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Legislature 2000 in brief

legislature 2000
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By Times staff, wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2000

Today is the 29th day of the 60-day session.

Bill combats mental illness stigma

TALLAHASSEE -- Public school students would learn about mental illness and how to treat it under a proposal that cleared a House committee Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. George Crady, D-Yulee, would require schools to teach students to recognize the symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and to emphasize that they are common, inherited and treatable conditions.

By educating students, Crady hopes to one day reduce the stigma of mental illness among adults. "I want the kids to know that their classmates are taking medication for a reason, and it's not a bad reason," said Crady, who was approached by mental health advocates to sponsor the bill.

Troubled students may also benefit if they recognize their own symptoms and seek treatment, instead of escaping into alcohol or drug abuse, Crady said.

The measure must make it through two more committees to reach a full vote in the House. While the bill does not have a Senate companion, Sen. Richard Mitchell, D-Jasper, will try to attach the proposal to another bill in that chamber, Crady said. -- SHELBY OPPEL

Tougher rules for HMOs advance

Lawmakers are still sitting on a controversial plan backed by consumers that would expand a patient's right to sue a health maintenance organization, but a Senate committee signed off on two other measures that would force the managed care industry to more promptly pay hospitals and doctors.

Hospitals and doctors say they need the Legislature's help because HMOs routinely miss the current payment deadlines, passed by the Legislature in 1998.

The two bills also prohibit HMOs from denying claims or referrals authorized by one of their own doctors, so long as the service is covered in a patient's contract. One bill, by Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, would prohibit a doctor from reporting a patient to a credit agency while the doctor and the HMO settle billing disputes.

Gov. Jeb Bush's administration supports Brown-Waite's efforts: "Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who play by the rules are ending up with unpaid bills, and their finances are ruined," said Agency for Health Care Administration Director Ruben King-Shaw.

The managed care industry also supports Brown-Waite's bill. It opposes the other bill, by Sens. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, and John Laurent, R-Bartow, because it goes further in some areas than Brown-Waite's.

Both bills passed the Senate Insurance Committee. King-Shaw said he will try to work out a compromise. -- JO BECKER

Museum clause causes concern

A provision in the Senate budget calls for university museums and galleries to be financially self-supporting a few years from now.

The measure worked into the budget by Sen. Don Sullivan, R-St. Petersburg, also calls for a study on how the museums and galleries fit into the public education system.

But the part that says the museums should be prepared to be self-supporting in the next three years is causing concern.

"There's not a museum or gallery in the country that is self-sufficient, so there's somebody that hasn't done their homework," said Greg Shaak, assistant director of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

The House version of the budget does not have the self-sufficiency language, and it's not likely it will end up in the final budget. --AP

Panel confirms five regents

The Senate Education Committee approved five members of the State University System's Board of Regents.

Two members were confirmed for six-year terms: Thomas Petway III, chairman of the panel, and J. Collier Merrill. Two more were confirmed for four years: Adolfo Henriques and James Corbin. Ashley Moody of the University of Florida, the board's student representative, was confirmed for one year. --AP

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