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Health News Florida

Where Things Stand in Capitol

Both the House and Senate meet today (Monday), the first day of the last week of the legislative session. Leaders of both chambers say they expect to end on time Friday.

The Senate today will debate a bill that would legalize a liquid form of cannabis that doesn't provide euphoria but helps to control seizures (SB 1030). Gov. Rick Scott sent Surgeon General John Armstrong over to a House committee last week to signal opposition, saying it would be better to issue the drug on a compassionate basis while putting it through a clinical trial. But the issue has strong support in both chambers.

Other issues scheduled to come up today in the Senate include permission for HCA to retain three controversial trauma centers (SB 1276); a measure (SB 1354) requiring insurers to use a standardized form to make it easier for doctors to file requests;  and a needle-exchange pilot program (SB 408) in Miami- Dade, an effort to slow the spread of HIV as a heroin epidemic builds.

The Florida House passed a huge bill full of controversial health issues on Friday shortly after lunch, sending it on to a Senate that may not be friendly. Passage of  the "train" -- legislative jargon for a bill that carries many unconnected issues -- was a signal defeat for the Florida Medical Association, which had opposed two of the biggest issues.

HB 7113 would give nurse practitioners the right to practice independently and would allow telemedicine consults with doctors in other states who don't hold Florida licenses.  The vote was 74-42.

But the Senate has made clear that it doesn't like some parts of the omnibus bill and is taking up the parts it does like one at a time. On today's schedule, the Senate will take up its trauma-center bill, SB 1276, which would allow three HCA hospitals that have established trauma centers to keep them but put a moratorium on others until the issue of how many the state needs is resolved.

It would also put a $15,000 cap on so-called "trauma access fees" while they are being studied. The Tampa Bay Times recently reported a series that showed trauma centers were tacking on arbitrary fees to every case labeled by the paramedics as trauma, whether the person needed extensive care or not. And the fees varied widely, with HCA's set at far above average.

Mental health

On Friday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring crisis stabilization units to submit data on how many beds are filled and whether the patients are indigent. The bill (SB 1726) postponed enactment of a change in payment that the units said would force some to close.

Abortion

Women seeking abortions will first be required to have a physician determine if the fetus is viable, defined by Legislation passed Friday as being able to survive with routine medical care.

The measure (HB 1047), which passed the Senate by a vote of 24 to 15, amends the current ban on most abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy. The legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

Current law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions including a danger to the life of the mother.

The new bill would outlaw the procedure if viability is determined except in cases to in which the mother's life is at risk or a procedure is necessary to prevent "a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function" of a pregnant woman.

It would also remove the exception of psychological trouble as an exception.