House Democrats declared a tactical war Tuesday on ruling Republicans.
The outnumbered Democrats used a procedural rule to demand that legislation be read in full — in retaliation for the GOP’s refusal to support a Senate plan that would draw federal Medicaid dollars and expand health coverage for poor Floridians.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, huddled with members of his leadership team after word of the Democratic plot began circulating early Tuesday. But he couldn’t stop it. The state constitution requires all bills to be read in full, but the requirement can be waived with a two-thirds vote and usually is. That would require 80 votes in the 120-member House, and Democrats have 44 votes.
“There needs to be some clarity on the bills, so we need to read them in full,” Weatherford grimly told the House by early afternoon.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale made the rarely used motion that launched the slowdown. Weatherford, anticipating Thurston’s ploy, had House staff dust off an “auto-reader,” which was used to begin reading the lengthy legislation.
The machine was last used several years ago, during a similar stand-off between then-House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach and former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Earlier Tuesday, the Senate approved its health care proposal on a 38-1 vote. The proposal would position Florida to draw $51 billion in Medicaid dollars over the next decade for creating a Healthy Florida plan that would cover 1.1 million low-income Floridians.
In a mostly partyline vote, the House earlier voted down an amendment that reflected the Senate proposal. House Republicans said they were opposed to relying on federal dollars and they approved their own plan to use $237 million in state taxpayer dollars to cover 115,000 Floridians.
Democrats, the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott have dismissed the House proposal as mostly worthless.
But the House-Senate deadlock virtually assures that the session will end this week without any consensus on how to expand health coverage in Florida, where almost 4 million are uninsured. Thurston met with Scott early Tuesday and asked that he call a special session on health care if the session ends without any action on health care coverage.
The slowdown also threatens other legislation, including a bill to change Florida’s election system and one that could lead to professional sports team getting state money to help pay for stadium upgrades.
Reading lengthy bills by machine absorbs time — and Democrats seem willing to let the session expire without much more action.
“It’s unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that
a drastic situation requires drastic tactics,” Thurston said in a released statement. “The 1.2 million people who can be provided medical coverage under proposed legislation may not be aware of what’s transpiring in Tallahassee. Today, I want them to know that the 44-member House Democratic Caucus stands in support of them.”
Weatherford later said, “It’s a little disappointing and frankly unbecoming for some members to want to slow down the process. We have a lot of work to do. The citizens of Florida sent us here to get work done.”