Nursing homes get rare budget relief
Legislators agreed to a new fee on Florida nursing homes Saturday, making that industry among the very few winners in the budget-cutting special session. The 5.3-percent fee on homes' revenue will be used to draw down a larger pool of federal money for a total of $166-million -- enough to make up the cuts to nursing homes in all of 2008. "In the end, they should be really in good shape," said Rep. Kevin Ambler, the Tampa-area Republican and lead House negotiator in that part of the budget.
The House and Senate could not agree on a few health care issues, such as whether to eliminate state funding for a $2-million-a-year crisis counseling program, including billboards and a hot line, to assist churches and nonprofits in giving pregnant women information on abortion alternatives. (The program was begun by former Gov. Jeb Bush, an opponent of abortion, in 2005, but Gov. Charlie Crist's health department recommended the program be defunded).
Democratic legislators who favor abortion rights say the state should not spend public money to influence women's decisions. "Instead of putting the money into comprehensive sex education, we're using it for a hot line," said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton.
Senators favor wiping out $1-million left in the program; the House offered a $250,000 cut. Left unresolved, it was "bumped up" to the two chambers' budget chairmen, adding a small dose of ideological politics to the short session.
The rapid-fire conference committee discussions on health care ended Saturday morning with a few ominous words about the regular session in March, with its projected deficit of $3.5-billion in fiscal 2010. "This special session is about over," said Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, the Senate's veteran health-care budget chief. "The spring session is going to be inspirational, to say the least... We've got to get through it. I hope we can make Florida a better place to live."