April 30: The day in Tallahassee

Apr 30, 2008

Miami Herald--April 30, 2008

With a few days left in the legislative session, Senate and House negotiators were trying to find common ground on an effort to make cheap, no-frills health plans available to reduce the number of uninsured.

It’s a top priority for Gov. Charlie Crist, and his plan to have the state negotiate with insurers to provide low cost insurance plans has already passed the Senate (SB 2534). The plans would cost less because they wouldn’t have the myriad of mandates for what must be covered that are currently required. They would have to cover basic hospitalization and emergency care.

But the idea has been at an impasse because the House is pushing for a broader bill that would give private insurers more leeway in what they could sell. The governor has said that plan doesn’t do enough to protect consumers.

Republican House leaders say they are still hoping the Senate will go along with their broader approach to health insurance. In an attempt to get the Senate to accept their legislation, House leaders are offering to take action on a top Senate priority, a proposal related to hospitals.

The proposal would speed the opening of new hospitals by streamlining the approval process. That’s also something Crist wants but the House has been unwilling to do.

The Senate has passed a bill (SB 2326) to speed up new hospital approvals slightly, although it was watered down from Crist’s original proposal.

The House took up that measure late Tuesday night but didn’t get to a vote.

Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said House and Senate leaders were negotiating on the two bills.


The state’s program for buying land for conservation would continue for another decade under a bill that will now go to the governor’s desk.

The bill would create a successor program for Florida Forever, which is set to end in 2010. The proposed program would increase the amount of money that could be spent buying lands from $300 million a year to $530 million a year. The bill (SB 542) passed unanimously in the House on Wednesday after making it through the Senate last week.

Since 1990, Florida Forever and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, have acquired or preserved nearly 2.8 million acres of environmentally sensitive land. That’s an area equal to more than three and a half Rhode Islands. Together, the programs have spent more than $5.8 billion.


Utilities in South Florida eventually would have to stop dumping 300 million gallons of sewage a day into the ocean under a bill that now needs the governor’s signature to take effect.

The wastewater – enough to fill 450 Olympic pools every day – is coming from six plants located throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The sewage is strained, treated so that only the most hazardous substances are neutralized and then piped into the ocean, usually several miles off shore. Many people who swim, scuba dive and fish in South Florida find the practice unacceptable.

Under the bill (SB 1302), the utilities would have to eliminate nearly all sewage dumping by 2025. The treated wastewater would instead be used for irrigation and other purposes.

The House passed the bill unanimously on Wednesday. It had already passed in the Senate.