Political Fix Podcast: We sort of have budget offers, an AP reporter puts his ear to the ground (or door), and the health care funding fight drags on

It’s the final week of the regular legislative session, and tensions run high.

This week is the sort of fight club version of the Political Fix Podcasts. Matt Gaetz jabs gaming lobbyists, Tom Lee takes a shot at “the House Rules Chairman,” and Jack Latvala does what Jack Latvala does.

And, yes, the House and Senate remain $5 billion apart. We may also get into the incremental movement in the health care funding fight.

Also, make sure to subscribe to us on iTunes.

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Florida Senate: Use expanded Medicaid savings for education

By GARY FINEOUT and KELLI KENNEDY
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Senate leaders said Friday they won’t back down on expanding Medicaid and maintaining hospital funding, as the legislative session nears its end with no budget agreement in sight, but they are willing to use money saved by expanding Medicaid to boost education spending.

The Senate proposes using $264 million from Medicaid expansion to increase student funding to what leaders called the highest level in state history. They also want to extend the session until June 30 in hopes that the federal government will offer a preliminary decision on whether it will extend the funds that help hospitals who treat Medicaid and uninsured patients. The regular session is scheduled to end next Friday, and the two chambers have been locked in a tense budget dispute.

An extended session would allow the Senate to keep pressure on the House and Gov. Rick Scott, who also opposes expanding Medicaid to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians.

Earlier this week, House leaders seemed resigned to the prospect of a special session. They were heard behind closed doors encouraging each other to hold strong, despite the negative publicity a special session might generate, and not to waiver on expanding Medicaid, which is a key component of President Obama’s health law. Both sides would have to agree to an extended session. If they do it would keep all bills alive, instead of having to start from scratch in a special session later on.

Late Thursday, the House offered to trim back spending on tax cuts and education to boost spending in the state’s safety net hospitals. The offer, however, would be unconnected to a push by the Senate to expand Medicaid or revamp an existing program that takes federal money for hospitals.

While the two sides are still far apart, the House’s proposal was enough to jumpstart stalled budget conversations.

Senate Republicans said they appreciated the start of a “dialogue” with the House, but maintained they were not willing now to back off their support for expansion. They also have refused to set aside any money so far for tax cuts pushed by Scott and House Republicans.

The Senate also wants to keep about $600 million in reserves in case the federal government decides not to extend the more than $1 billion per year in hospital funds. Federal health officials have been clear that Medicaid expansion must be part of the conversation, adding pressure to the standoff between the House and Senate.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican and Senate budget chief, said the top priority for the Senate is to “provide a short and long term solution to the challenges we’re facing in health care.”

“Until we have clarity and visibility to the health care funding picture in Florida, there can be no other priorities,” Lee said.

Florida Hospital Association chief: House health care funding plan ‘does not go far enough’

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben says a House plan to help hospitals deal with the potential loss of money used for charity care “does not go far enough.”

The House plan, unveiled Thursday, would use $200 million of state funding to draw down $300 million in federal money, all of which could be used to help offset the potential loss of the so-called Low Income Pool.

That’s a pot of federal and local money used by hospitals to provide uncompensated care. The feds must approve the money, which they might not unless Florida expands Medicaid under Obamacare. The House and Gov. Rick Scott oppose that plan, while the Senate supports expansion.

The total amount of state funding and policy would need to be hammered out by House and Senate budget negotiators. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said the plan is just a starting point to try and jump start budget talks.

In its current form, LIP is a $2.2 billion pot of money, so the House plan, Rueben says, is not enough.

“I think the state can do much better than that if it goes along the lines of Senate,” he said.

He also called the plan “incomplete” because it ignores a letter from federal officials indicating the hospital money is tied to the state’s willingness to expand Medicaid.

“The best way to do this is with coverage, and with supplemental funding which would act as a transition, a glide path to coverage,” he said.

Crisafulli said that he wants to help hospitals, but said they need to “reexamine their budgets.”

“I don’t think that necessarily hospitals should be held harmless,” he said Thursday. “But if we can find ways to shore them up a little bit, that would be a conversation starter.”

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Bill to let child rape victims record attackers heads to governor

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

A measure that would allow victims to secretly record sex crimes is headed to the governor.

The proposal (HB 7001) is a direct response to a recent Lee County case, where the guilty verdict was overturned by the state Supreme Court. The measure applies to victims who are under 18.

The measure received unanimous support from both the House and Senate.

“I am proud that my colleagues in the Legislature have continued to support ensuring Florida’s children have a voice in our courts of law,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, the sponsor of the measure in the Senate. “We will not stand by while child predators continue to find loopholes in our legal system.”

Lawmakers pushed to change the state law after Richard McDade, a former Fort Myers ice cream truck driver, had his child sex abuse conviction and life sentence overturned in December. In that case, jurors heard a secret recording made by a 16-year-old girl, who said the tape showed him soliciting her for sex through veiled code words.

A judge allowed the recording to be introduced, even though Florida has strict laws requiring all parties to consent to recordings.

The Second District Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge’s decision, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed, finding no exception to the consent rule. The state Supreme Court also ordered a new trial.

“This legislation will allow child victims of sexual assault to gather key evidence to bring their attackers to justice,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement.

“I want to thank sponsors Representative Carlos Trujillo and Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto for sponsoring this important piece of legislation and each member of the Florida House and Senate for voting to help protect these young victims and punish the monsters that prey on them.”

The state House passed the bill 116-0 on Friday, just days after the Senate voted 32-0 to support the legislation. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

Public school choice bill clears House

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

A wide-sweeping education bill that would give parents school choice when it comes to public education cleared the state House on Friday.

The bill (HB 1145) now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers could vote on the measure early next week.

“It was mentioned … this creates a system of haves and have-nots. This does the complete opposite,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the bill’s sponsor. “The students who would benefit the most are the children who need the help the most.”

Among other things, the proposal would allow parents to enroll their children in any public school in Florida that hasn’t reached capacity. That means students could soon be able to cross county or district lines to attend a public school.

The proposal expands school choice to public schools by calling on districts to create and post a process for families to participate in controlled open enrollment. That process would allow parents to declare a school preference; create a procedure for determining which school a student is assigned; and identify schools that haven’t reached capacity, or 90 percent of total student stations by program and grade level.

Parents would be required for transporting their children to the school, under Sprowls proposal. That requirement was one of several reasons why some lawmakers spoke out against it Friday.

“Those of us in the room that feel that choice in schools is not a bad thing don’t realize that this is a situation that a choice isn’t really going to happen,” said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville. “You’re creating an opportunity for the haves and the have-nots. If a parent can afford to transport (their child), then they will get in. If the parent can’t afford to transport (their child), then how will they get in?”

The House passed the measure 80-36.

Public school choice is just one component of the legislation. The bill also has language dealing with charter schools, similar to language included in a House bill (HB 7037) that passed last month.

The charter school portion of the bill calls on a school’s charter to be automatically terminated if the school earns two consecutive F school grades, creates the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation, which would focus on accountability, quality and innovation; and allows charter schools to delay opening for up to two years so school operators can find the right location.

Unlike the original House measure dealing with charter schools, the amendment did not include a provision to let charter schools get a share of local school district construction money. Similar language dealing with charter schools is already in the Senate proposal.

The Senate could vote on the issue next week.

We focus on all things politics in the Sunshine State. We are the joint bureau of Naples Daily News / Tampa Tribune / Treasure Coast in Tallahassee.