It was controversial enough when the Legislature was only being asked to change state law to benefit The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida.
Now, HB 1159 has been amended to include another divisive issue: Miami Children's Hospital's request to build a 10-bed labor and delivery unit.
Both Miami Children's and The Villages are asking for the same thing: special exceptions to the state's process for determining if new hospital units, nursing homes or hospice centers are needed. That has brought down criticism on HB 1159, as hospitals and nursing homes nearby accuse The Villages and Miami Children's of asking friends in the Legislature to help them bypass the rules.
The House Health and Human Services Committee held two contentious votes today. One to add the Miami Children's request onto the bill and another to approve the amended legislation, sending it to the House floor.
The measure passed, but not without criticism from several Democrats and Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. He unsuccessfully tried to gut the bill, introducing an amendment that would have erased all the existing language and replaced it with a study to determine if changes to the "certificate of need" process are warranted.
Fasano pointed out that the committee meeting was a last-minute addition to the House's schedule, and he said it was solely to allow the controversial bill a final chance to reach the House floor.
The bill passed largely along party lines. Fasano appeared to be the only Republican voting "no" and Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, the only Democrat voting "yes."
The Villages says it needs new nursing home beds, even when taking existing facilities into consideration. The bill was changed to require any nursing homes built in the community to be at least one mile away from competitors. Another retirement community, Ocala's On Top of the World, said it would also take advantage of the new rules.
Miami Children's wants to have a labor and delivery unit so that babies with serious health issues can be born there and immediately receive specialized treatment. The state's other children's hospitals, including All Children's in St. Petersburg, could also take advantage.
The bill that original sought the exemption for Miami Children's, HB 919, never got a hearing in the House.
On the Senate side, the Villages and Miami Children's proposals remain separate issues that are both stalled in comittee. SB 1482 is the Villages request, and SB 1264 is Miami Children's.