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Bill authorizing maternity unit for Miami Children's headed to Gov. Scott

One of the final bills approved by the Florida Senate before session adjourned today authorized a 10-bed maternity wing at Miami Children's Hospital.

Although the labor-and-delivery unit was not particularly popular in this chamber, House Bill 1159 passed overwhelming because it contained a host of other priorities for the members. The legislation now heads to Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

Miami Children's says it needs this ability to accommodate mothers who are expected to give birth to babies with serious illnesses. The hospital argued that the new wing will allow doctors to immediately give sick newborns the attention they need, instead of waiting for them to be driven or flown there.

The ability to save children is what caused Rep. Eduardo Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, to sponsor the measure intially, he said. "That’s why I’m passionate about the issue; that’s why I fought for it."

Opponents of the legislation in both the House and the Senate argued that nearby hospitals, especially Jackson Memorial, were better equipped to assist mothers with high-risk pregnancies and that there isn't evidence the existing system caused babies harm.

The Senate voted earlier this week to strip the maternity unit out of HB 1159. The House put that language back in today before sending it to the Senate for the final vote.

Sens. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, tried to get the Senate to remove the language again, but their colleagues resisted on the grounds such an action would doom the wide-ranging bill for good. 

After all, there were other provisions that senators liked. The bill also includes $500,000 to fund the state's prescription drug database, a expedited process to allow a nursing home in the Villages retirement community, and new rules that will allow trauma centers to be built in rural areas in the Panhandle and Central Florida.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, championed the trauma center issue. It will allow a trauma center to be built in Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, which is in both of their districts.

The bill also creates new rules that require insurance companies to provide the same coverage for orally administered cancer medications, mainly pills, as they would for those received intravenously. The House insisted on language that delayed the implementation of the new rules and grandfathered in some existing policies, but the Senate concurred.

The cancer treatment component of the bill was a priority for Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers.

"I know the folks across ther hall didn’t want this bill, but I wasn’t going to stop fighting," she said about the House's attempt to water down the legislation.

HB 1159 passed the Senate on a 37-2 vote with Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Sobel voting "no." Roughly an hour earlier the House approved it 103-13, with both Republicans and Democrats dissenting.

Garcia said he could not support the bill because he was concerned there were unintended consequences to the cancer treatment language.