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Week in Review | November 4-8, 2019

State representatives have wrapped up the fourth of six weeks of committee meetings in Tallahassee in preparation for the 2020 legislative session.

Keeping with tradition, most House committees and subcommittees have spent the first few weeks hearing presentations. This time helps lawmakers get acclimated to new subject matter. While presentations and workshops serve an essential purpose, with only six committee weeks and 60 days of session, hearing policy bills is now a top priority. State representatives have addressed several policy bills in these first few weeks, but more will come up as the legislative session draws closer.

Next week is the fifth and second-to-last committee week. While the process is ramping up and lawmakers are busy with bills and budget requests, the House will set aside time Monday, Nov. 11, to observe Veterans Day and honor all who have served our country. The 2020 legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Florida continues to see strong job growth in September

Floridians expect strong business growth, ample jobs, and a bright future; the latest economic reports live up to those expectations. In September, Florida's unemployment rate fell to 3.2 percent, and 11,100 jobs were added.These weren't the only positive economic indicators the state has seen. The annual private-sector job growth rate of 2.8 percent outpaces the national rate of 1.6 percent, and the labor force has had a growth rate of 1.5 percent over the past year, with 154,000 newly employed. Under Republican leadership, Florida consistently ranks among the best states for jobs – illustrating the benefits of limited taxes and government regulation.

Agency for Health Care Administration launches Florida Health Price Finder to improve medical pricing transparency

A new website to help Floridians take a more active role in their health care choices launched this week, providing accurate and realistic pricing for commonly bundled health care procedures.

The state created at the direction of a 2016 Florida House Bill. It is a significant advancement from the information available in hospital chargemasters because it provides pricing based on what insurance companies paid for procedures. Instead of a comprehensive listing of the cost of every possible procedure, this new resource offers the total price for a "care bundle" -- the services most likely to be provided as a group based on insurance claims data. Users can easily browse care bundles via an alphabetical list or interactive visual body map. The site also offers easy access to provider performance reports, pricing datasets, and facility locations. Patients can use this information to pick high-value providers and to plan for their health care costs.

Over time, the market demand for affordable, quality care will drive down prices and improve available options. House Republicans are committed to further disrupting the status quo in health care to empower consumers and drive down costs.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee considers technology, public safety, and privacy

Artificial intelligence, big data, and high-tech surveillance systems have the potential to change the way law enforcement predict and prevent life-threatening incidents. However, lawmakers understand the need to consider potential privacy implications.

On Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice subcommittee heard presentations from two companies to gain a better understanding of how it works. The technology crawls the internet for publicly available information and analyzes it to help identify potentially threatening people. Wayne Logan, professor at Florida State University College of Law, expressed the importance of maintaining privacy and personal liberty. Logan encouraged the subcommittee to look into steps other states have taken to regulate this kind of technology and how they have managed to guard personal privacy while doing so.

House Republicans are committed to ensuring that law enforcement is well-equipped to protect the public while remaining highly vigilant to defend individual liberty from government intrusion.

Presentation emphasizes law enforcement implications of recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana legalization has real consequences that require state policy considerations. That was the key takeaway from a presentation to the House Health & Human Services Committee intended to inform lawmakers about the effects of marijuana legalization in other states.

Chris Gibson, executive director of the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, said Oregon's marijuana production far exceeds demand. The excess supply is sufficient to meet current demand for the next 6.5 years or to provide each of the 400,000 Oregon users with 2.5 pounds of marijuana. Excess supply is being trafficked out of Oregon to many other states. Oregon does not have sufficient resources to regulate recreational marijuana adequately, Gibson said. The issues surrounding marijuana use -- such as driving under the influence -- are likely increasing challenges for law enforcement, and marijuana grown by licensed producers has been found in the black market outside of Oregon. Positive workforce drug tests doubled between 2012 and 2017.

Gibson dispelled many common talking points used to justify recreational marijuana legalization. He said that marijuana taxes make up a very small fraction of Oregon's tax revenues, neither medical nor recreational marijuana reduces opioid use, and there were no indications of cost savings for law enforcement.

Florida has taken several steps to limit the negative societal impacts of medical marijuana by creating a tightly regulated system through vertical integration and license caps. These responsible regulations should be included in any recreational marijuana policy.

House Republicans remain committed to understanding the real consequences of marijuana when considering current and future policy options.

Presentation highlights dangers of recreational marijuana

When access to marijuana increases, so do emergency room visits. Andrew Monte, M.D., professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, presented this important finding to the House Health Quality Subcommittee on Wednesday.

In Colorado, the legalization of marijuana – especially edibles – caused a significant uptick in ER visits. Monte noted that cannabis consumption could cause psychosis, and visits to ERs across Colorado for the pot-related psychosis have increased five-fold. Three deaths in Colorado are directly attributable to psychosis caused by edible cannabis consumption. Edible marijuana causes 33 times as many emergency room visits than expected based on sales of edibles compared with marijuana flower. ER visits for cyclical vomiting have doubled since medical marijuana legalization.

Dr. Monte also refuted a common talking point for proponents that it is impossible to overdose on marijuana. He said not only is it possible to overdose on marijuana, but children in his hospital have been put on respirators due to overdoses.

"If we're going to treat this as a drug, we should treat this as a drug. We don't even know how much [THC] is actually in products that people are taking for medical purposes," Monte said. "We would never accept that from another medication. And so it's dangerous; it's inherently dangerous."

Monte highlighted the flaws in Colorado's cannabis regulation, including blurred lines between medicinal and recreational; failure to control THC amounts; and the lack of robust data on adverse drug events, crimes, or financial impact.

The message is clear: Increased access to marijuana can be dangerous and lead to unintended consequences. House Republicans continue to review issues and responsible policy options in the event Florida voters approve an activist-sponsored ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in 2020.

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