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    Legislature

    Regulatory exemption for hospital near passage

    Today is the 39th day of the 60-day session.

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 11, 2003


    Supported by a powerful Republican donor, a hospital near a booming Sumter County retirement community has received preliminary approval to expand, bypassing normal state review.

    The Florida House on Thursday joined the Senate in allowing the Villages Regional Medical Center to expand by 300 percent. It is now one vote away from being sent to Gov. Jeb Bush for his signature. The Senate approved the bill last month.

    Sponsors of the bill (SB 1568), Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, and Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, want to allow the new hospital to add up to 180 beds to the 60 it has. Jones believes the market, not the government, should control hospital expansion. State review is intended to control health care costs.

    Florida Hospital in Flagler County also would be allowed to bypass the law. But its administrator said he doesn't need and didn't ask for more beds. He called it "the Villages bill."

    Gary Morse, a director at the Villages hospital and the developer of the 18,000-acre planned community, gave nearly $700,000, in his own name or through his companies, to many Republican lawmakers and the party since 1999.

    -- MICHAEL SANDLER

    House aims to make dam indestructible

    The House unanimously passed a measure designed to block restoration of Central Florida's Ocklawaha River.

    The river was dammed years ago to make way for the defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal. The dam created the Rodman Reservoir, a shallow lake popular with bass fishermen.

    Though the state and federal governments have been trying to remove the dam and restore the river for decades, state lawmakers always block it. They say the economy depends partly on money spent by bass fishermen.

    This year's effort, pushed by Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, creates a legislative "memorial" -- not a physical memorial, but a document that describes the Legislature's intent to protect the reservoir. The federal government wants to remove the dam.

    The memorial, which now heads to the Senate, attempts to get the federal government out of the picture altogether. The federal government owns land under the dam and reservoir, and the House memorial asks Congress to give the land to Florida. Congress would have the final say.

    -- JULIE HAUSERMAN

    Risk of bingo removed for Alzheimer's patients

    A Senate bill designed to allow nursing home to residents play bingo without obtaining licenses was amended Thursday to prohibit Alzheimer's patients from playing with their own money.

    Some law enforcement officials objected to the bill, fearing someone might take advantage of a mentally impaired patient.

    Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, sponsored the bill to allow residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and similar places to play the game and win prizes.

    The bill requires all proceeds of the games to be returned to players in prizes.

    The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee approved the bill unanimously after accepting amendments. A similar bill pending in the House would allow Alzheimer's patients to use their own money.

    Absent legislator victim of potty politics

    Amid much giggling, the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee named a bill the "Lee Constantine Intestinal Cleanliness Act."

    Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, filed a bill to require registration and regulation of portable restrooms on construction sites. Twice he has sent an aide to explain the bill to committees.

    "I heard that Sen. Constantine was watching us on television last time because he was too embarrassed to present the bill himself," said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, as he put Constantine's name on the bill.

    "I'm going to have to take the blame for this," said Shanna Smith, the red-faced aide sent to explain the bill.

    "Blame it on Geller," quipped committee Chairman Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac.

    -- LUCY MORGAN

    For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 or 1-850-488-4371 toll-free during business hours. The Legislature's official Web site: www.leg.state.fl.us. Capitol Update, a program on the day's legislative highlights, airs at 11 p.m. weekdays on public TV stations.

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