Peltier column: Session brings some benefit to Southwest Florida

MICHAEL PELTIER

— Florida lawmakers called it quits Friday with little fanfare as they gaveled to conclusion a session shaped as much by political winds as budget constraints as election year considerations appeared to limit the scope of the possible. With Gov. Charlie Crist announcing an independent run for the U.S. Senate, legislation that could have been was left for next year. Still, Southwest Florida reaped some benefits from the 60-day session.

Proposals to jump-start Florida Forever and Everglades restoration while spending even more to clean up waters entering the Caloosahatchee River were successful despite an otherwise agonizing session in which agencies sweated out the possibility of job cuts and even further reductions.

And despite a meager purse, lawmakers earmarked $50 million toward an aggressive economic development effort that could bring cutting edge genetic research to the region.

But other efforts fell short of original goals. Industry-backed measures to make significant changes to the state’s property insurance industry were tempered after a veto threat from a governor who has made a career of being skeptical of insurers’ requests.

Sponsors pared back the wish-list of reforms requested by insurance companies that complain they can’t make a reasonable profit despite not having a major storm in the past four years.

As it stands, the bill will allow companies to automatically get higher premiums to adjust for inflation and higher re-insurance costs, provisions that may not sit well with Crist, who has repeatedly railed against the industry over the years for looking out for bottom lines instead of policyholders.

The bill doesn’t go as far as another measure he flat out warned he would veto. That bill, which would have deregulated property insurance rate increases far more, didn’t make it though the Legislature, largely because of that veto threat.

Likewise, proposals to revamp the state’s Medicaid program proved too controversial to accomplish during an election year. Plans to transition up to 2 million Medicaid patients to managed care programs proved too heavy a lift for lawmakers, who will likely continue efforts next year on the effort backers say would help reduce costs.

Other efforts were more successful. Lawmakers earmarked $15 million for Florida Forever, the state’s primary environmental land-buying program that fell victim to budget constraints last year. Though far short of the $300 million spent during flush times, the effort at least represents a continued commitment to a long-standing effort dating back two decades.

Likewise, the $10 million budget item for Everglades Restoration also represents a continued commitment to that state/federal effort of which the state has been the primary mover. A $40 million effort to clean up water going into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river represents a continued support.

Finally, lawmakers committed to contribute the first installment of $130 million to the pot to entice Maine-based Jackson Laboratories to expand its presence in Collier County. The Bar Harbor-based, nonprofit institute established 80 years ago that has become a world leader in genetic research.

The institute is considering establishing an Institute for Personalized Medicine and Research Village near Ave Maria University. That decision could bring 420 high paying jobs to Collier County during its first year as it partners with the state’s research universities.

E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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