The 2018 legislative session wrapped up two days late in order to complete work on the budget. Only about 6% of the 3,200 bills filed this year successfully made it through the process and were sent to the Governor, while many bills were pushed aside while legislators focused on proposals addressing the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.More than anything else, the 2018 session will likely be remembered for its swift and unprecedented movement in response to the massacre, but many other issues were dealt with over the course of the 62-day session.
After extended negotiations, the House and Senate finally passed an $88.7-billion budget addressing many of Florida’s key priorities. A significant portion of the spending plan will support Florida students through increased funding for K-12 and higher education initiatives. The state budget also includes a large amount of funding for health care, including mental health programs and services.
- In the health care budget, lawmakers increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes by $130 million and increased nursing home residents’ monthly personal needs allowance from $105 to $130. This was a big win for Florida’s long-term care industry, which has not seen additional funding in the past several years. The Department of Children and Families will receive an additional $14.6 million for new investigators for child protection services and greater access to treatment for addiction.
- The fight against the opioid crisis continues as lawmakers set aside approximately $53 million to combat the state’s opioid addiction problem. The budget also calls for $991,000 to upgrade the state’s program for monitoring and recording prescription drug usage. Although the budget tackles numerous key issues, many lawmakers have stressed the need for even more funding for health care and mental health initiatives.
- The education budget includes $21.1 billion for public schools, which increases per-student spending, provides $69 million for new mental health programs, and allocates $162 million for Florida’s “safe schools program.” Legislators also agreed to continue providing $140 million to charter schools in the “Schools of Hope” program. In addition, a $121 million increase in funding for higher-education will expand the Florida Bright Futures Scholarships to permanently cover 75%-100% of tuition for Bright Futures students; allow the scholarships to be used for summer classes; and fund new scholarship programs for need-based students.
- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection gained around $100 million in funding for the Florida Forever program, allowing the state to purchase environmentally critical land and increasing funding for parks and waterways.
- The budget includes a $171 million tax-cut package, creating back-to-school and disaster preparedness tax holidays later this year.
KEY ISSUES THAT PASSED
Trauma Centers – The Legislature unanimously passed HB 1165, allowing Florida’s hospitals to add more trauma facilities and expand access to care for patients suffering from serious injuries. This was a significant victory for HCA and will strengthen the future of health care in Florida.Generator Rule – In addition to the $130 million in funding for nursing homes, legislators approved HB 7099 to require nursing facilities to have working generators and 72 hours of fuel and supplies in case of an emergency. The measure will harden Florida’s nursing homes against natural disasters and provide safety measures to improve care for the state’s most vulnerable residents, an issue that became a priority following the deaths of multiple nursing home residents of a South Florida nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.Primary Care – SB 80 allows doctors and patients to sign direct-primary care agreements. Doctors will now be able to work in a patient-centered model, leaving out the burden of always dealing with insurance companies and directing more focus toward patient needs.Opioid Epidemic – In the face of Florida’s ongoing opioid crisis, HB 21 creates limits for opioid prescriptions and sets aside funds for a state prescription drug monitoring program. The bill, adopted on the final night of the regular session, provides more than $53 million for treatment and prevention.Firearm Legislation – In response to the Parkland school shooting, Florida legislators quickly drafted and passed SB 7026, the state’s first gun legislation of its kind. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Law imposes new limitations on age and waiting periods for rifle and shotgun purchases, bans the sale of bump stocks, and directs $69 million in funding for school mental health programs and $98 million for increased school security.Education Policy – Legislators addressed many of their top education priorities in HB 7055, including tax-funded scholarships paid for by the “Hope Scholarship” program, which allow students dealing with bullying and harassment in public schools to transfer to a different school. As detailed in the budget discussion above, the bill also expands Bright Futures scholarships, permanently providing tuition and support for nearly 100,000 students pursuing higher education.
KEY ISSUES THAT FAILED
Medicaid Reimbursement – The push to more fairly reimburse hospitals when they provide Medicaid services was the final issue that held up budget agreement this year. Even though the final budget used the House’s rate enhancement framework, which favors the so-called “Safety Net” hospitals, legislators and the media are now asking tough questions about public hospitals’ profits. There was extensive legislative support for the position that Medicaid dollars should reimburse hospitals for the care they provide, without regard to their corporate status, laying a solid foundation for further movement on the issue next year.Primary Care – SB 524 would have allowed pharmacists to test and treat flu and strep infections. The bill intended to expand access to basic health care for millions of patients who lack primary care physicians. Many believe this measure would have prevented increased hospitalizations for flu-related illnesses, especially in light of this year’s flu season, which was one of the worst in recent years.Certificate of Need – The House and Senate were unable to agree and pass HB 27, a bill that would have eliminated the “certificate of need” regulatory program for Florida hospitals.Overnight Stay Ambulatory Surgical Center – HB 23 failed to pass. The legislation would have created “recovery care centers” and allowed patients to say overnight at Florida ambulatory surgical centers.Texting While Driving – After stalling in the Senate, HB 33 – which would have made texting while driving a primary offense – failed to pass. The bill would have allowed police officers to pull over individuals for texting behind the wheel, but many lawmakers expressed concerns over the potential for it to be used as a pretext to pull over drivers as a result of racial profiling.Florida still has a crowded and contentious election season between now and the start of the 2019 legislative session, and many of these policy issues will continue to take center stage.