Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee last week to begin the state’s annual legislative session, which will run through May 6th. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate. This session marks the first for governor Rick Scott who ran on a platform to reduce government, cut taxes and create jobs. Close to 1,800 bills have already been filed but perhaps the biggest challenge lawmakers will face will be balancing the state budget. The following post highlights the big issues facing the legislature this session:
- Health Care: The state’s Medicaid program is facing a major legislative overhaul as lawmakers seek to find ways to lower the cost of the program, which cost the state $20 billion last year and is expected to cause $2 billion more this year. Both House and Senate members have expressed a goal to move many of the state’s 3 million Medicaid recipients into managed care. Legislators will also consider a repeal of the state prescription drug tracking database, created two years ago to monitor the distribution and use of prescribed medication and help crack down on prescription drug abuse. Governor Scott has called for a repeal of the database on the basis that it is ineffective and invades the privacy of patients, despite that may law enforcement officials support it.
- Education: Lawmakers are again considering a proposal to tie teacher compensation to student performance. Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville) proposed the bill last year (SB-6) which was vetoed by Gov. Crist after passing through both chambers of the legislature.
This year’s proposal, sponsored by Steven Wise (R-Jacksonville), would grandfather current teacher pay plans, but set up new merit pay for all teachers hired after July 1, 2014. While lawmakers will likely make some reductions in education spending, their cuts are not expected to be as drastic as what Governor Scott has proposed.
- Energy: There have been numerous bills filed to promote clean energy standards and renewable development over the past few years, but lawmakers have failed to reach any real consensus with the result that most bills have not made it through the legislative process. In addition, Governor Scott has expressed doubts about the need for renewable energy and his budget recommendations include eliminating the Florida Energy & Climate Commission created by Governor Crist. In sum, legislation regarding energy and the environment does not seem to be a priority for this session.
- State Budget: The state currently faces a $3.6 billion budget shortfall. Though cuts have been made to many programs over the past several years, spending reductions are inevitable. Governor Scott has revealed his “Jobs Budget” of $69.5 billion, which includes cut to Medicaid and education funding and includes the elimination of 8,000 state jobs. In an effort to spark job creation in the state, the Governor’s proposal included a boost in economic development funding and left transportation funding untouched for the most part.
My next blog post will focus on other areas of interest to the 2011 session.