The Florida Capitol this week got a facelift; streamers of colorful crayon-stained construction paper cutouts cascaded from the third-floor rotunda, signaling the 25th-anniversary celebration of Children’s Week. In the spirit of the theme, House lawmakers considered many policies this week that empower Florida families and help kids in the process.
In committees, lawmakers approved sweeping reforms to the state’s child welfare system, expansions on school choice, and improvements to school security. During Wednesday’s House floor meeting, representatives passed several bills, including one to protect public school student athletes from deadly heat strokes by requiring schools have life-saving cooling tubs or pools available.
On Thursday, the Florida House of Representatives published its state budget for 2020-21. The House’s plan is the least costly to taxpayers, yet it still includes salary increases for both new and veteran school teachers, law enforcement, and child protective investigators. The House’s proposed budget effectively limits the size and scope of government and brings per-capita spending down to a reasonable $4,158 per person – less than both the Governor’s and Senate’s proposals.
Additional highlights from Week 3 of Florida’s legislative session are detailed below.
House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee votes for child welfare reform
During the 25th Annual Children's Week at the Florida Capitol, House lawmakers in the Children, Families & Seniors subcommittee approved sweeping child welfare reforms via a proposed committee bill Wednesday.
The child welfare bill improves the state’s child welfare system by providing more support for key workers, enhancing workforce development at every stage in the pipeline, involving community-based organizations, and holding all partners to the same standard of excellence. Pay raises for child protective investigators and supervisors are included among the reforms.
“We have hundreds of people who are making enormous decisions, daily, for our state's most vulnerable children. These workers need support,” House Speaker Jose Oliva said in a prepared statement. “We must give our very best to help the state’s abused and neglected children, and this legislation does just that."
House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee votes for free-market
health care reform
Floridians deserve options when it comes to meeting their health care needs. Florida House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee members approved a bill Tuesday that frees up more choices for patients who need specialty care.
HB 6059 removes provisions prohibiting licensure of hospitals that serve specific populations. Florida bans hospitals that specialize in cardiac, orthopedic, surgical or oncology care. That means hospitals can’t specialize and become a center of innovation in any of those areas.
HB 6059 removes outdated regulatory barriers that hinder competition. Repealing the ban should increase competition and ultimately lead to more high-quality, cost-effective options for patients.
House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee votes to create new health care facility
Florida House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee members approved a bill Tuesday that would give patients more options for post-surgery care. HB 827 creates a new licensure category for recovery care centers (RCCs), facilities for post-operative care.
RCCs are a new kind of facility that will give patients access to more options for post-surgery care. These facilities would be able to keep patients up to 72 hours after a procedure at an ambulatory surgical center, hospital, or after an outpatient medical treatment such as chemotherapy.
The bill requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to implement stringent standards for RCCs to ensure patient safety and quality care, just like any other health care facility licensure category. RCCs must have emergency care and transfer protocols with at least one hospital.
HB 827 makes way for a safe, logical, and more personal recovery option for people who need care after a surgery or treatment, but do not need to stay in a hospital.
House Health Care Appropriations votes to make medical records more accessible
The Florida House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee members approved a bill Tuesday to ensure that Floridians gain access to their medical records in a standardized, timely manner. HB 1147 sets the timeframe that health care providers and facilities must produce or allow inspection of records and empowers patients to control their records in the form most convenient for them.
Requesting medical records should be a straightforward process; however, it is often inconsistent, confusing, and subject to repeated delays. HB 1147 ensures that, regardless of provider type, each practitioner and facility must produce all requested records in their possession within 14 working days and allow inspection of all records in their possession within 10 working days. Furthermore, providers and facilities must produce the records in the form the patient selects.
A patient will receive treatment from many health care providers throughout their life, and each provider will create and maintain a record of that treatment. It is crucial that the patient and each of his or her current and future providers have prior treatment records for the patient to receive the best care.
House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee votes to end surprise medical billing
Florida House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee members approved a bill Tuesday that protects Floridians from surprise medical billing.
Costs associated with health care services and procedures have the potential to result in significant medical debt for patients, and even bankruptcy. Even if medical costs do not result in bankruptcy, they can weigh heavily on patients. Past legislative efforts have helped patients get more information on health care costs prior to care, but more needs to be done to empower patients and protect them from unfair billing practices.
HB 959 empowers and protects patients by requiring health care facilities to provide good-faith estimates of charges for nonemergency medical services to patients and prohibiting facilities from charging any more than the estimate plus 10% — except if in unforeseen circumstances. The bill also increases medical debt collection consumer protections.
Current law requires all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and urgent care centers to provide each patient an estimate of charges prior to providing any nonemergency medical services – but only upon patient request. HB 959 makes these estimates mandatory and binding unless unforeseen circumstances or additional services result in the need for additional charges. If so, those charges must be explained in writing.
HB 959 increases certainty regarding the costs of recommended treatments and medical procedures, and protects patients from unfair billing practices.
House Appropriations Committee votes to prevent anti-competitive practices
Hospital control of many health care providers in one area reduces competition and raises costs. That is why Florida House lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would monitor hospital mergers and acquisitions.
HB 711 requires the Attorney General’s Office to review hospital acquisitions of physician practices and other health care provider entities for anti-competitive behavior. Any hospital planning to acquire a physician practice must report it to the Attorney General at least 90 days prior to completion. The bill authorizes the Attorney General’s Anti-Trust division to look out for anti-competitive practices and act accordingly to prevent harmful monopolies.
On average, prices increase by 14.1% when a hospital acquires a physician’s practice. For specialty physician practice acquisitions, prices rise by 15% to 33.5%. This policy is the best solution to prevent monopolistic mergers and acquisitions leading to unfair, anticompetitive markets that increase health care costs and reduce access.
House Health & Human Services Committee votes to prevent fraud and abuse
Most Floridians conduct business electronically — it’s instant, efficient and secure. It’s time now for the health care industry to catch up. HB 1103 does just that by eliminating paper prescriptions and moving to an electronic format, which could help combat fraud, medical errors and the opioid crisis. Florida House Health & Human Services Committee members approved the bill Thursday to further this effort.
HB 1103 would require all prescriptions to be electronically transmitted by July 1, 2021, with exceptions for written prescriptions when there is a temporary electrical or technological failure that prevents electronic prescribing. Written prescriptions exacerbate the opioid crisis because they can be altered, and prescription pads may be lost or stolen and used illegally. Written prescriptions can also cause medical errors when handwriting is misread.
Many providers already e-prescribe medications. At least 15 other states require e-prescribing in some manner, and federal law will require it for all controlled substances beginning January 1, 2021.
House Ways & Means Committee votes to increase transparency
Members of the Florida House Ways & Means Committee approved a bill on Monday to ensure that local governments are responsible and transparent stewards of taxpayer dollars.
HB 1149 requires additional fiscal transparency from local governments. The bill focuses on helping residents gain access to important information, including voting records related to tax increases and the issuance of tax-supported debt. The bill also enhances access to tax history and property tax information, expands public meetings and notice requirements, and requires local governments to conduct and consider a debt affordability analysis prior to approving the issuance of new long-term, tax-supported debt.
Under current law, most local governments are required to have an annual financial audit. HB 1149 requires the auditor to report whether the local government is in compliance with the provisions of the new act created by the bill. Local governments not in compliance must provide evidence that corrective action has been initiated within 45 days and completed within 180 days. The Auditor General must report local governments that do not take corrective action to the Legislative Auditing Committee.
HB 1149 ensures that Floridians have open, easy access to the information they need to be more engaged with their local government.
House Committee votes to expand Sunrise Review process for regulated industries
When excessive regulation goes unchecked, working Floridians and small businesses suffer. This week, the House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee passed HB 1155, which strengthens Florida’s Sunrise Act to ensure that proposed regulations of professions are necessary to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare.
Florida’s Sunrise Act requires a formal review of proposed regulations of professions that includes a cost-benefit analysis. Currently, it only applies to legislation that proposes regulation of an unregulated profession. HB 1155 expands the scope of the Sunrise Act by requiring a formal review for legislation that expands the scope of a regulated profession to include currently unregulated activities.
This bill helps ensure that Florida residents, businesses, and industries can thrive in a healthy regulatory environment that promotes the free market.
Florida House Committee passes Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act
Excessive regulations can hinder economic growth and act as barriers to workforce entry for many people who want to make a living. This week, the House Government Operations & Technology Subcommittee passed HB 1193 to free workers from redundant licensure and training requirements.
For barbers and cosmetology specialists, HB 1193 reduces the excessive hours of training required to obtain a license to work. For occupations where a license is simply unnecessary, such as commercial interior designers and hair braiders, HB 1193 would eliminate the state licensing requirement. The bill also expands license reciprocity measures for several professions.
Many of the deregulated professions in the bill already have industry standards in place, so continuing to require a license for those professions beyond what preserves the public health, safety, and welfare is unnecessary.
Florida House Committee passes Lottery warning bill
The Florida Lottery urges customers to “Play Responsibly” on some of their games and encourages those who see the signs of addiction to seek help, but it does not do enough to address the risks of gambling. This week the Gaming Control Subcommittee approved HB 991 to provide a solution.
Under HB 991, all lottery tickets and advertisements must include the message “Play Responsibly.” While the message is already widely used by the Florida Lottery, the bill would codify it in statute and specify where and how it must appear. The bill also calls for the Florida Lottery to make an annual payment of $500,000 to a private organization providing prevention services for compulsive or addictive gambling.
Many people who play state lottery games have below-average income. Even a small chance to win large sums of money presents a compelling incentive to the poor that can easily turn into a problem. Because of this, it is important to build in protections for the poor and prone to addiction.
Florida House Committee passes bill to end public tax dollars funding stadiums
Floridians’ hard-earned tax dollars shouldn’t fund professional sports stadiums that make sports team owners richer while doing little for the local economy. HB 1369 takes a proactive step toward ending this practice.
On Wednesday, members of the House Workforce Development & Tourism Subcommittee approved the bill, which ends the sport-stadium funding program that earmarks taxpayer dollars to subsidize professional sports facilities and requires sports franchises to pay outstanding debts on stadiums they no longer use.
HB 1369 would also free up the $13 million a year currently set aside for stadium work – funds that could go to more worthy causes that put hardworking Floridians ahead of sports team owners.
House Commerce Committee votes to end barriers to entry for skilled workers
Burdensome local licensing requirements act as barriers to job entry for skilled workers, prevent mobility, and increase costs for people who are otherwise qualified to work, especially when licensing requirements vary by city or county.
On Thursday, members of the House Commerce voted to give workers greater opportunities to practice their trade and remove barriers created by the patchwork of local licensing requirements by approving HB 3. The bill addresses the issue so Floridians can work statewide without paying fees, passing unnecessary tests or meeting extra experience or education requirements.
HB 3 preempts occupational licensing to the state and allows professionals to work anywhere in Florida without the burdens that local licensing requirements create. Inconsistent licensing requirements across different cities or counties would be eliminated unless specifically authorized by state law. The bill also specifically prohibits local licensure of certain jobs, including painting and flooring installation.
Civil Justice Subcommittee votes to improve accuracy in medical expense damages
Health insurance prices are skyrocketing. A broken court system that awards inflated amounts of medical expenses in personal injury and wrongful death cases could be one reason why. Medical bills that do not accurately reflect the typical amount paid for that medical service should not be considered by a jury.
Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee members approved a bill on Wednesday to address this problem. HB 9 ensures that the amount of medical expenses awarded in personal injury or wrongful death cases reflects the usual and customary amounts that a service provider in the community would receive and not the amount the medical provider billed.
It also deals with rising insurance costs by establishing logical guidelines for medical damages payouts in personal injury or wrongful death cases. The bill aims to limit any confusion a jury may have about what amount of damages should be awarded.
Florida House committee supports legislation to help Floridians compare local governments
Information about local government spending, debt, and more should be published in a manner that is timely, understandable, and accessible to Floridians. On Thursday, the State Affairs Committee approved two proposed committee bills that offer a policy solution to ensure this practice is the norm.
The bills work together to require local governments to submit annual reports of financial and economic information to the Department of Financial Services. The Department will then be required to publish this data on an interactive website and on printed reports to be mailed to each household in Florida with a registered voter. These tools will allow Floridians to compare the data from their local governments with other local governments and see how their area ranks in government spending, debt, and other categories.
This legislation works to equip Floridians with important information about their local governments. When they have this knowledge, they can make better decisions about where they choose to live, who they choose to vote for, and how they choose to get involved in their communities.
Legislation to increase fiscal responsibility in government passes House committee
On Monday, the Ways & Means Committee passed a measure to ensure that community development districts (CDDs) are held to the same high standard as state government.
CDDs are a type of special-purpose local government that should provide basic urban community services in a cost-effective manner.
Currently, a CDD board may authorize bonds by a majority vote of the board. HB 851 increases the number of votes required for a CDD board to authorize bonds from a majority vote to two-thirds vote of the board beginning October 1, 2020.
In state government, any proposed new tax or fee, or an increase to a tax or fee, must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each chamber of the Florida Legislature. Providing the same vote threshold for CDDs is logical and helps ensure consistency and accountability.
Florida House committee votes to bring transparency to public records process
Florida’s laws include a variety of definitions of “trade secret” and inconsistent agency procedures for classifying information as trade secrets. Once this term is applied, the information – sometimes including prices and other purchasing information – is hidden from public view. Members of the Commerce Committee on Thursday approved two bills that ensure public information is not improperly exempted from public disclosure as a trade secret.
HB 799 defines the term "trade secret" and creates a uniform public record exemption that applies to all agencies subject to public records requirements. HB 801 repeals agency-specific public record exemptions for trade secrets, associated processes for designating a trade secret, and most references to trade secrets contained in the definitions for proprietary business information.
The residents of Florida have a right to know where, how, and under what terms their tax dollars are being spent. These bills work together to eliminate the lack of uniformity among government agencies in what information is labeled "trade secrets" and kept from the public view.
Judiciary Committee votes to update public notice rules
Floridians should have simple, easy and free access to public notices. On Thursday, the Florida House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that updates how government entities publish public notices so they can better reach Florida residents with key information and reduce the costs associated with doing so.
HB 7 gives government agencies the option to publish legally required advertisements and notices on a public website if certain conditions are met. Currently, Florida law requires state and local government entities to buy newspaper advertisements to share information with the public regarding important deadlines, events, or code changes. Exceptions exist for counties that do not have a newspaper in the county. This bill updates the outdated legal notice publication requirements to better reflect how most Floridians get their information – online.
Today, the vast majority of Floridians have access to an internet connection via a computer, tablet, or cellphone. With so many people online, modernizing the public notice system will result in more residents being informed about meetings that impact their lives – all while saving public dollars.