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Bill not what its backer presumes

A prosthetist says a bill would assure him of a license. But lawmakers say he still faces a test.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- About 40 people who fit artificial limbs, and who are seeking state lawmakers' help in getting around new licensing requirements, learned an old lesson Tuesday when the Legislature convened for its annual session:

There is more than one way to read a bill.

The House Committee on Health Regulation, whose chairman is Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, unanimously approved a proposal that would extend a deadline for unlicensed orthotists and prosthetists to pass a state-mandated exam. Lawmakers originally adopted the testing requirement in 1997 as part of a licensure law designed to rein in fraud and abuse in the industry.

"You still have to take the test," Farkas said after the meeting.

Not according to David Garcia, a Lauderdale Lakes practitioner who is the driving force behind the proposal to alter the licensure law. Garcia, who has twice failed the state test, says the amended version of the bill that was approved by the committee Tuesday would allow him to avoid the test altogether. His efforts to alter the licensure law were chronicled Tuesday in the St. Petersburg Times.

"If this passes in the Senate, I don't have to take another test. If this becomes law, I will get my license," Garcia said.

Garcia knows this, he said, because state Rep. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, who sponsored the amendment to the bill, told him so.

"Justice has taken place. This is a great victory," Garcia said.

But he is likely to be disappointed. Farkas, as well as the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Matt Meadows, D-Lauderhill, said Tuesday that the intent of the amended bill is only to give Garcia and his colleagues until July 1, 2003, to pass the state test -- not to exempt them from the requirement.

A lobbyist for the Florida Association of Orthotists and Prosthetists -- who wrote the amendment -- agreed.

"If it is interpreted to mean these people don't have to take the exam, we withdraw our support and we will work to kill the bill," said lobbyist Pat O'Connell.

"We believe that anything that lessens the standard for quality would be a disservice to the patients and the industry."

For his part, Siplin said he hasn't talked to Garcia in two weeks and did not tell him that the amended bill would allow him to avoid the test.

"He didn't talk to me . . . I think he ought to take it to Mr. Meadows. It's his bill. It's his issue. I'm just trying to facilitate a compromise," Siplin said.

Farkas said he would clarify the intent of Siplin's amendment when the bill reaches the House Council for Healthy Communities, of which Farkas is a member, and which is the last stop before the bill can be voted on by the full chamber.

It has yet to be slated for debate in the Senate.

Recent coverage

Bill helps unlicensed to fit artificial limbs (March 6, 2001)

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