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Utilities, Consumer Issues Lead AARP Florida To-Do List

AARP Florida volunteer advocates and staff are gearing up for what might be tough battles when the 2011 Florida legislative session begins March 8. AARP members should watch for potential proposals to raise consumers’ rates on residential telephone service and to change how Florida regulators oversee power, phone, water and natural gas utilities.

“Thanks to the strength of our members, AARP Florida has been able to win significant victories in recent years for fair, affordable utilities rates,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida’s interim state director. “In 2009, our members helped convince lawmakers to remove provisions that could have allowed telecommunication companies to raise rates as much as 10 percent per year, every year. In 2010, AARP’s members helped persuade the state Public Service Commission to block nearly $1.6 billion per year in electric utility base rate increases for Florida consumers. We’ll be watching the Legislature and regulatory agencies closely in 2011.”

Early indicators suggest that the Legislature may consider a plan to deregulate telecommunication companies’ rates beginning in 2011. The details of the plan are still being worked out, but it’s already got the attention of AARP Florida, Johnson noted.

Florida state volunteers and staff also will support legislation that would ban texting on cell phones or other electronic devices while driving. Halting this dangerous practice is especially popular to AARP’s nearly 650 Driver Safety instructors in Florida, who help nearly 30,000 drivers per year learn safer driving techniques and garner potential discounts on car insurance.

AARP Florida volunteer advocates and staff also are tracking state lawmakers’ plans to require Floridians of modest means to enroll in managed-care plans to receive Medicaid health or long-term care, including nursing-home care. AARP Florida is calling for any managed-care initiative to protect patients’ prerogative to direct their own care with input from care providers.

AARP Florida also has urged legislators to ensure that any Medicaid managed-care plan include a strong focus on the promising “medical home” concept, through which Medicaid patients are able to receive well-coordinated care. Quality care coordination, which provides for patient-centered care that is directed by patients and providers working together, can improve patient health and help restrain costs.

Florida volunteer and staff advocates also will monitor the Legislature’s plans to implement two new constitutional amendments that voters approved in November. Those amendments are intended to proscribe drawing of “gerrymandered” political districts.

Later in 2011, AARP Florida will offer interested Floridians opportunities to learn more about the redistricting process, including the opportunity to use new high-tech tools that will allow interested citizens to draw their own political district maps and provide input on the redistricting process to lawmakers.

Johnson noted that AARP Florida also will fight efforts to put Florida’s state and local budgets on auto-pilot, thereby handcuffing state and local officials’ ability to respond effectively to unanticipated natural disasters or rapidly changing conditions.