THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Thin Ice for Regulators Doesn’t Freeze Rink Inspection Bill

Jan 25, 2011

The following article was published by THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA on January 25, 2011:

Thin Ice for Regs Doesn’t Freeze Rink Inspection Bill


Despite a clear anti-regulation tide among Republican lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, a new rule cleared its first Senate panel Tuesday – though not without debate.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano (SB 202) that would give the Florida Department of Health the ability to inspect privately-owned ice skating rinks cleared the Senate Health Regulation Committee Tuesday on a 9-1 vote, but not until several senators raised questions about the idea of adding regulations at the same time the new governor has frozen all existing rules and placed them under review.

Prompted by a skating rink in Pinellas County that was exposing skaters to potentially toxic gases including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the measure would simply give the Department of Health the authority to inspect the facilities. He defended the bill, saying it does not contain the type of mandate that has been targeted by Scott.

“This doesn’t mandate the department to do that, it just gives them the ability if they need to,” Fasano said.

Health officials told the panel Tuesday that while federal law gives the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration wide latitude to conduct inspections and enforcement, the state statues do not afford the state health department the same luxury.

Fasano had raised consumer safety and health standards enforced by DOH as a possible casualty of Scott’s regulation freeze in reaction, saying Jan. 5 “I don’t want to use the word disappointed, but I wish Gov. Scott had consulted the Department of Health before he signed the executive order.”

However, the idea of adding new regulations in light of Scott’s anti-regulation agenda was not lost on some members of the Senate Health Regulation Committee. Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, voted against the bill, saying “I don’t want government to force her way into issues (where) there’s not really any problem.”

“There may be an isolated case you can deal with, but I believe in less government, not more,” Norman said.

The freshman senator also raised the possibility the requirements could be used to burden professional sporting arenas like the St. Petersburg Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, not just mom-and-pop skating rinks that cater to kids.

“What I didn’t want to do is have some additional layers of some sort of fees or different things they have to have on top of, on top of, on top of,” Norman said.“I don’t know if they can in any way be excluded to the point of it being a private operated facility like that that they won’t have to go jump through any hoops.”

However, the measure won the support of Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who owns a skating rink. Bennett, the Senate Pro-Tem, told members of the panel that the inspections were not expensive.

One of only two Democrats on the Health Regulation panel, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, also praised Fasano’s bill, arguing that allowing the department to inspect skating rinks would help save the state money in the long run because exposure to nitrous oxides and other gases can lead to cancer, asthma and other pulmonary diseases.

“I know there there’s a trend toward no increased regulation, but at the end of the day, we actually save money, we’re saving lives and we’re saving…health care costs.” said Sobel, D-Hollywood.

Seeking to get his bill through its first committee stop, Fasano focused mostly on the optional aspect, saying “we’re not saying the Department of Health has to go in there on an annual basis, or a monthly basis or a weekly basis, we’re just saying that they may go in there.

“There’s no fees, there’s no licensing, other than the ability for the Department of Health to go in and test if necessary,” he said.

Scott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the bill or his review of existing regulations Tuesday.

The ice skating bill has also been assigned to the Banking and Insurance and Budget committees.