Florida, feds agree on $1.5 billion for hospitals’ low-income patients


As the Florida House and Senate get ready to start negotiating a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Rick Scott and federal officials announced Wednesday that the state will have $1.5 billion for a key program that helps hospitals care for low-income and uninsured patients.

The money will be available for the “Low Income Pool” program, which provides federal matching funds. State lawmakers had been uncertain about how much money would be available for the program during the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Senate included about $607 million in so-called “LIP” funding in its budget proposal, while the House, pointing to the uncertainty, did not include LIP money in its spending plan.

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“Working with the Trump administration to secure a commitment of $1.5 billion in LIP funding for our state will truly improve the quality and access to health care for our most vulnerable populations,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “I appreciate their quick turnaround and commitment to working with Florida to provide additional flexibility for how these funds can be used more efficiently, including allowing money to follow each patient. This will provide better health care for the individuals intended to be served with this funding.”

The Senate voted 39-0 early Wednesday evening to approve its budget proposal, and the House was discussing its plan. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, indicated they were waiting to see details of the LIP funding.

“We don’t have the money yet,” Corcoran said. “We have an announcement. That’s all we have.”

CHARTER SCHOOLS SUBSIDIZATION

The Republican-dominated House is poised Thursday to approve a controversial plan that would have the state subsidize the creation of charter schools in areas with low-performing traditional public schools. The House took up the issue (HB 5105) on Wednesday and positioned it procedurally for a vote. Democrats voiced opposition to the plan to set aside $200 million for non-profit charter schools moving into areas where traditional public schools have repeatedly received low grades. After the expected approval Thursday, the issue will become part of negotiations between the House and Senate, which has not moved forward with the “schools of hope” idea.

STAGE SET FOR GAMBLING TALKS

Lawmakers could start hashing out differences between two vastly different approaches to Florida’s gambling footprint as early as Monday. On Wednesday, Sen. Bill Galvano, who is shepherding the upper chamber’s gambling plan, asked Senate President Joe Negron to appoint members of a “conference committee” to negotiate with the House. House leaders call their gambling bill a “status quo” plan to slightly revamp the 2010 compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Senate bill is friendly to the pari-mutuel industry and would lead to an expansion of gambling, including allowing pari-mutuels to add slot machines in eight counties where voters have approved them. Negron named Galvano, R-Bradenton, as the Senate chair of the conference committee, with other members including Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers; Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton; and Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. Under the 2010 compact, the tribe agreed to pay the state $1 billion over five years in exchange for the exclusive rights to conduct banked card games, an amount the Seminoles have exceeded.

ETHICS PANEL WARY OF LIMITS

The Florida Commission on Ethics is expected Friday to discuss a move by House and Senate leaders to place additional restrictions on the commission’s operations. Commission Chairman Matt Carlucci last week wrote a memo to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, expressing concerns about stepped-up restrictions dealing with issues such as personnel decisions, out-of-state travel and contracts. In the memo, posted on the ethics commission website, Carlucci wrote that the panel is an independent agency under the Florida Constitution. He added that that the commission receives an appropriation each year from the Legislature, but as “long as the commission does not exceed it, there should be no need for additional oversight” of the operations. “Beyond that, constraints on the commission’s operational authority are potentially damaging,” Carlucci wrote. “Even the perception that our operations are subject to outside supervision negatively impacts our independence, and thus our credibility.” Negron and Corcoran sent a memo March 21 to Virlindia Doss, executive director of the commission, that spelled out a “delegation of authority” for the commission’s operations. In part, it included certain actions that require Senate and House approval, including “(h)iring, termination, promotion, pay increases, bonuses of commission employees,” out-of-state travel of commission employees and any “lease or change in commission office space.”

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