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Florida Lawmakers Sidestep Budget Disaster but Miss on Consumer Issues

Despite a difficult budget year, Florida’s 2010 Legislative session ended up sparing Florida’s 1.7 million caregivers and hundreds of thousands of older Floridians additional reductions in services designed to help them to remain living independently in their homes and communities.

For the most part, Florida lawmakers had protected funding in the state’s 2010-2011 state budget for home-and-community-based long-term care services for Florida’s seniors, their families and other caregivers, AARP Florida’s state director, Lori Parham, said as lawmakers wrapped up their 2010 session.  

But lawmakers missed opportunities to strengthen consumer protections, Parham added.  
“Because vital services will continue, more older Floridians will be able to stay where they want to be – with their families and in their homes and communities—and where they sustain jobs,  provide volunteer services, and stimulate local economies,” Parham said.  
Parham also commended legislators for taking the time to carefully consider the impacts of reforming the state’s Medicaid system.  The 60-day session ended before leglislators took final action on differing proposals on Medicaid reform, but legislative leaders have indicated that they will revisit the issue next year.
“AARP strongly supports improvements to Florida’s Medicaid system,” Parham said.  “But deferring reform actions was prudent.  Legislators now have time to review the implications of some provocative reform proposals.  Legislators will have more opportunity to look for ways to ensure quality care for Medicaid recipients while restraining costs and wisely using public resources.”   
Parham cautioned, however, that the state’s 2010-2011 budget will further reduce the Medicaid payment rate for nursing homes and hospitals.  “Going forward, Florida cannot afford to risk quality care in these facilities.  Florida and its older residents simply cannot tolerate reductions in nursing staffing requirements for these facilities.  Florida must keep the ‘nursing’ in nursing homes.”
Parham said she was dismayed that, after a three-year campaign, legislators failed to repeal a cap on using available money in the state’s affordable housing program, which assists many older Floridians who have fixed or reduced incomes.  The state would have been able to use those funds to supplement down payments, closing costs and refurbishment assistance for Floridians of modest means, while also helping to boost the state’s still-sluggish real-estate market.

Parham commended lawmakers for managing to reach agreement on the session’s last day on important legislation cracking down on unscrupulous fraud artists selling questionable annuities investments.  The legislation imposes tougher fines on sales agents who purposely deceive and defraud older Florida residents on annuity product sales.  
“After two years of delay, Florida lawmakers summoned the will to impose tougher fines on annuities fraud scams,” Parham said.  “AARP had heard stories of older Floridians, some in their 80s, who had been sold investment products that tied up their investment with no return for more decades.  On behalf of our members statewide, AARP thanks legislators for taking action on this important legislation. However, our work is not complete.  The Legislature needs to finish what it started and make such crimes a felony rather than a misdemeanor.”

Parham also noted that legislators also missed chances to strengthen laws and ethical requirements to make Public Service Commission proceedings more transparent.  Legislation supported by AARP and other groups would have prohibited or restricted certain types of communications on Commission matters between staff,  members, formal parties and other public participants.  Legislators had expressed concern that Public Service Commission members at times received input from only one side of a utility rate case without other participants being fully informed about such interactions.   
Parham also expressed regret that legislators missed another opportunity to help Florida businesses compete fairly with out-of-state businesses.  AARP, business and children’s advocates had joined in calling for Florida to authorize full participation in the multi-state “Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement,” which would have helped Florida collect sales and use taxes already imposed by Florida law on Internet, catalog and toll-free telephone transactions.  Out-of-state competitors are not collecting and sending in the lawfully imposed sales taxes on purchases made to Florida residents.

Other Resources

Florida Senate

Florida Department of Financial Services

Florida House of Representatives