State Politics

Legislature Briefs: Bill forces elderly into managed care

TALLAHASSEE — Elderly Floridians who want to stay out of nursing homes would be forced into managed care under two bills passed this week by the House in an effort to pare Medicaid costs.

But the Legislature’s own policy analysts suggest that managed care may actually be more expensive for frail older people, based on the current track record of HMOs.

A recent report examined a managed care program that provides home health care, housekeeping and many other at-home services, as well as assisted living when necessary. It did keep people out of nursing homes but was more expensive than two traditional programs, run by nonprofit agencies, that cover the same services.

Tougher graduation rules signed into law

TALLAHASSEE — In a dramatic education shift, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law tougher graduation requirements Tuesday for public high school students that will eventually replace the math and science Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Students soon will have to take geometry, Algebra II, biology, chemistry or physics, plus one equally rigorous science course, and pass standardized exams in those subjects to graduate.

Starting this school year, ninth-graders will no longer have to take the math FCAT. The 10th-grade math FCAT and 11th-grade science FCAT will be eliminated by 2011-12.

Fla. budget talks continue into second day

TALLAHASSEE — A second day of budget talks Tuesday produced at least one group of winners: retired public employees.

The House dropped its plan to save $224 million by eliminating a monthly health insurance subsidy for about 300,000 retired public employees — many of them politically influential former teachers, police officers and firefighters.

In the health care budget, the biggest losers so far are hospitals and nursing homes, which face 7 percent cuts in reimbursement rates, for a savings of $615 million.

Among the unresolved budget issues: money for libraries next year. The Senate proposes $21 million, a level that qualifies for federal matching money. The House won’t budge from its insistence that the money is better spent on job-creating tools to attract companies to relocate or expand in Florida.

Also in flux: funding for Florida Forever, the popular environmental land-buying program. The Senate budget has $15 million, but the House has nothing, and the gap will likely be one of several decided by legislative leaders in the days ahead.

Homeless protection added to hate crimes law

TALLAHASSEE — Spurred by a 2006 video showing a group of teenagers bashing a homeless man with baseball bats, House lawmakers voted Tuesday to give the homeless added protection under the state’s hate crimes law.

Florida’s hate crimes law provides for increased penalties if someone is specifically targeted because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age. The legislation would add homeless people to that list.

The House voted 80-28 to send the bill to the Senate, where identical legislation is ready for debate before the full chamber.

— Herald wire reports