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Manatee lawmakers give forum limited view of special session

BRADENTON -- A legislative recap breakfast, shortened by the sudden illness of a Manatee County commissioner Monday morning, left local elected and economic development officials with little information about what may come of a June special session.

Normally an opportunity to look back on a finished session, the annual event put on by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce at the IMG Academy Golf Club was characterized by hopeful language from House members looking to get back to work June 1. The House decamped three days early from its 2015 regular session two weeks ago, leaving the state's budget and numerous pieces of policy in limbo.

Normally consisting of remarks from local legislators and a question-and-answer session, the event ended early after Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle had a medical episode and had to be taken by paramedics to Blake Medical Center. The Q&A was canceled, so attendees had no opportunity to put state

Reps Jim Boyd, Greg Steube and Darryl Rouson on the spot.

Of particular concern to the roughly 100 guests was funding for low-income health care, the prognosis for business-related tax issues and the delay an unfinished budget brings to the budgeting process for local jurisdictions. Attending legislators touched on the health care and business issues, but gave local issues only limited voice.

Boyd, R-Bradenton, addressed the federally funded Low Income Pool for medical care right out of the gate. The federal government has refused to send LIP funds to Florida as part of a standoff over the Legislature's and Gov. Rick Scott's unwillingness to expand the state Medicaid program. The funds help some hospitals and clinics pay for treating uninsured and underinsured patients.

Boyd said he's betting the federal government will send LIP money.

"Obviously, health care is the big issue," Boyd said. "We do have a couple proposals out there the House floated in terms of the LIP funding should that not come in from the feds."

Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, the only Democrat on the legislative panel, said he is choosing to see the special session as a reset for two months of unfinished business. While 167 bills did pass through the chamber, he said many more need to be finished or may need to be resurrected if vetoed or not signed by the governor.

"We get a chance to re-enact them when we go back in special session," he said.

Steube, R-Sarasota, confined his remarks largely to four pieces of legislation. He said he was pleased to see one measure go to the governor that will allow drivers to put emergency notification information on their licenses and another that authorizes firefighters to carry and use epi pens.

He said the House also made progress on reducing a 6-percent tax on businesses that lease real estate. The House passed a measure that reduces that tax by a few tenths of a percent. Steube had advocated dropping the tax by 1 percent per year until it was eliminated.

Steube got emotional about a proposed bill to provide veterans' contact information from Department of Highway Safety records to county veterans affairs service offices. The information would then be given to private organizations to allow them to contact veterans who may need financial or other types of assistance.

The bill passed out of the Senate and was on the House calendar to be voted on the day it broke session.

"All we had to do was pick the bill up and vote it out," Steube said, his voice cracking. "So I was disappointed we weren't able to get that out, all because of politics."

Though nothing in the way of guarantees came out of the Monday event, county officials said they will move ahead with their budgeting and agendas while hoping for the best.

"We adopt a budget in September," said Betsy Benac, chairwoman of the Manatee County Board of Commissioners. "We hope to know by July what the status of funding is."

Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber, said the interrupted session will undoubtedly reduce exposure for his organization's lengthy 2015 legislative agenda. What gets through will depend on the 20 extra days legislators will spend in Tallahassee.

"Nobody can say at this point," he said.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who had been expected at the chamber event, did not attend.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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