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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 21, 201808:55 AM EST

At UNF, public weighs in on possible amendments to state constitution

Proposals could be on the ballot in November.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission convened a public hearing Tuesday at the University of North Florida to hear comments on 37 proposed amendments to the state constitution that were approved by its committees and are currently being considered for inclusion on the November general election ballot.

Regulation of the health care industry, a change to the “Tobacco Free Florida” program, the rights of nursing home patients and crime victims and a ban on wagering on dog races comprised the majority of comments from more than 200 people over a period of about six hours.

Proposal 88 would create the Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility Residents’ Bill of Rights.

Several people told stories of family members who had been improperly treated in facilities, including deaths that weren’t reported for hours, and urged the commission to put the proposal on the ballot.

John Simmons, president of the Florida Health Care Association, spoke against the proposal because it would require nursing homes to carry additional liability insurance.

The bill also would allow nursing home investors to be sued in personal injury and wrongful death cases, and “lawsuits don’t’ improve care – caregivers improve care,” Simmons said,

Martin Goetz, CEO of River Garden Senior Services in Jacksonville, also spoke against the proposal. He said laws already are in place to protect residents and enacting a constitutional amendment would be “redundant.”

A proposal to remove the requirement for a Certificate of Need for hospitals and other health facilities was opposed by hospital administrators.

Florida’s existing legislation already works, said Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of St. Vincent’s HealthCare.

He also said reducing or eliminating the requirement to demonstrate the need for construction of new health care facilities would likely increase the cost of care for consumers.

Speakers were unanimous in voicing opposition to a proposal to divert a portion of the money from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies away from tobacco use prevention and cessation programs to cancer research.

On the issue of expanding the rights of victims of crime through a constitutional amendment, victims were unanimous in their support, while attorneys were against the proposal.

Attorney Russell Smith, a past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Proposal 96 shouldn’t be considered in terms of a constitutional amendment because it is so detailed in terms of specific rights for victims. That makes the proposal more appropriate for consideration by the Legislature.

“The constitution is for broad principles. Statutes are for details,” he said.

Russell also said that if Proposal 96 is approved, possible successful legal challenges to the amendment, based on the U.S. Constitution, could “totally invalidate” it.

Opponents of greyhound racing were adamant in their support of Proposal 67, which would prohibit wagering on dog races.

Those speaking in favor of the amendment described greyhound racing as “animal cruelty” and a “blood sport.”

Representatives from greyhound breeding and training facilities said the animals are treated humanely and the industry supports about 1,500 jobs in Florida.

The commission has scheduled additional public hearings Feb. 27 in Pensacola and March 13 in St. Petersburg.

It will submit to the secretary of state by May 10 the language for proposed amendments that will appear on the ballot in November.

If an amendment is approved by at least 60 percent of voters, it will become part of the state constitution.

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