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Week in Review | Session Week 8 (March 2-8, 2020)

Initial budget conference meetings between the House and Senate kept legislators working overtime this weekend in the Florida Capitol. On Saturday and Sunday, members met late into the evening to try to reach agreement on a balanced, conservative spending plan. While the state Legislature is now in the final few days of the session, the ongoing budget negotiations will likely push the finish line beyond the planned March 13 date.

Over the course of the past week, the fiscal impact of the novel coronavirus became increasingly clearer -- markets plummeted, with tourism positioned to take a hit. As House Republicans continue working on the budget, tax package, and other legislation, they are prepared to make appropriate changes to leave future Legislatures the power to overcome a recession.

On Friday, the Florida House voted 97-16 to pass a tax package with $193.4 million in tax cuts. While describing the impact of the business-friendly tax bill, sponsor Rep. Bryan Avila spoke about his mother -- a Cuban exile -- who spent decades working for a company she saw grow from 8 employees to a worldwide brand under Florida’s low-tax climate.

Additional highlights from Week 8 are detailed in the briefs below

House votes to end surprise out-of-network medical referrals

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. The Florida House passed HB 955Wednesday 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. The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes for patient safety culture surveys to improve transparency

The Florida House passed a bill Wednesday 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. The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes for child welfare reform

The Florida House passed sweeping child welfare reforms Friday with HB 7063. The 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."

HB 7063 has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House votes for more options for patients

Floridians deserve options when it comes to meeting their health care needs. That is why the Florida House passed a bill Friday that would allow pharmacists to work to the full extent of their education and training – which means more choices for patients who need quick and simple care.

HB 389 allows pharmacists to provide health care services to patients with minor illnesses, including strep and flu, or chronic conditions, under varying levels of physician supervision. Florida, like much of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of physicians, especially primary care physicians. As the population of Florida ages, more patients will need health care services to manage chronic conditions, as well as diagnose and treat common, minor illnesses.

Physicians currently rely on other health care practitioners, such as APRNs and PAs. However, pharmacists can also help meet this need, since they are usually the most accessible and most frequently visited health care practitioner. Current law allows pharmacists to provide medication management services and administer immunizations and antipsychotic medication via injection.

HB 389 is the logical next best step to make it easier for patients to manage their chronic health conditions and to find relief from minor health issues quickly, safely, and affordably.

The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes to expand scope of practice for APRNs

The Florida House passed a bill Friday 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. HB 607 brings Florida in line with 30 other states that already allow APRNs to practice independently.

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 has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes to ensure nonprofit hospitals earn tax exemptions

Hospitals that qualify for local property tax exemptions should have to prove that they provide an equal value to their communities. The Florida House passed a bill Friday 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.

HB 919 has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House passes lottery warning bill

The Florida Lottery urges customers to “Play Responsibly” on some of its 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 Florida House passed 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. The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House votes to expand Sunrise Review process for regulated industries

This week, the Florida House approved a bill 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 and cost-benefit analysis of proposed regulations. Currently, it only applies to legislation that would regulate 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.

Carefully designed and implemented regulation and licensing requirements can protect the health and safety of the public. However, too often, government regulations are inconsistent, inefficient and arbitrary. As a result, the price of goods and services increases, and Floridians can be left with fewer employment opportunities. Under the bill, proposed regulations will be subject to a formal review and cost-benefit analysis before they are enacted to ensure they protect the health and safety of the public, and are not inconsistent, inefficient, or arbitrary.

HB 1155 helps ensure that Florida residents, businesses, and industries can thrive in a regulatory environment that supports a free market. The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House votes to protect public employees

On Wednesday, the Florida House passed legislation to tighten the regulation and oversight of unions. HB 1 requires union membership authorization forms to contain an acknowledgment that Florida is a right to work state and union membership is not required as a condition of employment. The authorization form must also state 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 that any dues or uniform assessments may not be deducted from an employee’s salary until the employer receives a 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.

HB 1 has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House 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 Florida House, on Wednesday, 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.

The bills have been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House 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 Wednesday, the Florida House passed legislation to ensure this practice is the norm.

Together, HB 7069 and HJR 7061 require local governments to annually submit financial information to the Department of Financial Services. The Department will then be required to publish this data, along with other information related to community conditions, on an interactive website and on printed reports to be mailed to each household in Florida with a registered voter.

The mailed report cards will present both a ranking and an earned grade of “A” through “D” based on the comparison of data, or an “F” if a local government refused to submit their data completely and on time. The grades are awarded in the following categories: government spending, debt and cost, and public safety and education. These tools will allow Floridians to compare their local governments against others.

When Floridians have this knowledge, they can make better decisions about where they choose to live, whom they choose to vote for, and how they choose to get involved in their communities.

The bills have been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House approves bill on fiscal responsibility in government

On Wednesday, the Florida House 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 develop and provide basic urban community services in a cost-effective manner. Currently, a CDD board may authorize bonds by a majority vote of all members 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 all members 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.

The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Florida House votes to update public notice rules

Floridians should have simple, easy, and free access to public notices. On Wednesday, the Florida House 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 agencies and local governments 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 and actions that impact their lives – all while saving public dollars.

The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House passes 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 Friday, the Florida House 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.

The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

State Affairs Committee votes to keep government accountable

Floridians deserve transparent and accountable governments that are held to the highest ethical standards. The House State Affairs Committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill to advance this idea, and the House passed the measure during a floor vote on Friday.

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. The bill expands state agencies’ authority to inspect financial records and program records in all contracts for services. 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. The bill has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Comprehensive higher education reform bill introduced on House floor

On Friday, Florida House lawmakers introduced a comprehensive higher education package, HB 613, to the House floor. The chamber will likely vote on the measure in Week 9.

HB 613, Higher Education, requires 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.

The bill also creates “state universities of distinction” and repeals “emerging preeminent state research universities.” This change will encourage state universities to earn a national distinction by excelling in a core competency area unique to their school and to Florida’s workforce needs. It also amends the criteria for preeminence to include the concordant ACT score.

Among other measures, it creates the Florida Institute for Great Citizenship at Florida State University (in coordination with other state universities) to increase civic engagement, public policy discussion, and civic literacy.

House prepares to vote for school choice expansion

Florida is at the forefront of the school choice movement, giving parents the power to select what is best for their child’s education. On Friday, the House presented HB 7067 which expands and improves the state’s school choice scholarship programs and ensures students who need to renew their scholarships are prioritized.

The legislation makes changes to two of the state’s school choice scholarships to give more families the opportunity to choose the education that best meets their child’s needs. Among the revisions, the bill increases the enrollment cap for the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) from 18,000 students to about 28,000. It also expands the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC), for students from families with limited financial resources, prioritizing applicants from low-income households and in foster or out-of-home care.

HB 7067 also establishes priority groups for FES eligibility – among them, FES renewals, FTC students whose scholarships were not renewed, and low-income students who spent the prior year in a public school.

Under the bill, scholarship-funding organizations must also prioritize continued funding for renewal students. In the case an organization experiences a lack of funds, they must notify and refer any student wishing to renew their scholarship to another organization with existing funds.

House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions hears plan from state university system, defines next steps

Last Monday, the House Speaker-appointed select committee charged with investigating foreign interference with Florida research institutions summarized the work of the committee thus far and outlined next steps. Committee Chairman Chris Sprowls noted two main takeaways thus far: the problem of foreign interference is worse than he originally thought and that the policy solutions are complicated.

Marshall Criser, chancellor of the State University System Board of Governors, appeared before the committee on Monday to present the board’s plan for combating foreign interference at Florida’s research institutions. Additionally, Rep. Erin Grall presented a policy report that would allow for suspending an employee under investigation for foreign collusion and expedite the investigation timeframe. The committee voted to adopt the report and is working to amend the language onto a bill before the conclusion of the Legislative Session.

The work of the select committee is not yet complete and the investigation is ongoing, Chair Sprowls said. The committee may continue to meet after the session concludes. House Republicans remain committed to developing the best plan to protect American intellectual property and research.


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