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    Legislature

    Gambling ship operators offer tax deal

    Today is the 51st day of the 60-day session.

    By Times staff writer, Times wires
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 23, 2003


    Lobbyists for the state's one-day gambling ships came out in force Tuesday to oppose a bill to outlaw the so-called cruises to nowhere.

    The lobbyists stopped the bill, and the industry announced that it would be glad to start paying taxes if that's what state lawmakers want. Over the summer, Florida Senate staffers will study how the state could begin collecting taxes on the popular cruise ships, which take people 9 miles offshore to gamble in international waters.

    More than two dozen such ships operate in Florida, including Pinellas, Pasco and Citrus counties.

    Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, sponsored the measure but said he did so only to promote discussion.

    "This is one of the few businesses in the state of Florida that is not regulated," he said.

    Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, put Haridopolos on notice: "The city of St. Petersburg is considering operating one of these," Sebesta said. "If I vote for this, my mayor will hang me."

    -- JULIE HAUSERMAN

    A way to replenish needy program?

    Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, thinks Florida's share of a settlement with two drug companies over Medicaid fraud may be the way to protect a program that provides health care to some 27,000 people with catastrophic illnesses or medical conditions.

    The Medically Needy program provides care to people with organ transplants or serious illnesses like cancer and AIDS, who can't qualify for private insurance and don't qualify for Medicaid.

    Lawmakers struggling to balance the budget last year made a change in the program. Effective May 1, participants have to spend all but $450 of their income on medical expenses before getting assistance.

    In a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, Klein proposed using $8-million of the $10-million Florida will get as its share of a national settlement reached last week with GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer Corp. over allegations that the companies violated the federal Medicaid drug rebate statute.

    Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj said her boss was reviewing Klein's proposal.

    Two directions on no-fault reform

    A House committee approved a no-fault auto insurance reform bill backed by trial lawyers, while a Senate panel passed a version supported by the insurance industry.

    The Legislature is seeking a solution to rampant fraud and soaring costs in the system, which requires drivers to buy insurance to cover their injuries in auto accidents.

    While both bills have tough penalties for fraud, they differ widely on other measures, with the Senate version (SB 1202) containing caps on medical fees and the House proposal (HB 1819) containing a different dispute resolution system.

    No-fault auto insurance was adopted in 1971 as a means of cutting down on lawsuits and reducing insurance costs, but premiums have been going up in recent years.

    In addition to fraud, insurance companies blame unnecessary lawsuits, high attorney fees and overcharges by medical providers. Trial lawyers say insurance companies' failure to pay claims has caused the proliferation of lawsuits.

    The House Judiciary Committee approved an amendment that basically rewrote the bill. It allows suits to be filed in auto accidents up to five years after the accident, as in current law, rather than adopting the two-year statute of limitations that was in the bill.

    New abortion clinic regulations sought

    A bill to impose health regulations on abortion clinics is headed to the House floor for action, but similar legislation is languishing in the Senate.

    The House Judiciary Committee approved its bill (HB 219) by a 12-4 vote. But the Senate version (SB 212) has yet to be heard in committee, making it doubtful such legislation will pass before this session ends May 2.

    The House bill would require the Agency for Health Care Administration to write rules governing health, cleanliness and staffing standards for clinics that perform second- and third-trimester abortions. (First-trimester abortions have been given protection from regulation by the courts.)

    Supporters of the bill by Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said it was not designed to limit abortions, but to ensure that they are carried out safely.

    Opponents said it represented government intrusion on private lives and would make it more difficult for women to receive abortions.

    -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

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