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Gov. Rick Scott signs overhaul of Medicaid, growth laws

TALLAHASSEE — Dozens of bills affecting Floridians from the womb to the tomb were signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.

Everything from abortion to school vouchers to videos depicting murders is covered in the 48 measures Scott signed.

Among the most significant bills: a rewrite of the state's growth management laws and an overhaul of Medicaid, the $22 billion health insurance program for the poor.

The Medicaid plan, which still needs federal approval, gives managed care companies more control over the program that's paid for with federal and state money. Big health insurance companies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield are expected to take part.

Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who carried the legislation (HB 7107 and HB 7109) in the Senate, called it a historic makeover that will increase access to health care, improve quality and manage costs.

"The real beneficiaries of this reform are our friends and neighbors who receive their health care and long-term care in the Medicaid program," he said.

The growth management bill, HB 7207, has been assailed by environmental groups as a gift to developers.

But sponsor Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said it puts control of growth into the hands of local governments who know their communities best.

"It's the old axiom that government that is closest to the people ought to be the ones making decisions that affect the lives of people in their communities," he said.

Aubuchon also said the bill will speed economic recovery and job creation by eliminating the bureaucratic state review process and getting projects off the ground more quickly.

Scott also signed off on HB 97, a bill that prohibits health care plans created through the federal health care law from covering abortions, and HB 411, which exempts photos, videos and recordings depicting deaths from public records. Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, introduced that bill after the deaths of two Tampa police officers were captured on a dashboard camera.

The governor gave his okay to a bill expanding the rights of gun owners. Doctors will face sanctions if they ask patients about gun ownership for a reason other than providing medical treatment under HB 155.

Attorneys from three physicians' groups threatened Scott with a lawsuit if he signed the measure, saying it would prevent medical professionals from talking to patients about gun safety, according to a letter sent Thursday to the governor.

And Scott signed off on several bills expanding school vouchers.

One measure, HB 1329, allows more students to qualify for the McKay Scholarship Program, which provides school vouchers for students with disabilities.

Students could more easily move to other public schools with Opportunity Scholarships thanks to HB 1331, which expands the definition of a "failing" school.

Expansion of digital learning, HB 7197, earned Scott's signature, too. Starting July 1, high school students will be required to take at least one online course before graduating and online school courses will be expanded.

And sorry, fans of saggy pants. Starting next school year, school boards must prohibit students from wearing clothes that show their underwear or expose body parts "in an indecent or vulgar manner." Repeat pants-saggers could face in-school suspension.

"Oh, praise God!" said Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, when he heard news that his bill passed Thursday night. The bill will create jobs, he said, because students will learn about appropriate clothing choices before they join the workforce.

"I don't think anybody's gonna hire you" with saggy pants, he said

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Rick Scott signs overhaul of Medicaid, growth laws 06/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 8:30pm]
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