GOP Leaders Reduce Override List and Pushback

By: John Kennedy
By: John Kennedy


The list of vetoed bills lined up for overrides during this week’s special session shrunk by two Monday (Nov. 15), with legislative leaders dropping a controversial prescription drug measure and a reorganization of the state's Department of Management Services.

Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said he received pushback from some lawmakers about the drug legislation (HB 5603) and also from Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott, who opposes the measure (HB 5611) revamping DMS oversight.

Lawmakers plan a one-day special session Tuesday afternoon to override seven bills and a $9.7 million budget provision vetoed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist, an independent whose political stock has plummeted in the Republican-ruled Legislature.

Lawmakers last overrode a governor’s veto in 1997, when more than two-thirds of the Legislature reversed late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles’ veto of an abortion bill and another involving evidence in civil cases.

“We want to make sure tomorrow goes as smoothly as possible and we wanted to pick bills that we thought were in unison with everyone, Democrats and Republicans, alike,” Haridopolos said about the lineup of bills set for action.

House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the two measures scrapped had sparked enough controversy that it was clear they were no longer part of the “universe” of easy-to-override bills. Scott asked lawmakers to drop the DMS override, saying he had his own plans for that agency, which has drawn heat for its oversight and spending.

“He campaigned on the issue of reform and reorganizing government and, frankly, I think he’s entitled to that opportunity,” Cannon said.

The legislation would have taken sole oversight of the troubled DMS away from the new chief executive – placing it under the governor and the state’s three independently elected Cabinet officers.

Haridopolos spoke with reporters moments after he removed the door separating the Senate President’s office from an inner Senate Office Building hallway accessible to senators. Removing the door was a symbol, Haridopolos said, of his leadership approach – one of openness and transparency.

But in an admission that may belie this spirit, Haridopolos said that he and Scott discussed delaying action on the DMS bill in a private suite at Saturday night’s Florida State University football game. The meeting was not noticed by either man’s office, but state law does not require such gatherings to be public.

“You’re going to see, I hope, the governor and Legislature as much as possible in concert,” Haridopolos said. “When the governor-elect expressed concerns about our veto override, he was given every consideration.”

Haridopolos added, “I think the folks in Florida who voted overwhelmingly for our party…want us to work together as much as possible, and do it in a transparent and open way.”

While the DMS bill raised Scott’s hackles, prospects of lawmakers overriding Crist’s veto of the prescription drug bill drove a wedge between major Republican Party donors, with business groups and health organizations renewing the fight they had during the spring session.

Crist’s veto was supported by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a Democratic ally, but also by the Florida Medical Association and Florida Orthopedic Society – reliable Republican supporters.

Also supporting Crist’s veto was Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed by a pair of doctors, Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass, who later gave more than $1 million to political spending committees headed by Haridopolos and Cannon.

The company provides software that helps doctors dispense and manage patient prescriptions, a profitable sidelight for many doctors.

The legislation vetoed by Crist would have imposed new restrictions on doctors’ “repackaging” and distributing prescriptions to workers’ compensation patients, lowering costs to the state and private companies, but also threatening Automated Healthcare’s services.

Associated Industries of Florida, which pushed for the legislation along with losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, said it could have saved private companies $34 million in workers’ compensation costs.

The FMA and Orthopedic Society revived the tug-of-war Monday with a letter to Cannon and Haridopolos, warning the legislation remained, “just as flawed, and that injured workers may be adversely affected and the ability of physicians to dispense medications may be significantly limited.”

Cannon said the dispute scuttled the override attempt planned for Tuesday.

“In the lobby corps there has emerged this debate and discussion and controversy….if there’s that much debate and disagreement, that’s the type of thing that should be run through the entire committee process and should come back in regular session,” Cannon said.

Bills still set for override are HB 545, HB 569, HB 981, SB 1516, HB 1565, SB 1842 and HB 1385. Included among them is one (HB 981) that would allow those buying farmland to retain existing agricultural property tax exemptions, while tripling a one-cent citrus box fee to raise $3 million for industry research – a fee hike anti-tax lawmakers defend, saying it is supported by growers.

Another measure would restore a $9.7 million budget item vetoed by Crist for Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville, which would serve an additional 18,000 uninsured Floridians and make the state eligible for another $12 million in Medicaid matching money.

While Haridopolos and Cannon said they intended to only deal with legislation that had drawn a consensus, several of Tuesday’s measures have sparked controversy.

A leading environmental group, Audubon of Florida, has urged legislative leaders to leave alone Crist’s veto of a measure (HB 1565) giving lawmakers more control over a wide range of agency rules. The legislation is designed to block state agencies from imposing rules that could blunt business competitiveness or slow economic growth.

Lawmakers also are ready to delay the start of a septic tank inspection program conatined in a clean springs bill (SB 550) that has been hailed by environmentalists, but is drawing heat from residents who fear the program’s January start will eventually prove costly. Panhandle lawmakers have pushed to delay the program’s start until July, while they also pledge to repeal the legislation in the interim next spring.

Lawmakers also are ready to restore some spending provisions that may clash with Scott’s campaign themes of cutting state spending.

Along with the Shands’ funding, lawmakers are looking to draw $31.3 million in federal stimulus money to pay energy rebates owed thousands of Floridians who installed qualified air-conditioning systems or made solar energy improvements.

During the campaign, Scott railed against the Obama administration over federal stimulus spending, which he called wasteful and contributing to the nation’s mounting debt.

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