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Week in Review | Session Week 5 (February 10-14, 2020)

At just beyond the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session, the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday debated and passed its statewide budget proposal for 2020-21, preparing for the start of House and Senate budget negotiations in the weeks ahead.

The House budget passed across partisan lines with a unanimous vote. The plan reduces per-capita spending while holding $3.7 billion in reserves, funding teacher salary raises, and meeting the rest of Florida's needs.

House members continued to hear bills in committees, investigate issues of foreign meddling into Florida's taxpayer-funded research institutions, and much more. The highlights from the week are detailed in the briefs below.

Florida House authorizes subpoenas after alarming misuse of public dollars arises

On Thursday, the House voted to subpoena board members of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) as a part of an ongoing investigation into exorbitant salaries and compensation, leadership failures, and misuse of public dollars.

After failing to cooperate with records requests for the past 20 months, the Coalition – which receives most of its funding from the state – submitted redacted records despite instruction otherwise to the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee on Wednesday.

The 104,000 documents provided revealed some concerning issues; chief executive officer compensation at the nonprofit over the last three years appears to be more than $7 million. The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee has called for the resignation of all Board Members, effective immediately.

“The PIE Committee will leave no stone unturned in our investigation into this abuse of authority. We are certain, at least, that what went on at the FCADV was improper. We must now determine how we recover those taxpayer dollars and whether any criminal activity took place,” Committee Chairman Tom Leek said. “I assure tax-paying Floridians that today is just the beginning of our mission to hold the FCADV accountable.”

FBI official speaks on foreign meddling in Florida research before Select Committee

FBI Special Agent Michael McPherson says federal investigations have revealed the Chinese are actively attempting to steal American intellectual property through talent recruitment programs and research grants.

On Monday, McPherson was joined by the University of Florida’s general counsel, UF compliance officers, and Moffitt Cancer Center’s general counsel, where they testified before the House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions.

Moffitt Cancer Center general counsel David De La Parte took questions from the committee regarding Moffitt’s cooperation with the FBI investigation and the results of Moffitt’s internal investigation. Moffitt has returned more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars to Florida that was intended for salary and benefits for researchers who were removed from their positions due to concealing involvement with China.

Investigations by the federal government through the FBI, the Select Committee, and UF and Moffitt Cancer Center are ongoing. McPherson and members of the committee stressed the importance of staying vigilant to protect American research institutions as well as students from attempts of foreign governments to abuse academic sharing programs.

Education Committee votes to expand access to charter schools in Florida

Public charter schools provide families the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their child’s individual needs. On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Education Committee 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 Health & Human Services Committee votes for free-market health care reform

Floridians deserve options when it comes to meeting their health care needs. Florida House Health & Human Services Committee 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 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 Committee votes to make medical records more accessible

The House Health & Human Services Committee members approved a bill Wednesday 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 Committee votes to prevent anti-competitive practices by hospitals

Hospital control of many health care providers in one area reduces competition and raises costs. That is why House lawmakers on the Health & Human Services 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.

Bill to end tax dollars funding stadiums in Florida heads to House floor

Taxpayer dollars will no longer be used for funding professional sports stadiums under a bill approved Thursday by the House Commerce Committee and heading to the House floor for a full chamber vote. HB 1369 ends the state’s current sport-stadium funding program. The bill also requires sports franchises to pay outstanding debts for stadiums they no longer use.

Requests to fund a new soccer stadium in Orlando and improvements at TIAA Bank Field (formerly EverBank Field) in Jacksonville, Daytona International Speedway, and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens all failed to obtain funding from the state program. The facilities were built as they were intended, but with private dollars – thus proving financial incentives from the state are entirely unnecessary.

Taxpayer-funded sports stadiums can leave cities and counties paying billions for facilities that benefit a small handful of wealthy sports team owners yet do very little to boost the local economy. HB 1369 would free up the $13 million a year that is currently set aside for stadium work – funds that could go to more worthy causes that put hardworking Floridians ahead of sports team owners.

House Subcommittee approves Florida 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 Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee approved HB 991 to provide a solution.

Under the bill, 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.

Many people who play state lottery games have modest incomes. Even a small chance to win large sums of money can be so attractive to certain players that it can easily turn into a problem. Because of this, the House seeks to build in protections to guard against the development of addiction in lottery players.

House Committee approves joint resolution to repeal public campaign financing

The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee on Thursday approved a joint resolution that would give voters the opportunity to decide whether Florida should continue to offer limited public financing of campaigns.

HJR 1325 repeals the provision in the Florida Constitution that allows candidates for statewide office access to public financing for their campaign via constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments require 60% voter approval to pass.

Florida’s current program provides a candidate with optional matching funds for any qualifying campaign contribution they receive. In 1998, Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to provide for public financing of statewide offices. The provision required the Legislature to establish a method in law for funding statewide campaigns with public dollars and a limit on spending.

State Affairs Committee approves substantial ethics reform package

Public servants should be intentional about ethics and careful to avoid any inappropriate personal benefit from their role or status. To that end, the State Affairs Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill to help strengthen rules for ethical behavior in government.

HB 1185 would help weed out conflicts of interest by banning some actions and requiring that public servants report new information. Among many reforms included in the bill, statewide elected officials are prohibited from taking a job offered as a result of their official duties or political status. Additionally, state workers cannot seek a job at an organization regulated by their employer agency, and statewide elected officials must report salary increases or new posts if they work for an organization that receives state dollars.

HB 1185 advances the Florida House of Representative’s commitment to eliminating corruption, fraud, and abuse in government.

Appropriations Committee votes to keep government accountable

Floridians deserve governments that are transparent and accountable to them and held to the highest ethical standards. The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to advance this idea.

HB 1111 promotes integrity in government by identifying and eliminating government waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, and misconduct. Among many reforms, the bill creates a “Florida Integrity Office” with the sole purpose of ensuring accountability among state and local governments. The state’s chief financial officer would be responsible for sending suggestions from Florida’s “Get Lean” hotline to the new Integrity office for review. HB 1111 also helps motivate state employees to report cases of misconduct or abuse in government by authorizing financial incentives.

Floridians are better served when their state and local governments are committed to being transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

House Committee new transparency measures for commercial service airports

Florida is home to several 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 Thursday, the State Affairs Committee 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 seven 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, contracts, and position and rate information for airport employees.

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

State Affairs Committee votes to protect public employees

On Thursday, the State Affairs Committee voted on legislation to tighten the regulation and oversight of unions. HB 1requires a public employee who desires to join a union to sign a membership authorization form that says Florida is a right to work state and union membership is not required as a condition of employment. The authorization form must also provide that membership and payment of dues and assessments is voluntary.

Among other protections, HB 1 prohibits unions from asking an employee to provide a reason for the employee’s decision to revoke his or her membership, if the employee is required to complete a form to revoke membership.

The bill makes clear any dues and uniform assessments may not be deducted from an employee’s salary until the employer receives signed authorization from the bargaining agent and confirms with the employee that he or she, in fact, authorized the deduction. An employee’s authorization for dues deductions is valid for three years or until the bargaining agent ratifies a new collective bargaining agreement, whichever is earlier.

House Committee votes to add 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. When a person alleges a record contains a trade secret, the information – sometimes including prices and other purchasing information – is hidden from public view. Members of the State Affairs 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.

House State Affairs Committee votes to increase local government transparency

Members of the House State Affairs Committee approved a bill Thursday 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.


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