Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed 34 bills into law, including a measure that will require standards for the use of police body cameras and a plan that could lead to revamping dental care in the Medicaid program.
The body-camera bill (HB 93) was a priority of many Democratic lawmakers and came after a series of highly publicized confrontations across the country between police and members of the public.
The bill does not require law-enforcement agencies to use body cameras. But if they do, the agencies would be required to establish policies and procedures addressing the proper use, maintenance and storage of body cameras and recorded data.
One of the sponsors, Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, issued a news release Thursday that said the procedures could help protect police officers and citizens. He also cited the case of a musician, Corey Jones, who was fatally shot last year by a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens officer. Questions have swirled around the shooting, but the officer, who was later fired, did not have a body camera.
"This will maintain the transparency we as a community crave and deserve,” Shevrin Jones said in the release. "This bill is one that really hit home for me after the death of Corey Jones, and hopefully now that it has been signed by the governor, we can hear less about lives lost and more about the unity between law enforcement and the community."
After lawmakers passed the bill this month, Florida Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera praised the measure.
"We have been saying that departments should not implement body cameras without having a policy,'' Rivera said in a prepared statement. "There are so many questions pertaining to procedures, proper use, maintenance, data storage and training that need to be addressed before body camera programs are started. There must be guidelines so that everyone knows the rules and to avoid this issue becoming a knee-jerk political issue."
Scott is in the process this week of taking action on more than 100 bills that lawmakers passed before the legislative session ended March 11. He faced a Thursday deadline on the 34 bills.
Among the measures was a heavily lobbied bill (HB 819) that could ultimately lead to changes in the way the Medicaid program provides dental services.
The issue centers on the state's Medicaid managed-care system, which requires HMOs to cover dental services. But supporters of the bill have contended that the services could be better provided by separate prepaid dental plans --- an idea known as "carving out" the services from the Medicaid managed-care system.
The bill, sponsored by incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, will lead to the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability conducting a study of dental services and submitting the report by Dec. 1. If lawmakers don't take action during the 2017 legislative session to keep dental services in the Medicaid managed-care program, the Agency for Health Care Administration will be directed to move forward with a prepaid dental program.
The bill was supported by the Florida Dental Association but faced heavy opposition from the Florida Association of Health Plans, which represents the managed-care industry. The Florida Association of Health Plans argued, in part, that the bill was tilted toward moving to prepaid dental plans. That is because the change will occur if lawmakers do not take action next year.
Scott issued a letter Thursday that appeared to indicate he shared some of the industry group's concerns, though he signed the bill.
"While I am giving my approval to this bill today, if the results of the study do not demonstrate better quality dental care at reduced costs than the net benefits provided under statewide Medicaid managed care today, I expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive through statewide Medicaid managed care,'' Scott wrote.
Another bill that drew debate during the session was a measure (HB 1051), sponsored by House State Affairs Chairman Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, that would prevent boaters from anchoring overnight in some South Florida waterways.
The bill, which Scott signed without comment, would prevent overnight anchoring in part of the Middle River in Broward County, Sunset Lake in Miami-Dade County and three parts of Biscayne Bay in Miami-Dade. Supporters argued during the session that waterfront property owners have problems with people anchoring off their backyards for long periods of time. But opponents pointed, at least in part, to already-limited mooring space in South Florida.