The sun is about to set on the 2013 Florida legislative session, and there is little doubt that uninsured Floridians with low incomes will once again be left in the dark with no good health care options. The Senate refuses to budge on taking any federal money for Medicaid purely for political purposes.
We've heard all the excuses from House Speaker Will-Medicaid-For-Me-But-Not-For-Thee-Weatherford, one being time constraints. He's said there's no urgency to doing anything about it now, and if Medicaid goes nowhere this year it "won't be the end of the world." True, it won't be the end of the world for him, he pays just $8 a month for health care, thank you very much.
While Medicaid is such a long slog and a heavy lift, it's funny how fast Weatherford can move when a bill that greases the skids for him needs to go through. In fact, he jumped so quickly yesterday to speed a bill through giving away a big tax-break for manufacturers that it may well be unconstitutional.
And you thought that "Mary" the auto reader was fast.
Here's what happened. Rick Scott wanted desperately to get a bill through to give big tax-breaks to manufacturers. He also had a few bills that he either needed to sign into law, or veto by midnight on Wednesday. Yet he waited until only a few hours were left to act on them, and only after the day's legislative session came to a late end:
Earlier in the day, Scott said he was still reviewing the bills. He previously questioned why campaign contribution limits needed to be raised. The ethics bill (SB 2) was a priority of Sen. President Don Gaetz and the campaign finance bill (HB 569) was important to House Speaker Will Weatherford. The House and Senate sent him the bills knowing they would have to be signed by or vetoed before midnight Wednesday, two days before the legislative session ends.
All three had something they really, really wanted, but they had to act fast to get them. And work fast Weatherford did. The man who has no time for Medicaid suddenly moved at lightening speed to seal a deal in order to get what he wanted: To raise campaign contributions to $1,000 for legislative and local races and $3,000 for statewide races, and a few other goodies.
So in "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" fashion, Republicans quickly produced a 96 page bill that many hadn't read, and that included language many had never seen before. Weatherford then pushed it through with no debate. The bill "passed" 68-48. But did it really pass? Democrats say no because the bill did not get the two-thirds majority required to constitutionally change local government tax rates.
Yes, they rammed through a potentially unconstitutional bill to get Scott to sign ethics and campaign finance bills into law.
Democrat are crying foul, and rightfully so:
But House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, a lawyer, said that was plainly wrong, and a lawsuit challenging the tax-change would be coming "immediately."
"The legal implication is that it requires a two-thirds vote on at least on bill in the package. We don't know everything that as in there. They did not get two-thirds vote," Thurston said. "Unfortunately, it looks like that is something that has to be challenged, and we're sure it will be challenged with all due speed."
The section of the constitution relevant states that "Except upon approval of each house of the legislature by two-thirds of the membership, the legislature may not enact, amend, or repeal any general law if the anticipated effect of doing so would be to reduce the authority that municipalities or counties have to raise revenues in the aggregate."
Surely Will Weatherford has a good answer to charges that in his haste he passed a bill that wasn't constitutional and possibly illegal? Well, funny story there.....no, he doesn't:
"We looked into that very closely. We do not believe it needs a two-thirds vote," Weatherford said, although his office declined to release any legal opinion.
"I disagree with [Thurston]. I think the bill is extremely constitutional," he said. "We do not believe [that section of the constitution] applies. I can't give you all the specifics. We talked with our attorneys. We had an entire team that looked at it and studied it. We do not believe it required a two-thirds vote."
After the brief media interview, Weatherford's office declined to provide any more specifics about the legality of the bill.
So Weatherford says it's not only constitutional, but it's extremely constitutional. So extreme in fact that he cannot give any details or specifics, but he believes this, and you'll just have to take his and some attorneys word for it.
Dare we ask, is this due to some sort of "double secret extreme constitution" we don't know about? Of course we dare not, because Weatherford is not discussing the matter further.
And what about Scott changing his mind so quickly on those campaign finance changes? What about that last minute signature on two bills he suddenly decided were just dandy?
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott told reporters this morning that he decided to sign a bill raising campaign contribution limits – after saying repeatedly that he didn’t like the idea – because he listened “to a lot of people.”
“Like everything, you listen to a lot of people and try to make the best decision I can for every citizen in the state, so I made that decision to sign that bill last night,” Scott said.
“I look at everything but I made the right decision for all Floridians,” he said.
Oh, right. It's those "lots of people" he talks to again. We hear a lot about those guys, but oddly, we never see them. They must be in an extremely secret location somewhere hanging out with Weatherford's phantom attorneys, those scamps.
And how thoughtful of Scott to make sure he acts on things that are of the utmost importance to Floridians everywhere: Raising campaign contribution limits.
Ask any Floridian what matters most to them: Jobs? High-speed rail? Health care? Clean air and water? The right to vote? The desire to foot the bill for nuclear power plants that will never materialize? Protection from oil spills and hurricanes? Good education? Payng the bills? Nope.
What matters to them most is that politicians can be purchased at even higher prices by those who really run the show in Tallahassee. Just ask Rick Scott, Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford, they'll set you straight.
Yup. That's how Republicans do "ethics" in Florida.
(Capitol photo: Martha Jackovics)