. The override passed 117-0.

The House then took up SJR 10A, which changes the effective date for SB 1842 to Nov. 17. The resolution passed 118-09.

SB 2A: House took up SB 2A, which delays the implementation of new septic tank rules to July 1, 2011, six months later than the new rules were expected to kick in Jan. 1. Backers of the bill said the original legislation, which was part of a larger environmental bill dealing with springs, would place an undue financial burden on property owners during tough economic times. The bill passed 112-6

MEDICAID REFORM MEMORIAL: The House took up a Republican-backed memorial to move forward on measures to change the delivery and Medicaid services, including expanding a pilot project in which recipients obtain services through managed care programs. The subject of lengthier debate in the Senate, the memorial prompted minimal discussion and was approved on a voice vote.

ADJOURNED: The House adjourned sine die at 5:40 p.m.


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