TALLAHASSEE — Florida will cut unemployment compensation benefits and make it harder for patients to win medical malpractice lawsuits under bills Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Monday.
Scott also vetoed three bills, including one (HB 4045) that would have repealed requirements for public reports on nursing homes sanctioned or fined by the state. That was an exception to his usual stance in favor of reducing business regulations.
The unemployment bill (HB 7005) is intended to cut employers' taxes by reducing maximum state benefits for jobless workers.
The cap will drop from 26 to 23 weeks if Florida's unemployment rate is at least 10.5 percent. If it falls below that level, the maximum benefits also will decline to as little as 12 weeks for a jobless rate of 5 percent or less. Florida's unemployment rate stood at 10.6 percent in May. The new law applies only to state benefits, not federal ones. It won't affect this year's tax rates but is expected to cut them by about $18 per worker in 2012.
The medical malpractice law (HB 479) was the Florida Medical Association's top legislative priority. "This bill is a major step forward in making Florida a friendlier place to practice medicine," said Dr. Madelyn Butler, the association's president.
It includes provisions to curtail testimony against Florida doctors by out-of-state experts. They will have to get state certification and would face discipline if found to have offered "deceptive or fraudulent" testimony.
The new statute also repeals an existing ban on the sale of malpractice insurance policies that give doctors, rather than insurance companies, the authority to control settlement decisions. Another provision gives legal immunity to doctors who volunteer their services to college and high school sports teams.
In his veto message on the nursing home bill, Scott cited "recent reports of certain facilities falling short of what is currently required by statutes and rules and what should reasonably be expected by residents."
The former hospital chain CEO added that he plans to form a task force to recommend ways to improve the state's monitoring.
"Until a more deliberate examination of the regulation and oversight of assisted living facilities is conducted, I do not believe it is prudent to relax any reporting requirements," Scott wrote.
Another of the vetoed bills (HB 767) would have exempted county commissioners from having to go with the highest and best bidder if they are leasing real estate for five years or less.
"Competitive bidding is fundamental for protecting the taxpayers' money," Scott wrote.
The third vetoed bill (HB 689) would have duplicated and in some ways conflicted with another Scott already has signed (SB 2160) requiring the state to contract with third-party providers for online testing of applicants for learners' driving permits.
Scott, meanwhile, won praise from the media-supported First Amendment Foundation for last week vetoing a bill (HB 913) that would have created a new public records exemption. It would have prevented the disclosure of proposals for the sale, use, development or lease of facilities at public airports until after they had been approved.
Foundation president Barbara Petersen wrote in a letter to Scott that his veto "helps ensure that decisions of public airport boards are transparent and open to public scrutiny."
Scott also signed a bill (SB 926) designed to increase job opportunities for disabled people through liability protection for their employers, even though he was worried about possible unintended consequences.
Earlier Monday, Scott went to the Hope Charter School in Ocoee near Orlando to sign a bill (SB 1546) that will expand such schools in Florida.
It will let high-performing charter operators enroll more students and open more schools, and offer charter schools additional state training and technical assistance. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but operated by private interests or governmental entities other than school districts.
Scott also ceremonially signed four other education bills he previously had signed into law. The governor then headed for a parochial school in St. Petersburg and a charter school in Fort Lauderdale to hold similar ceremonies for all five education bills.