- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The annual session of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature crashed to a halt Tuesday as the House adjourned three days early because of a budget impasse with the Senate over Medicaid expansion.

Bills covering everything from tax cuts to gambling, medical marijuana and making changes in the state’s scandal-rocked prison system died as a result. The abrupt showdown also raises the possibility of a government shutdown if the House and Senate cannot agree to a new state budget by June 30.

Since the GOP won control of the Legislature two decades ago, the chambers have let their disputes derail the session only a handful of times.

On Tuesday, as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli banged his gavel to end the session, Republican House members cheered, some raising both thumbs in the air.

“He dropped the mic!” Miami Rep. Frank Artiles said.



The House actions drew scorn from both Senate Republicans who called it immature and Democrats who called it “unconscionable” because bills dealing with everything from death benefits to slain police to help for developmentally disabled children were not going to pass.

“There will be some that are going to ‘high five’ and joke around later,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Nobody won today. Nobody won. The taxpayers lost. It’s an unfortunate turn of events.”

Crisafulli blamed the Senate for the awkward session end. The House has been adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid to more than 800,000 Floridians, even though the Senate has proposed a plan that would allow the state to eventually require recipients to work or attend school.

Crisafulli said the House had made “genuine and legitimate offers” to end the budget stalemate only to have them rebuffed by the Senate.

“It was the right thing for us to do,” Crisafulli said. “We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on the budget. … I don’t think it’s healthy for the process to stay here and continue to talk about something that neither side is changing their view on.”

The House decision to abruptly end the session came with about “10 seconds” of warning, said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford. Gardiner said in the morning he had offered to have two senators negotiate the end of the regular session and a special session to pass a new state budget. He said Crisafulli left a voicemail telling him the House was quitting early.

The fight over Medicaid expansion is linked to a $1 billion pot of federal money that helps hospitals that treat Medicaid and uninsured patients. President Barack Obama’s administration has signaled it is unlikely to extend the hospitals funds if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid.

Hours after the House left, Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced he had filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the issue. Scott’s office did not have much of a reaction to the session meltdown.

“We understand why the House did what they did,” spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement. “We will see what the Senate does tomorrow.”

The Senate continued its session even after the House left, discussing a bill on hydraulic fracturing as House members filed out of their chamber.

The move means that the Senate must take any bills the House passed as they are or they will die. Any bills the Senate passes at this point also will die. Gardiner said the Senate would remain “professional” and continue to work Wednesday on legislation. Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief, said that after the House adjourned, some of their members pleaded with senators to pass their bills so they will not die this session.

Despite ending the session early, House members will continue to get paid extra for their meals up until Friday or until they return to their districts.

Republican House members took to Twitter to boast about the move.

“Maybe the Senate will get off Obamacare expansion and get down to balancing a budget during special session,” Republican Rep. Rich Workman tweeted.

Lawmakers will now have to hold a special session to approve the state’s budget before July 1. But it’s clear that legislative leaders will have to deal with a growing divide that is widening between the two chambers.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, said it was particularly striking that some bills designed to aid developmentally disabled children - a high priority for Gardiner - will now die. Gardiner has a son with Down syndrome.

“Those are people that need help now,” he said. “That’s a sharp stick in the president’s eye. Using kids with disabilities as a tool to poke the Senate president is beyond the pale. I don’t understand the method of thinking there.”

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