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Gaetz talks health care and ethics

Health care and ethics reform were on the docket Tuesday as incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, discussed his administrative priorities and took questions on issues facing the state. 

Florida has much to decide on how to proceed on healthcare: lawmakers in 2011 passed a law to move recipients of Medicaid--the state's program for the poor and disabled--to private HMOs. Yet the state can't proceed without permission from the federal government, which is still pending.

Meanwhile,lawmakers have to decide whether to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Having so much in limbo inserts unpredictability into the state budget, said Gaetz.

Lawmakers will decide if and how they would expand the number of people who can access Medicaid, an optional component of the Affordable Care Act. Federal officials still need to answer some questions, he said.

"For example, some states are thinking of taking children first, mothers with children, and then single adults who are employed," Gaetz said. "We don't know whether that will be allowed."

Gaetz also reinforced his commitment to ethics reforms. He's already proposed to change the rules so that senators who could have personal gain or loss from a bill or amendment be banned from voting. Under current rules, senators can vote as long as they disclose their conflict within 15 days.

"I hope that's the first step in many steps we are able to take in the Senate and House when it comes to ethics," he said.

He'd also like to see the Florida Commission on Ethics have more power to punish public officials who break the rules. The commission has a long list of officials who are fined for ethics violations but never pay up.

"I think if you're a public official and you haven't paid your fine, your salary ought to be garnished," he said.