A look at the Florida legislative session

We are just over a month away from the legislative session that begins on March 7. WMFE’s Talia Blake caught up with Sadaf Knight, executive director of the Florida Policy Institute, to discuss the state budget, what bills she’s seeing in this session, and more.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

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

state budget

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

Florida Policy Institute executive director Sadaf Knight says a budget surplus is forecast for this year.

“And that’s a combination of the federal help that we’ve received, you know, in recent years because of the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said. “And also, a better-than-expected performance in our sales tax revenue as people were shifting from services to consumer goods during the pandemic.”

In the past, Florida’s budget has experienced a shortfall that has caused cuts to certain programs.

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

But this budget surplus won’t last forever, according to Knight.

She said the state anticipates that we will see an increase in our overall revenue during the 2025-26 fiscal year.

“We will have to have sources of revenue in place, when this surplus is exhausted,” Sadaf said.

bills to see

Republican 83rd District Representative Kaylee Tuck introduced House Bill 1, which “revises provisions related to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and enrollment to part time in public schools.
Knight said HB1 is a very concerning bill because it will essentially make Florida’s coupon program universal.

A Florida Policy Institute report 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 accelerate that and cause the money that is being drained from our public schools to accelerate quite significantly,” he said.

Currently, vouchers represent 10% of the school budget.

“We are very concerned that with the universalization of vouchers, we will see it skyrocket and lead to further disinvestment in our schools, school closures and the inability to attract teachers and other faculty,” Knight said.

FPI is eyeing a possible bill that would allow the state to get additional federal funds to support mobile response teams, which Knight says are similar to on-demand services for mental health and communities.
“These are really critical, especially with 988 being put in place and the need for mental health and behavioral health services,” Knight said.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act, states had the option of obtaining additional matching funds to support these services.

“And the state is already spending money through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act that was passed a few years ago, that could be a coincidence, and we could get funding to provide these services in a more robust way.”

Public health emergency ends during session

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

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

That protection of continued coverage during the public health emergency will end on March 31, 2023.

“The state will have to go through an eligibility redetermination process for 5.5 million people who have Medicaid, including 2.8 million children,” Knight said. “So this is huge. It will be a monstrous undertaking for the state.”

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

“We need to have a strong plan in place to make sure that people who will remain eligible are not removed for procedural or administrative reasons,” Knight said. “And that those who are no longer eligible can seamlessly move to other types of coverage.”

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

“This is a large number of people in Florida who are at risk of falling into what we call the coverage gap,” he 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 have children who have Medicaid or CHIP, Knight said, “be aware of information that emerges about the redetermination process and what you may need to do to make sure you don’t lose your coverage due to administrative or regulatory reasons.” process”.