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Tallahassee Roundup: Week 3

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BRADENTON -- It was another wild week in Tallahassee as the House moved forward on gutting the state pension system and the Senate offered a privatized alternative to Medicaid expansion. Momentum continued to swing away from Sweepstake Cafes/Internet Casinos in light of the Allied Veteran’s scandal and they are expected to be made illegal this session. Meanwhile, Lawmakers are feeling good about the chances of a more moderate Everglades bill, while the Parent Trigger bill that nearly passed last session, was met with strong opposition and only lukewarm support.

A Senate panel introduced a proposal to broaden Medicaid coverage to about 1 million low-income Florida residents on Thursday. The plan would use a privatized system, utilizing money available under the new federal health care law.

Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron (R-Stuart) introduced the “Healthy Florida” bill, which would cover some uninsured Floridians under a privatized plan already in place in the state.


“We want to have a Florida plan, not a Washington plan,” Negron told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill, SPB 7038, is supported by the Florida Hospital Association and other health care advocates. The plan would build on Healthy Kids, a program created by former Gov. Lawton Chiles that currently serves 250,000 children, aged 5-18. Parents pay $15-$20 monthly for health coverage for their children and can choose from a small pool of private health care plans that are available in all Florida counties.

The Florida House moved forward in its plan to close the Florida Retirement System’s defined pension benefit plan to new employees beginning in January of 2014. Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) introduced the bill, which reflects the priorities House Speaker Will Weatherford announced going into the session.

Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) has a less restrictive Senate bill (SB 1392) that lets new hires other than top administrators join the defined benefit plan, while senior management and elected officials would have to join the 401-k-style defined contribution plan. It would also incentivize employees to choose the latter by offering a 2 percent contribution, rather than the current 3, while reducing vesting time to one year, and raising it from 8 to 10 in the defined benefit plan.  

Democrats and organized labor are reluctantly lining up behind Simpson's bill over fear that it’s the lesser of two evils, one of which is going to come to fruition in a GOP dominated state.

The new EPA/Florida DEP deal struck last year requires the state to update its 1994 Everglades Forever Act. A proposed deal has been hailed for having less giveaways to agricultural interests with slightly more environmental protection and is seen as having a good chance of passing. The controversial parent trigger bill, which would expand options on failing turnaround schools, to include converting them to for-profit charters, met with much resistance this week, while finding little support. After dying in a 20-20 tie on the Senate floor on the last day of the 2012 session, the plan was seen as having good prospects in 2013, but is now likely to flounder once more.


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