Republicans rejected Democrats’ request to extend the special session to address other significant issues impacting Floridians including expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income people including kids and the affordable housing crisis. STOCK PHOTO

MIAMI – Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called a four-day special session last week for the state Legislature in Tallahassee to impose sanctions against Iran and to show solidarity with Israel in its war with Hamas that has killed over 12,000 people and had 240 taken hostage.

Lawmakers also approved bills for security at Jewish schools to prevent hate crimes, tax relief and other aid for damages caused by Hurricane Idalia, and expanding Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with unique abilities.

But Republicans rejected Democrats’ request to extend the special session to address other significant issues impacting Floridians including expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income people including kids and the affordable housing crisis.

Republicans instead put it off until the regular legislative session which begins on Jan. 9.

Democrats, however, said the issues will get lost in the shuffle with a host of bills to be considered and the special session was the right time to isolate the matters and give immediate relief to Florida residents.

Among the issues Democrats wanted to patch up during the special session was expanding medical coverage after nearly a million of poor Floridians, including children, lost Medicaid insurance.

House Democrats filed HB 17C to provide relief to low-income people affected by the loss of Medicaid.

“At a time where over half a million Floridians have lost their medical coverage, including over a quarter of a million children, HB 17C is the relief needed for these low-income families to ensure they can be healthy, prosperous and safe,” said North Miami state Rep. Dotie Joseph.

Florida is among 10 states to refuse federal funding to help pay for health care for low-income families when enrollment was stopped in 2023 by the Republican-controlled legislation.

Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell from Tampa said Florida is leaving millions of dollars every year to be sent to other states.

She said Floridians without coverage are in dire need of medical insurance because of health issues that may require a doctor’s diagnosis.

Driskell said DeSantis called the special session for support for Israel to bolster his struggling presidential campaign.

DeSantis is trailing former President Donald Trump in most of the polls, by as much as 49 points in California and 45 points in Mississippi and Texas.

“We should be focused on helping Floridians, not giving Ron DeSantis a talking point for his presidential campaign,” Driskell told reporters. “Our community is worried about property insurance, schools, and health care. I don’t know what GOP primary voters in Iowa are concerned about, but maybe DeSantis can ask while he’s up there. We have offered several good bills that could help Floridians, and it’s disappointing but not surprising that we are once again being ignored.”

Democrats filed other bills for the special session including HB 27C designed to create homeowner’s insurance payment assistance programs by Orlando State Representative Anna Eskamani, and HB 29C which would increase accountability of insurance companies to their customers, and another bill to address Florida’s affordable housing crisis, also sponsored by Eskamani.

Though the Legislature allocated $181.5 million to the My Safe Florida Home Program to help lower the costs of homeowners’ insurance for Floridians, Eskamani said the benefit doesn’t extend to people earning Florida’s median income which is $61,777 or less.

“Floridians across the state are demanding action on issues that impact their daily lives, like the rising rate of property insurance and the cost of rent,” Eskamani said. “Our constituents are facing an economic crisis, and we should be focused on addressing these very real and serious concerns. Though I am disappointed that our request to expand the Special Session to address these challenges was rejected, we will never stop fighting for the needs of our communities.”

Democrats also criticized HB 3C for not going further to fix problems with the state’s new universal voucher program.

Lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation to expand the voucher program to give parents of K-12 students taxpayer funds to attend private schools.

Some parents and schools have reported trouble receiving the funds, affecting the ability to pay rent and other costs.

The bill removes the cap on vouchers for special needs students, as more than 8,000 students were put on a waiting list this year.

“This money needs to get to the students, and it needs to get to the parents,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Boca Raton Democrat. “As we go forward, please remember that you have more work to do to fix this program so that it works for everyone.”

DeSantis said he acknowledged the issues impacting Florida and they will be tackled during the regular session in January.

Meanwhile, DeSantis applauded and urged swift action in a Special Session of the Florida Legislature to address urgency of the war between Jerusalim and Hamas and issues facing the state.

"Special Sessions are limited in focus," DeSantis said in a statement. “I applaud the Legislature for their fast work during this special session. Divesting from any company that supports Iran and ensuring that students are able to attend Jewish Day Schools safely is of utmost importance.

"I am also thankful we have been able to provide relief for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Idalia, take steps to lower the costs of homeowners’ insurance and expand Florida’s nation leading school choice program to include any student with unique abilities. I look forward to signing this legislation.”