TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which has been wracked by feuds among its top leaders for the last several years, is in danger of ending a three-day special session without restoring billions in money that public schools use to pay for day-to-day operations.
The session is scheduled to end Friday, but after two days there remained a divide over spending that appears to have been partially spurred on by Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to veto more than $400 million in projects, including tens of millions in programs for the state’s 12 public universities.
If legislators don’t act then public schools will lose out on more than $11.4 billion in state funding that it supposed to start trickling down later this summer. A few days ago it appeared that Scott had worked out an agreement with GOP leaders, but Senate President Joe Negron insisted he never signed off on the deal.
“We’re not just going to rubber stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.
The Senate wants to restore $75 million worth of university-related projects that Scott vetoed last week — and they also want to restore some cuts to hospitals that legislators agreed to when they passed a new state budget.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran has so far refused to go along with an override of Scott’s vetoes or set aside more money for hospitals.
“We would be the first Republican Legislature that overrode a Republican governor on pork-barrel spending. Find me that example. I don’t think it exists,” Corcoran said.
The drama unfolding in the Capitol was put in motion last week after Scott vetoed more than $11.4 billion for public schools on top of the $400 million in projects.
Scott called legislators back to the state Capitol to pass a new school budget that would increase overall funding by an additional $215 million. He also asked them to set aside money for his top priorities, including money for the state’s tourism marketing agency. Pushed by House Republicans, the Legislature had initially proposed slashing money for Visit Florida by two-thirds. Scott had warned for weeks that the House proposals would kill jobs.
Scott put together a hastily-arranged press conference last week in Miami to announce what he called an “agreement” and both Corcoran and Negron joined the governor for the announcement. Negron said that while he supports giving the governor what he wants, he said he warned him ahead of time that the Senate would not support the governor using money from projects put in the budget by senators to pay for it.
Despite the ongoing discord over spending, legislators are poised to pass this week a bill that would put in place rules for medical marijuana, which voters in the state approved last November. Legislators failed to pass any legislation during their regular session that ended in early May. Scott agreed to add the issue to the agenda for the special session after a compromise was worked out.
But the compromise put together by legislators would ban the smoking of medical marijuana. Instead sick patients eligible to use the drug would have to consume it by vaping, or ingest it in a pill form or in something edible.
Legislators in both the House and Senate on Thursday tried to eliminate the ban, saying it went against what voters envisioned when they approved the amendment. Supporters of the smoking ban insisted it made sense because smoking in general is not healthy.
John Morgan, who was the driving force behind getting the amendment on the ballot, said he will sue if smoking is not allowed. Morgan has said that the only place where the amendment does not allow smoking is public spaces.