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Week in Review | Session Week 1 (January 14-17, 2020)

The 2020 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature kicked off Tuesday with memorable remarks by House Speaker Jose R. Oliva. His focus over these 60 days of session remains on fiscal prudence and health care reform. Speaking about the health care industrial complex, Oliva was clear about his concern and intent to pave a path for positive change.

“They receive state dollars, federal dollars and private payer dollars. We also extend them all manner of local tax breaks, and it is not enough!” Oliva said. “It will never be enough. Until we have the courage to empower the patient and loosen the regulations which have allowed their empire-building, it will never be enough.”

With his comments in mind, House lawmakers heard dozens of bills on a variety of topics over the past week – approving several measures in the areas of health care, education, commerce and more that offer the promise of positive impact on Floridians statewide. The following briefs highlight several of those bills.

House Health Care Appropriations Committee votes to break down health care barriers

Florida House Health Care Appropriations members approved a bill Wednesday that would free advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to help patients to the full extent of their education and training.

Florida has a shortage of health care providers, which means some patients don’t have quick access to the primary care they need. However, there are 32,877 APRNs actively licensed to practice in Florida but can only do so under the supervision of a physician.

These APRNs have graduate degrees – many doctoral – and are trained to diagnose and treat illness and disease. Yet, they are stifled in their ability to help patients. Many experienced APRNs are “supervised” by physicians who never see the APRN’s patients, never review a chart, and never do a patient consultation.

Treatment by an APRN is just as safe as a treatment by a physician. In fact, states that allow independent practice see increases in health care utilization and quality of care, which can lead to improved health outcomes. HB 607 brings Florida in line with 30 other states that already allow APRNs to practice independently.

House Health Quality Subcommittee 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 Quality Subcommittee members approved the bill Wednesday 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 Health Quality Subcommittee votes to drive down health care costs

Patients should know upfront when a health care professional refers them to an out-of-network health care provider, and physicians should not financially benefit from the referrals they make. Florida House Health Quality Subcommittee members approved a bill Wednesday to build those patient-protection measures into Florida law.

Patients are sometimes shocked to learn that the provider they were referred to is out-of-network and only discover it when it’s too late — when they receive the bill. A growing trend among hospitals is to acquire private health care practice groups, such as a physician practice group or an imaging center. Hospitals may pressure these health care providers to only refer patients to providers affiliated with the hospital.

HB 955 prohibits health care providers from referring patients to any hospital in which they hold an investment interest and requires written notice to the patient of a referral to an out-of-network provider.

House Health Market Reform Subcommittee votes for free-market health care reform

Floridians deserve options when it comes to meeting their health care needs. Florida House Health Market Reform Subcommittee members approved a bill Wednesday 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 the premier facility 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 Market Reform Subcommittee votes to ensure hospital charitable care

Hospitals that qualify for local property tax exemptions should have to prove that they provide an equivalent value to their communities. Florida House Health Market Reform Subcommittee members approved a bill Wednesday that requires hospitals to do so.

Current law grants an exemption from local property taxes for property used predominately for charitable purposes. However, the bar for hospitals to qualify for a charitable property tax exemption is low — they only have to demonstrate nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. HB 919 asks this critical question of nonprofit hospitals: Are you doing enough for the community to earn this tax break?

Under the bill, hospitals are required to demonstrate the value of charitable services by providing IRS filings used to report the value of their charitable care, and they would receive a property tax exemption that is proportional to the value of the charity care they provide. Charitable care covered by some form of government payment will not qualify.

HB 919 holds nonprofit hospitals accountable, ensuring they give back enough to their communities to justify their local property tax exemption.

House Health Market Reform Subcommittee votes to create new health care facility

Florida House Health Market Reform Subcommittee members approved a bill on Wednesday 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 want to stay in a hospital.

House Business & Professions Subcommittee votes to end barriers to entry for workers

Burdensome local licensing requirements act as barriers to job entry for skilled workers, prevents mobility, and increases costs for people who are otherwise qualified to work, especially when licensing requirements vary by city or county.

On Wednesday, members of the House Business & Professions Subcommittee voted to give workers greater opportunities to practice their trade and remove barriers created by the patchwork of local licensing requirements. HB 3 addresses the issue so Floridians can work statewide without paying additional 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.

House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee votes to expand charter schools

Public charter schools provide families the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their child’s individual needs. On Wednesday, Florida House Republicans on the PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee voted to expand access to charter schools as a public education option for Florida’s students.

Currently, only a school district may authorize charter schools in their district. HB 953, Charter Schools, allows state colleges and universities to act as public charter school authorizers, in addition to school districts, to meet regional workforce and educational needs.

Nearly 7 in 10 voters nationwide support school choice, according to a RealClear Opinion Research Survey. By allowing state colleges and universities to act as authorizers, HB 953 provides students with opportunities for acceleration into new and exciting educational workforce areas, helping meet Florida’s growing demand for school choice.

House subcommittee approves Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education bill

State university and college students should feel free to express their viewpoints in a marketplace of diverse ideas. On Wednesday, Florida House lawmakers on the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted to support this concept by approving HB 613.

HB 613, Higher Education, requires all state universities and colleges to survey students and faculty, and publish a report on the status of intellectual diversity at their institutions. The legislation also revises provisions related to performance funding, among other changes.

A study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found a dramatic leftward shift in the composition of faculty today with progressives at 60% and conservatives at only 13%. Given this dire lack of political diversity, conservative students may have real fears about expressing their opinions.

HB 613 reinforces the protections of the First Amendment by helping expose suppression of diverse speech and opinions at Florida’s higher education institutions.

Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee votes to update public notice rules

Floridians should have simple, easy, and free access to public notices. On Wednesday, the Florida House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee 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.

Legislation to increase fiscal responsibility in government passes House subcommittee

On Wednesday, the Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee 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.

Florida House subcommittee votes to bring transparency to public records process

In recent years, some agencies have been in the spotlight for unjustified spending of taxpayer money while attempting to hide how much they spent using public record exemptions for trade secrets. Members of the Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee on Thursday approved two bills that hold government agencies accountable by ensuring that 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 they label "trade secrets" and keep from the public view.

Florida House subcommittee seeks to bring transparency to commercial service airports

Florida is home to 20 commercial service airports, four of which are considered large-hub airports. These airports serve Florida’s visitors and residents, but they also have an annual impact of $144 billion on Florida’s economy. On Wednesday, the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee voted to approve a bill to increase oversight, transparency and accountability of these economic drivers.

HB 915 includes several provisions to enhance transparency and accountability for commercial service airports. Specifically, the bill requires the Auditor General, at least once every five years, to conduct operational and financial audits of the state’s large-hub commercial service airports. It requires the members of the governing bodies of large-hub commercial service airports to submit a more detailed financial disclosure to the Commission on Ethics. Under the bill, each commercial service airport must post certain information about its airport operations online, including meeting notices, agendas, and certain documents it submits to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Among many other accountability measures, HB 915 reiterates the ethics standards for the governing body and employees of commercial service airports and requires annual ethics training. The bill requires each commercial service airport to comply with state procurement laws and public record and open meeting laws, and to annually verify such compliance to the state. Ultimately, the bill holds commercial service airports accountable to all Floridians.

HB 915 protects taxpayers by bringing increased oversight and transparency standards to Florida’s commercial service airports.


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