Outlook for the Florida Legislative Session

We are just over a month away from the legislative session, which begins on March 7th. WMFE’s Talia Blake caught up with Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, to talk about the state budget, its bills you’re watching this session, and more.

Listen to the full conversation with the player above.

Sadaf Knight is the CEO of the Florida Policy Institute.  (via Sadaf Knight/FPI)

Sadaf Knight is the CEO of the Florida Policy Institute. (via Sadaf Knight/FPI)

The state budget

When legislators meet in March for the legislative session, they are obligated to pass the state budget.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed over to the budget $100 billion after the last session.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, says a budget surplus is expected for this year.

“And that’s a combination of the federal aid that we’ve received, as you know, over the last few years because of the COVID 19 pandemic,” she said. “Also, better-than-expected performance on our sales tax returns, as people have been switching from services to consumer goods due to the pandemic.”

In the past, Florida has experienced budget deficits that have led to cuts in certain programs.

And she said, “At this point, it’s an opportunity to use that surplus to reinvest in public services. And make sure that we fully fund all of these important things like education and healthcare and infrastructure and all these different things.”

But this budget surplus will not last forever, according to Knight.

She said the country expects us to see an increase in our public revenues during the fiscal year 2025-26.

“We will need existing sources of income when this surplus decreases,” Sadaf said.

Bills to watch

Republican 83rd District Representative Kylie Tuck introduced House Bill 1, which “reviews provisions related to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, the Florida Tax Credit Grant Program, and part-time public school enrollment.”

HB1 is a bill that is very troubling, Knight said, because it would make the Florida voucher program universal.

a Report The Florida Policy Institute reports that these vouchers are funded through tax credits and the state education financing formula.

“The money that’s coming directly from the money that would have gone into the public schools, HB one is going to basically track that and make it so that the money that’s being drained from our public schools accelerates exponentially,” she said.

Vouchers currently make up 10% of the school budget.

“We are very concerned that by making vouchers universal, we will see this skyrocket and lead to increased disinvestment in our schools, school closures, and an inability to attract teachers and other faculty,” Knight said.

The FPI is monitoring a potential bill that would allow the state to draw additional federal funding to support mobile response teams, which Knight said are similar to on-demand services for mental health and communities.

“These are really critical, especially with the 988 that’s been rolled out, and the need for mental health and behavioral health services,” Knight said.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act, states had the option to withdraw additional funding as a match to support these services.

“And the state is already spending money through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act that passed a few years ago, that might be matching, and we can pull the funding to provide those services in a more robust way.”

The public health emergency ends during the session

A federal public health emergency has been in effect since January 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this time, all Floridians enrolled in our Medicaid program and in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, were able to obtain health insurance coverage without having to re-enroll in Medicaid, also known as continuing coverage.

Continuing coverage protection through a public health emergency will end on March 31, 2023.

“The state will have to go through a process of re-eligibility for the 5.5 million people on Medicaid, including 2.8 million children,” Knight said. “So this is huge. This would be a brutal task for the state.”

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Children and Families released a plan for Operation Redefinition.

“We need a robust plan so that we can ensure that people who would still be eligible are not fired for procedural or administrative reasons,” Knight said. and that those who no longer qualify can transition seamlessly to other types of coverage.”

The DCF program has identified 900,000 people whose income change may not make them eligible for Medicaid, according to Knight.

“That’s an awful lot of people in Florida who are at risk of falling into what we call the coverage gap,” she said. “They don’t make enough money to receive benefits in the healthcare market, but they also make a lot to qualify for Medicaid.”

If you’re a Medicaid recipient or if you have children who use Medicaid or CHIP, Knight said, “to monitor the information received about the reassignment process and what you may need to do to ensure you don’t lose your coverage for any procedural or administrative reasons.”

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit wmfe.

Leave a Comment