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- 2012 - April - 23rd -

Scott vetoes early learning, ‘Gator care’ bills

by Margie Menzel and David Royse, The News Service of Florida

A bill overhauling the state’s early learning programs in the wake of a scathing report by the Auditor General was vetoed late Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor also objected to a measure (HB 5009) authorizing the University of Florida to set up its own insurance program for employees and their families as an alternative to the state health care program, and a bill (HB 5011) dealing with the state’s email system.

Scott also vetoed a bill (HB 5505) that would have created an alternative mechanism for providing capital for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund by issuing $1.5 billion in tax certificates to infuse the CAT fund with cash.

Scott said the CAT fund bill might have been a good idea but wasn’t fully vetted in committees and emerged only late in the budget negotiations between the Senate and House.

At least four bills attempted to address the critical early learning audit during the legislative session, along with the quality and governance of school readiness programs. 

The compromise that resulted, HB 5103, was hammered out by Sen. David Simmons (R-Maitland) and Rep. Marti Coley (R-Marianna). 

Scott’s veto message said he was directing the state Office of Early Learning to implement “many of the positive provisions of this bill.” 

Those include combating fraud; adopting national pre- and post-assessment standards and a statewide standardized agreement for providers; strengthening governance; reviewing child care payment rates, and tightening oversight of spending by the state’s 31 early leaning coalitions. 

Many of those goals will be supported by a budget item — which Scott has already approved — to complete the state Early Learning Information System, which had fallen behind schedule. 

“By vetoing this legislation and working within existing statutory authority,” Scott wrote, “we have flexibility to provide a quality early childhood education program to Florida’s most at-risk children while increasing the number of children served.” 

He also noted that had the legislation become law, it could have placed state agencies “in difficult positions regarding interpreting the provisions to avoid unintended consequences and the possible loss of federal funding for this and other key programs at the Department of Economic Opportunity and the Department of Children and Families.”

The UF alternative health insurance program was proposed after a study showed the university could save millions of dollars by running its own health insurance program, but Scott said it wasn’t clear the savings would be realized. It also threatened to hurt the remaining state program by removing UF employees from the pool.

“I commend the University of Florida for seeking methods to be cost-efficient,” Scott said in his veto message.

“However, I must balance the financial interests of the university against the financial interests of the other universities and state agencies participating in the State Employee Health Insurance Program,” he said.

He encouraged the universities, however, to continue to look into the possibility of such spin-off health insurance programs.

On the email bill, Scott said the legislation included “overly prescriptive language regarding the management of IT resources that creates an inflexible and ineffective landscape discouraging innovative business change.

“I look forward to working with the Legislature to develop a meaningful enterprise IT plan prior to the next legislative session.”

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