Florida House and Senate Playing Nice, But Scott Left Out in the Cold

Mar 13, 2016 by

What a difference a year makes. The Florida House and Senate are playing nice during this legislative session.

With both chambers—and the Governor’s Office—controlled by Republicans, you might expect every session to run smoothly, but that hasn’t been the case.

Consider the acrimony of the past year.

The House walked out of the 2015 regular session without a budget—the one and only bill it is required to pass. While there were many areas of disagreement, the major sticking point was whether to expand Medicaid for nearly a million of the state’s working poor. The Senate wanted to take the federal funds to do so; the House did not. Florida Gov. Rick Scott switched positions, at least twice, finally deciding to reject the federal funds for Medicaid expansion.

The Legislature was called back for a June special session to hammer out a budget, which they completed but dangerously close to the start of the next fiscal year.

Then there was the failed special session on congressional redistricting in August, followed in October by the special session to redraw state Senate districts. Each chamber hired its own legal counsel and at times battled each other in court.

It was difficult to imagine that these two chambers could put the acrimony, accusations and hurt feelings behind them to work cooperatively in the 2016 regular session but the turnaround has been remarkable.

House and Senate leaders have shown each other respect by passing their priority bills early in the session. For Senate President Andy Gardiner, his long-sought-after legislation providing educational and work opportunities for the developmentally disabled was rushed quickly through the House.

Likewise, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s agriculture-friendly water bill was expedited through the Senate. Gov. Scott quickly signed these bills.

Maybe this show of good faith—reversing the usual tactic of holding the leaders’ bills hostage as bargaining chips at session’s end—led to the détente. Of course, in a presidential election year, political parties want to show they can be trusted to govern. Perhaps that was the motivation after a year of embarrassing dysfunction.

Could the new congressional and Senate maps be playing a role? Usually only half of the Senate’s 40 seats are up for re-election since their four-year terms are staggered. Because the district lines changed, all 40 seats are up for grabs. Senators face tougher re-elections in new districts that were not drawn to favor their party. Senators might find it necessary to modify their voting records to reflect their new constituency.

Due to term limits and new district maps, more than half of the Senate seats will be filled with new faces. House members planning to run for Senate seats might be trying to get approval from Senate leaders who control the campaign funds.

Whatever the reason, there was a lot of give and take. Neither chamber got everything they wanted but both got some. Left out in the cold was Gov. Scott.

Scott’s three main priorities fell by the wayside. His $1 billion tax cut primarily benefitting businesses was replaced by a $400 million tax-cut package with a reduction in the required local effort of the school-related portion of the property tax. The other tax cuts are mostly temporary–giving a one-time break.

The House zeroed out Scott’s request for $250 million in incentive funding for Enterprise Florida to lure businesses to Florida. Ironically, the House—which usually sides with the governor to the detriment of the Senate—was the chamber that handed Scott the defeat.

Both legislative chambers agreed to increase per pupil spending but neither wanted to use local property taxes—Scott’s chosen funding source—to do it.

With little to hang his hat on this session, how will Gov. Scott react to this renewed political alliance between House and Senate? Will he wield his veto pen in retaliation?

Scott’s not used to being odd man out as he could usually count on the more conservative House to back his limited but conservative agenda. So what happened?

Could it be that legislators in both chambers are unhappy that Scott vetoed the budget items that they worked so hard to get for their communities? Could it be that they resented his campaign of TV ads and bus tours pressuring them to fund his tax cuts and corporate incentives? Could it be they didn’t like the way he dismissed their revenue projections, insisting his numbers were better?

Maybe Gov. Scott should have spent more time working with legislators instead of trying to paint them into a corner. Perhaps that’s the message they’re sending.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.



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