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Week in Review | Session Week 6 (February 17-21, 2020)

During Thursday’s floor session, the Florida House of Representatives passed legislation to end surprise medical billing, require parental consent for a minor’s abortion, create new health care facilities for recovery, and preempt local barriers to employment – among many other bills.

“Last year, we eliminated Certificate of Need, and this year we’re still working on expanding scope of practice to improve access. But today, we passed important legislation that will end predatory medical billing. Hospitals should not be allowed to report a patient to collections and damage their credit over an unexpected bill,” House Speaker Jose Oliva said. “Today’s victory marks another key step toward achieving our goal of total patient-centered health care reform for Floridians. We are proud to be the most health-care reform minded Legislature in America.”

House members continued to hear other bills in committees, including a tax package that saves Floridians millions of dollars; investigated issues of inappropriate spending; and much more. The highlights from the week are detailed in the briefs below.

Florida House votes to eliminate local barriers to employment for skilled workers

On Thursday, members of the Florida House passed a bill 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 fees, passing unnecessary tests or meeting extra experience or education requirements.

“Thank you to all who helped take a good bill and make it better,” HB 3 sponsor Rep. Michael Grant, House Majority Whip, said on the House floor on Thursday. “We are freeing up the workforce so they are not impeded by excessive regulations and can put food on their tables.”

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.

HB 3 is now headed to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House votes to end surprise medical billing and other unfair practices

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.

On Thursday, Florida House members overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill that protects Floridians from surprise medical billing and predatory billing practices.

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.

The legislation also requires health care facilities to establish a billing appeal process for patients, and it prohibits facilities from sending a patient to collections without checking to see if they qualify for financial aid or while the patient is waiting for an itemized bill.

HB 959 is now headed to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House passes legislation supporting Florida’s families, human life

Parental consent is required for most medical procedures on a minor; abortion – one of the most life-altering decisions a person can make – should not be an exception.

HB 265’s Senate companion SB 404, passed Thursday by the Florida House, prohibits a physician from performing an abortion on a girl younger than 18 unless a parent consents or a court waives the requirement.

This common-sense abortion restriction respects the fundamental right of parents in the upbringing of their child by allowing them to play an active role in this life-altering choice, and it protects children from having to consider such a decision without parental guidance and support.

SB 404 includes a robust judicial waiver process for minors in unique and challenging situations who cannot obtain parental consent. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the same judicial waiver process for parental notice, so lawmakers are confident this new consent provision is consistent with the Florida Constitution.

This bill is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for signing.

Florida House votes to create new health care facility for recovery

Florida House members passed a bill Thursday that 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.

HB 827 creates a new licensure category for recovery care centers (RCCs), 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 is now headed to the Senate for its consideration.

House Health & Human Services Committee approves bill ensure nonprofit hospitals earn their tax exemptions

Hospitals that qualify for local property tax exemptions should have to prove that they provide an equal value to their communities. Florida House Health & Human Services Committee members approved a bill Tuesday that requires hospitals to do so.

Current law grants an exemption from local property taxes for property used mostly for charitable purposes. However, the bar for hospitals to qualify for a charitable property tax exemption is low — they only have to prove their nonprofit 501(c)(3) status.

Under HB 919, hospitals would be required to prove the value of charitable services by showing their IRS filings; the nonprofit hospital would then receive a property tax exemption that is proportional to the value of the charitable care they provide. Charitable care that is covered by some form of government payment will not qualify.

“If a hospital isn’t paying property taxes in a county, this bill provides that that hospital at least provide an equal amount of charity back to the community that they’re not paying taxes to,” bill sponsor Rep. Mike Caruso said during the committee meeting.

House Health & Human Services Committee approves bill to increase access to health care information

Florida House Health & Human Services Committee members approved a bill Tuesday that gives every Floridian an insider’s view of the safety and quality of hospitals and other health care facilities.

HB 763 requires hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to survey their staff on the facility’s patient safety culture and send results to the Agency for Health Care Administration for publication.

Patient safety culture surveys measure employee perceptions about their hospital or facility – how safety hazards are handled, if communication is clear, whether an employee would send a member or their family to their hospital or elsewhere for care, etc.

This tool can empower patients with the information they need to make informed decisions; as a result, the market will drive down health care costs and weed out unsafe facilities and bad actors. HB 763 will also incentivize health care facilities to improve their safety scores to attract patients.

House Ways & Means Committee approves $162.7 million in tax cuts

People – not the government – should have the most control over their hard-earned money. To that end, the House Ways & Means Committee approved a tax package Wednesday that offers $162.7 million in tax cuts to Floridians.

The proposed committee bill includes a three-day Back-to-School sales tax holiday from August 7 to 9, 2020, and a seven-day Disaster Preparedness sales tax holiday from May 29 to June 4, 2020.

Other highlights include a reduction of the business rent tax; a reduction in the communications services tax, which will help cut costs for anyone paying for a cellphone plan; and a reduction of the aviation fuel tax rate – cost savings that can be passed on to consumers.

The bill would limit the value of a nonprofit hospital’s charity tax exemption to no more than the value of charitable services it provides to the community. It also expands the list of military operations that qualify for the deployed service-member tax exemption, among several other tax policy improvements.

Florida House Commerce Committee approves 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 Commerce Committee 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.

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, it is important to build in protections to guard against the development of addiction in lottery players.

House Commerce Committee approves Occupational Freedom & 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 Commerce Committee approved 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. 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.

House State Affairs Committee approves bill to improve rulemaking transparency

Florida’s Administrative Procedure Act dictates a uniform set of procedures that government agencies must follow when exercising their limited rulemaking authority. On Thursday, the House State Affairs Committee approved a bill that will help streamline the rulemaking process in Florida.

HB 729 amends the Act to improve transparency and ensure that agencies reduce any unnecessary rules. The bill requires each agency to review its rules for consistency with its enabling law; if the review determines the rule does not need substantive change, the agency must reenact the rule.

Among other requirements, the bill also specifies the economic impacts and compliance costs an agency must consider when it creates a statement of estimated regulatory costs (SERC). Under HB 729, agencies must have a website where the public can view all SERCs.

HB 729 keeps state government agencies transparent and accountable as they create rules that have the force and effect of laws.

House State Affairs Committee approves bill on fiscal responsibility in government

On Thursday, the State Affairs 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 a two-thirds vote of the board beginning October 1, 2020. This supermajority vote requirement applies once all members of the CDD board are elected by the voters in the district.

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.

House Commerce Committee votes to improve accuracy in 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 Commerce Committee members approved a bill on Thursday 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.

HB 9 aims to limit any confusion a jury may have about what amount of damages should be awarded.

House State Affairs Committee approves joint resolution to place repeal of public campaign financing on ballot

The House State Affairs 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.

This week, subcommittee members unanimously decided that voters should be given the opportunity to reevaluate whether the Legislature should be required to allocate taxpayer dollars to statewide campaigns.

House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions hears testimony from UCF

The special House committee charged with investigating meddling into Florida’s research institutions this week heard from the University of Central Florida. The university’s Compliance and Risk Officer Rhonda Bishop shared details on four closed cases in which researchers were either fired or resigned after their connections to Chinese research institutions were discovered.

In one case a UCF researcher, Zinzhang Wu, Ph.D., was the subject of an anonymous tip asserting he was part of the Chinese Thousand Talents Program, now known to be part of a network interfering with American research institutions and intellectual property. When Wu was called for a meeting with UCF about the tip, he refused to appear and instead sent his wife while he fled to China. Wu later submitted a handwritten letter of resignation in May 2018.

Wu briefly employed a lab assistant, Amy Yu, Ph.D., who, after her term at UCF, pled guilty to federal charges of acting as an agent of a foreign government. She was accused of smuggling submarine parts to China. Wu’s research was centered on magnetic propulsions for submarines.

Select Committee Chairman Chris Sprowls thanked UCF for their transparency and commitment to implementing a foreign influence protection program. The House continues to investigate stories like these to ensure that Florida’s research institutions are protected from future attacks and taxpayer dollars are recovered.


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