Weatherford calls for election and education changes, no Medicaid expansion
As the 60-day regular legislative session opened Tuesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford declared his firm opposition to the expansion of Medicaid in Florida, while calling for representatives to quickly approve an election reform package that expands early voting.
The Wesley Chapel Republican, who has crafted an ethics- and election-reform package with Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) also pushed for members to support his call to have new state workers entered into a defined contribution retirement plan instead of the state pension plan.
Weatherford also supported legislation to prohibit public colleges and universities in Florida from denying lower tuition to state residents based solely on their parents' "citizenship" status.
"Today, we're treating some of our children born in Florida whose parents made mistakes, as second-class citizens," Weatherford said. "They do not enjoy what every other child born in Florida receives: in-state tuition. ††
"If you're born in America you're an American," Weatherford continued. "And to hold any other view completely contradicts everything that our country was founded upon."
Weatherford saved his strongest words for Medicaid.†The House Select Committee on the Affordable Care Act on Monday rejected Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to accept the expansion for three years before revisiting the plan.
Weatherford empathized with those who cannot afford health insurance, recalling his parent's struggles when his brother Peter fought and lost a battle with cancer, but he said the federal approach "crosses the line of the proper role of government" and is destined to fail.
"I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care," Weatherford said.†
"This inflexible plan, thrust upon us by the federal government, is not aimed at strengthening the safety net.† It pushes a social ideology at the expense of our future," he said.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) countered that the Medicaid expansion would save lives.
"Expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act is not just an achievable approach to ending Florida's problem of a vast uninsured populace," Thurston said in a response taped for the Florida Channel. "It's also a means of accelerating Florida's economic recovery to restore our shared prosperity."
Weatherford did draw upon Scott ó who was slated to give the State of the State address later Tuesday ó in one aspect.
As he wrapped up his comments, Weatherford encouraged members: "Let's get to work."