Scott signs 48 bills, covering water, Medicaid and growth managementby John Kennedy | June 2nd, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott signed into law 48 bills Thursday, including measures that would add new muscle to Palm Beach County’s obscure Lake Worth Drainage District, overhaul Florida’s $22 billion Medicaid program, and sharply reduce state growth management laws.
The Lake Worth law (HB 741) was sponsored by first-year Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, and gives the drainage district authority to issue taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for canal improvements and construction of a 25-billion-gallon reservoir in western Palm Beach County to hold stormwater.
The water would then be treated and moved through existing canals to South Florida’s thirsty shoreline communities from Wellington to Fort Lauderdale.
Supporters have touted the project as a common sense solution to the region’s environmental and growth management problems. But Scott’s office earlier raised questions about taxpayer liability stemming from the plan, called the C-51 Reservoir Project.
The Lake Worth Drainage District was created 96 years ago to provide water control and supply from Okeechobee Boulevard south to Broward. The district has historically been limited to weed control, maintaining canal banks, monitoring water levels and issuing permits.
But as owner and operator of a reservoir that helps quench South Florida cities and shapes development, while negotiating contracts with other utilities, the district would emerge as a major player in the region’s water management.
Scott also OK’d a sweeping rewrite (CS/HB 7107, 7109) of the state’s $22 billion Medicaid program, seeking federal approval to steer almost 3 million low-income, elderly and disabled Floridians into HMOs and other managed-care coverage.
With the recession causing thousand of Floridians to lose health insurance along with their jobs, Medicaid rolls have climbed. The $22 billion lawmakers will spend next year on coverage represents about one-third of the state’s budget.
Florida’s program would take effect in 2013, but only if the federal government approves. The federal government pays close to 60 percent of the state’s Medicaid program.
Federal officials have already warned the package’s plan to allow managed care companies to collect as much as 5 percent profit — while sharing higher levels with the state — may not prove acceptable. It could jeopardize the state’s needed-waiver, critics warned.
The growth management rewrite (CS/HB 7207) signed Thursday by Scott has been condemned by conservation groups, who had pushed for a veto.
The measure eliminates state oversight of local planning except when proposals with statewide impact are involved. Standards for citizens challenging development projects also would be toughened, giving builders more leeway to go ahead with projects they can prove will have some positive economic impact.
Florida has had growth management laws on the books since 1972. But they were toughened under former Gov. Bob Graham in 1985 in what was seen as landmark legislation nationally.
But lawmakers over the past three years have chipped away at growth management – saying the provisions are overly burdensome and blunt the state’s ability to bounce back from an economic slump in part caused – paradoxically – by what many agree was overbuilding.
Under the new law, concurrency – a provision that requires that schools, parks and adequate roads be in place before development is completed — would be reduced to an option for cities and counties. It’s currently mandatory.
Along with lifting growth management requirements, Scott and the Legislature also have eliminated the state’s Department of Community Affairs, the main regulatory agency over development.