Peltier column: Legislature in final week but Crist will captivate attention

MICHAEL PELTIER

Lawmakers enter the final week of session with most major items remaining on the table as they try to conclude work by Friday but have a handful of major issues separating them from session’s end.

But that pales as the governor will take center stage, no matter what else happens in the capital chambers.

Crist has until Friday to decide whether he will take on GOP conservative Marco Rubio in the Republican primary or go his own way as an independent candidate. Nothing has captivated the capital chatter more than what Crist will do, which has well-established pundits mapping out various scenarios.

Trailing in the polls to the more conservative former House speaker from Miami, Crist has made several hints in as many days that bolting from the party may be on the horizon as he tries to continue his political career.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows the governor doing his best in a three-party general election between pitting him against Rubio and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.

The governor has proven more than once that he’s willing to go outside party establishment. His embrace both literally and figuratively of the Obama-led stimulus package is still smarting with some of his more conservative party peers. Likewise, recent votes against GOP-backed leadership funds and a teacher tenure bill have further distanced him from a party that is shifting further to the right.

There are other issues, including what to do with the state’s Medicaid program and how quickly the state will transition Medicaid from a traditional fee for service plan to managed care. The House has called on a more aggressive expansion of the program that now services more than 2 million Floridians.

Property insurance, too, is still up in the air. A proposal by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, to make changes to how insurers must pay claims is still in flux as negotiators from both chambers try to find a compromise between the industry’s quest to reduce costs and the inevitable consumer issues that become even more prominent during an election year.

The most contentious issue is when insurers must pay claims. Richter’s original plan was to allow insurers to withhold half of insurance claims until the policyholder actually made the repairs or purchased the merchandise instead of pocketing the cash.

Changes made to state law after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons made Florida unique by requiring 100 percent of payment claims up front. Last week, the Senate amended Richter bill to strike the 50 percent cap, a move that appeared to have the blessing of Senate President Jeff Atwater, who is running to become Florida’s next chief financial officer.

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