Florida Legislature news briefs: Bill would end Confederate holidays

After more than a century, birthdays of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with a Confederate Memorial Day, would no longer be legal holidays in Florida under a bill approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Over the objections of people who argued the proposal (SB 224) would erase Southern history, the Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 4-2 without debate or discussion to support the measure. The bill would remove the Lee, Davis and Confederate days from a list of 21 legal holidays on the books in Florida.

» RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

However, the bill must still get through two additional committees to reach the Senate floor, while an identical House proposal (HB 227) has not appeared in committees.

Bill sponsor Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said her goal isn’t to erase history, but to undercut tributes to the Confederacy, “which upheld the institution of slavery and perpetuated inequality and division within our country.”

Florida has honored Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19, since 1895, the same year April 26 became Confederate Memorial Day on the state calendar. Davis’ June 3 birthday went on the books in 1905.

Barbara Hemingway, of American First Team Manatee, saying President Donald Trump has “stood up for our national anthem and our beautiful statues,” asked lawmakers to stand up for “Florida’s history.”

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is important to remember the history of the Confederacy and slavery, but “anything celebrating our shameful past has no place in our government.”

“It is past time for Florida to end its celebration of a treasonous government and two of its leaders who fought to enslave and oppress an entire group of people based on the color of their skin,” McCoy said.

Senators target use of genetic information by insurers

With sponsor Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, saying the proposal is about “freedom and privacy,” a Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill that would bar life insurers and long-term care insurers from using customers’ genetic information in decisions about writing or canceling policies.

The bill (SB 1106) approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, would be similar to an already-existing ban on the use of genetic information in health-insurance coverage.

But the bill drew opposition from the American Council of Life Insurers. Physician Bruce Margolis, who represented the council at the meeting, said life insurance and long-term care insurance policies are different from health insurance, at least in part, because they are more often written on an individual basis instead of as part of group coverage. Margolis said genetic information could help insurers determine risks.

But Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican who sells insurance, questioned the need for the use of genetic information. He said life-insurance underwriting already works well.

The bill would still need to clear two more committees before it could reach the Senate floor. The House version (HB 855) has made it through committees and is available to go to the full House

House panel defers dental proposal

After more than an hour of debate, a House health-care spending panel Tuesday put off action on a bill that would provide money to the Florida Department of Health for a study that could result in the creation of new type of provider known as dental therapists. House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said the bill (HB 683) could be rescheduled in his panel.

Sponsored by Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, the bill would provide $250,000 to study the delivery of dental care in Florida and examine recommendations to increase the number of mid-level dental providers, including community dental-health coordinators and dental therapists. The bill was amended so the study could also examine the possibility of a dental student-loan repayment program for 10 dentists who agree to serve in medically underserved areas of the state.

But the bill was opposed by the Florida Dental Association, with lobbyist Joe Anne Hart saying the state doesn’t have a dental shortage and will have enough dentists “well into the year 2035.” She said the $250,000 proposed for the study would be better directed toward a dental student-loan forgiveness program proposed in another bill (HB 369).

That bill cleared one committee but hasn’t been taken up by Brodeur, who said he opposes loan forgiveness programs. “The market should drive this,” he said. In its original iteration, Perez’s bill would have authorized new providers, called licensed dental therapists, to perform tasks under the general supervision of dentists. But Perez last week agreed to amend the bill to authorize only the study. Brodeur’s committee tagged two amendments onto the measure, with one providing $250,000 for the department to conduct the study and the other authorizing the examination of the possibility of a loan-forgiveness program.

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