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Lawmakers take aim at Shands veto

By Jim Saunders
10/27/2010 © Health News Florida

Gov. Charlie Crist baffled and angered state lawmakers in May when he vetoed $9.7 million for the Shands teaching hospital at the University of Florida.

But lawmakers could get the last word.

Legislative leaders appear to have bipartisan support to overturn Crist's veto --- possibly as early as mid-November, when lawmakers come back to Tallahassee for what is usually a ceremonial post-election session. Republican leaders have indicated they could add a brief special session to take up issues such as the Shands veto.

Sen. Nan Rich, who is expected to become the Senate Democratic leader in November, said Tuesday she would support reversing the veto. Crist's decision stunned lawmakers and hospitals, at least in part, because state budgets have included similar money for Shands since 1981.

"I think it (the veto) was a mistake that is really causing harm to Shands,'' said Rich, a Weston Democrat who also has been a longtime leader on health and human-services issues. "This is something that has been in the budget for years. It's nothing new.''

Plans for a special session have not been worked out. But David Bishop, a spokesman for incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, said the Shands issue is almost certain to be included if such a session is held.

"You can just pretty much assume that will be on the agenda if there is a special session,'' Bishop said this week.

Republicans accuse Crist of vetoing the money because Shands is in the district of outgoing House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala. The governor clashed with Cretul this spring and became a pariah to many Republicans when he left the GOP to run as an independent for U.S. Senate.

But Sterling Ivey, a Crist spokesman, said the veto stemmed from Shands being treated differently in the budget process than other teaching hospitals --- not from political payback.

"The veto of the $9.7 (million) for Shands was not because it was in Speaker Cretul's district,'' Ivey said in an e-mail Tuesday.

Overriding gubernatorial vetoes is rare, but Republican leaders do not owe loyalty to Crist since he left the party. Also, GOP and Democratic lawmakers might have added incentive to override the veto, because it also affects teaching hospitals in other parts of the state --- though to a far-smaller degree than the hit Shands will suffer.

"I think the implications of losing that money are much greater than just the $(9.7) million,'' said Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, a group that represents Shands and other teaching hospitals.

The $9.7 million in state funding would draw down more than $13 million in federal matching funds, which would be spread to teaching hospitals statewide, according to a briefing paper from Carvalho's group.

The veto would cost Shands in Gainesville a total of $13.3 million in potential state and federal funds, according to the alliance. Other hospitals affected are Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, which would lose $4 million; Tampa General Hospital, which would lose $1.9 million; Shands Jacksonville, which would lose $1.6 million; Orlando Regional Medical Center, which would lose $1.2 million; and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami-Dade, which would lose $1.1 million.

The briefing paper says the cuts will force Shands in Gainesville to take steps such as limiting access to patients who live within its primary 13-county service area. That would mean redirecting patients outside that area to hospitals near their homes. The lost money also could lead to staff cutbacks.

Shands officials hoped lawmakers would take up the veto during a special session this summer about the Gulf oil spill. Crist called such a session, but lawmakers quickly adjourned without taking up other issues.

Lawmakers will come to Tallahassee for a Nov. 16 organizational session, which is held to swear in members and formally select legislative leaders. A special session could be tacked onto that session.

If a special session is called, details likely will not become available until after Tuesday's election. At that point, leaders will know better the makeup of the House and Senate, which could affect the issues they include in a special session.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, said it was too early to confirm a special session. But like Bishop, she said the Shands issue "stands out" as a possible issue --- both because of the lost money for the hospitals and the contention that Crist issued the veto for political reasons.

Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at