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A look ahead to Florida's legislative session

The Florida Legislature via News Service of Florida
The Florida Legislature via News Service of Florida

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

Listen to the full conversation at 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)

State Budget

When lawmakers meet in March for the legislative session, they are obligated to pass a state budget.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed a budget of more than $100 billion after last session.

Florida Policy Institute’s CEO Sadaf Knight says a surplus in the budget is being forecast for this year.

"And that is a combination of the federal aid that we have received, you know, over the past few years because of the COVID 19 pandemic," she said. "And also, better than expected performance on our sales tax revenue, as people were shifting from services to consumer goods over the pandemic."

In the past, Florida's budget has seen a shortfall leading to cuts for certain programs.

"At this point, it's an opportunity to utilize that surplus to reinvest in public services," she said." And make sure that we're fully funding all of these critical things like education, health care, infrastructure and all those different things."

But, this surplus in the budget won't last forever, according to Knight.

She said the state anticipates that we'll see our general revenue increase through fiscal year 2025-26.

"We will need to have revenue sources in place, when this surplus sort of runs down," said Sadaf.

Bills To Watch

  • HB1- School Choice

District 83 Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck filed House Bill 1, which "revises provisions relating to Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, & part-time enrollment in public schools."
Knight said HB1 is a very concerning bill because it will essentially make Florida's voucher program universal.

A report from the Florida Policy Institute found that these vouchers are funded through tax credits and the state's education funding formula.

"Money coming directly from money that would have gone to public schools, HB one would essentially fast track that and make it so that the money that is being drained from our public schools accelerates pretty significantly," she said.

Currently, vouchers make up 10% of the school budget.

"We are very concerned that with making the vouchers universal, we're going to see that skyrocket and further lead to disinvestment in our schools, school closures, and an inability to attract teachers and other faculty," said Knight.

  • Mobile Response Teams

FPI is watch a potential bill that would allow the state to draw down 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 988 that was rolled out, and the need for mental health and behavioral health services," said Knight.

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

"And the state already spends money through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act that was passed a few years ago, that could be a match, and we could draw down funding to provide these services in a more robust way."

Public Health Emergency Ends During Session

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

During this time, all Floridians who are enrolled in our Medicaid program and in the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, were able to get health insurance coverage without having to reenroll in Medicaid, also known as continuous coverage.

That continuous coverage protection through the public health emergency will end March 31, 2023.

"The state will have to go through a process of redetermining eligibility for 5.5 million people who are on Medicaid, including 2.8 million children," said Knight. "So this is huge. This is going to be a monstrous undertaking for the state."

Earlier this month, the Department of Children and Families released a plan for the redetermination process.

"We need to have a robust plan so that we can ensure that people who are going to remain eligible don't get kicked off for procedural or administrative reasons,said Knight. "And that those who are no longer eligible can seamlessly move into other types of coverage."

DCF has identified 900,000 people whose change in income may no longer make them eligible for Medicaid, according to Knight.

"This is a huge amount 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 subsidies in the health care marketplace, but they also make too much to qualify for Medicaid."

If you are a Medicaid recipient or if you have kids who are on Medicaid or CHIP, Knight said, "to keep an eye out for the information coming out about redetermination process and what you might need to do to ensure that you don't lose your coverage because of any procedural or administrative reasons."

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.
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