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Legislature 2001


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001

Today is the 45th day of the 60-day session.

Today is the 45th day of the 60-day session.

Health insurance pool could reopen

People who have health insurance would pay 25 cents a month to subsidize policies for people with serious medical risks under a provision the Senate approved Wednesday.

The surcharge would be imposed on 3.4-million private health insurance policies covering 8.6-million people and raise about $10-million for the Florida Comprehensive Health Association, according to a Senate staff analysis.

That is a state-backed last-resort health insurance pool for people with serious conditions who are unable to buy coverage in the open market. Customers in the pool could be charged up to three times what the private market would.

The pool was created by the state in 1983 but closed to new members a decade ago as lawmakers coped with the 1991 recession. It now covers some 750 people. Another 1,250 could enroll under the measure, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor.

There are as many as 50,000 people in Florida who can't buy health insurance because they have conditions that make them poor risks.

The measure was in the form of an amendment to a bill that will come up for a vote today. A House version awaits a hearing in the Insurance Committee.

Nursing home bill details still in flux

A Senate committee sent its nursing home fix to the floor Wednesday, but House members are holding onto their bill until all sides agree on lawsuit caps.

Senators approved their bill but removed about $49-million that was to help pay for staffing at nursing homes. Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, said he hopes the Senate can replace that money during budget negotiations. He said his amendment was necessary because, so far, the money isn't in the budget.

Rep. Allan Bense, R-Panama City, the chairman of the Council for Ready Infrastructure, said he postponed consideration of the House measure to give the nursing home industry and the trial lawyers more time to come to an agreement on capping punitive damages in lawsuits against nursing homes. Bense said he may wait until the full Senate acts on his bill before he takes it up again in his council.

Bill gets tougher on deadbeat parents

People who fall far behind on child support payments could be charged with a felony under a bill debated by the Senate on Wednesday.

Someone who has been more than $5,000 behind in child support for more than a year could be charged with a third-degree felony, not just a misdemeanor as is now the case. Someone convicted four times of misdemeanor failure to pay also could be charged with a felony under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park.

The Senate could vote on the measure as early as today. A similar bill has another House committee to go before it can be heard by the full House.

Supporters of increasing the penalty say if people who avoid child support obligations by moving out of state are charged with a felony, other states might be more willing to send them back to Florida to face the charges.

Law officers take up cause of retirees

A year ago uniformed law officers lined legislative committee rooms in a successful fight to regain pension money that was taken away from them to help the state's teachers.

This year the gun-toting lobbyists are back in an effort to regain pension money that was not restored to officers who had already retired.

"Florida owes this money," said Brevard County Sheriff Phil Williams at a noon rally Wednesday outside the Capitol. "The money is there; all that is needed is the political will."

Several hundred law enforcement officers, former officers and firefighters listened as Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, reported on the progress of the fight.

Burt and Bilirakis are the key sponsors of bills that would use $740-million in surplus pension money to restore the money to some 12,000 retired officers.

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For information about legislation, call this number toll-free during business hours: 1-800-342-1827. For Internet users, Online Sunshine is the official site for the Legislature:

Capitol Update, a half-hour program on the day's legislative highlights distributed by the Sunshine Network, airs weekday evenings on a number of public TV stations. Check TV Times for schedules.

Coverage of the legislative session can be heard by radio on Capitol Report weekdays at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF-FM 89.7.

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