TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida House's top Republican and Democrat made it clear Tuesday night that the slow procedural slog forced over a fight on Medicaid reform will continue through the end of session this week.
Before Tuesday's session ended, House Speaker Will Weatherford warned lawmakers that session would start at 8 a.m. Wednesday and the chamber would be secured. "We will shrink or we will rise," he told the chamber.
A few minutes later, he told reporters the half-day standoff with Democrats was "a little disappointing and frankly unbecoming of some members to want to try to slow down the process."
The standoff which began at 2:35 p.m. Tuesday ended what had been a mostly collegial 60-day session thus far, but one where Democrats had been repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to force more attention on the GOP's refusal to accept $51 billion over 10 years for a federal Medicaid expansion.
Weatherford said Democrats' tactic of using their 44 members in the 120-member House to force each bill read aloud on the floor wasn't likely to bring the Senate's health-care bill to another vote on the floor. Last week, the chamber voted down an amendment which resembled the Senate's plan on a mostly party-line vote.
"They can't stop the process, but they can slow it down," the Wesley Chapel Republican said. "We're okay with taking our time. We're in no rush. W can start at 8 a.m. and go as late as we need to, but we're going to get though our agenda."
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, made it clear Democrats would continue to use the rules to force bills to be read aloud by the robotic software program called "Mary," ensuring a slower pace to legislating and that many bills would die for lack of time before the Friday adjournment.
"We will just continue to be the conscience for the people of Florida," Thurston said, pledging to keep having bills read in full "until the end of session and through the special session, if we have to."
The stalemate isn't likely to force an immediate special session since all the Legislature is required to pass by Friday is the $74.5 billion budget. But it could cause complications for an elections reform coveted by both parties in response to long lines at the polls last year. That legislation extends early voting and expands the locations for voters to cast ballots, although Thurston shrugged off the possibility of endangering it.
"We didn't screw up the election system in the state of Florida,"Thurston said. "We're here to correct it, and they can read it just like they read the bills they wanted to read. They can read it too."
In response to the tactic, House Republicans skipped over several bills Tuesday, including one sponsored by Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, to create an African-American cultural commission. The bill, SB 442, has $1 million in the budget, although the bill creating the commission -- along with other Democratic bills -- could now be in trouble.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the slowdown could complicate both the work to form a compromise on a bill to shrink the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., as well as Senate efforts to create a new Central Florida Regional Expressway Authority -- which were already being fought by House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, whom Simmons called "the main impediment over there."
"How much worse can you get if you're reading every bill word for word, other than just adjourning, which is what effectively I think they're doing," Simmons said. "I'm sure they'll get back on track."