Posts Tagged ‘rene garcia’

Fla. Department of Health overhaul bill comes under fire

Posted on: February 28th, 2012 by Sam Petulla No Comments

State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples (Pic by Mark Foley, via

Public health advocates spoke out against a bill aimed at reorganizing the state’s Department of Health (DOH) during its passage in a House health committee today.

Hearing after hearing, public health advocates have called the legislation a ”perilous and costly voyage” that could undermine the role of the state’s Surgeon General as well as a slew of health programs.

While the bill has slowed down in the state Senate, it has been moving quickly through the House. Public health advocates have said that the bill would make “unnecessary changes to the structure of the [DOH],” which could have a “demoralizing effect on employees” in both local and state-level branches of the department.

During a committee meeting today, advocates continued to speak out against the bill.

Paul Erons, a physician and public health professional, called the bill “puzzling” and “troubling.” He said that A.G. Holley Hospital, which would be shut down if the bill were to pass, is an important and unique hospital that treats the “hardest of the hardest cases.”

Erons said that most people at A.G. Holley “are at the end of the line” for treatment and closing the hospital could adversely affect them.

The House sponsor, State Rep. Matt Hudson, said that the hospital is treating an average of 29 patients at any given time, but is costing the state a lot of money. He said the Legislature had been trying to “deal with the issue of A.G. Holley” for years.

House Bill 1263 and Senate Bill 1824 are being described by its sponsors as a way of “streamlining” and “focusing” the work done by the DOH. Hudson, R-Naples, has said he has worked with the DOH to remove “duplicative services” and unnecessary or unfunded programs throughout the department. Hudson has dismissed any claims made during committee meetings that he is making harmful changes to the DOH.

Public advocates that have testified against the bill are warning that it would change the language regarding the role of the Surgeon General. They claim it also removes statutes that set in place important programs throughout the department and removes very important preventative health care language from current law.

Advocates are also greatly concerned about the many deletions the bill makes.

Among the language stricken from DOH statutes is a phrase stating the department must “provide services to abused and neglected children through child protection teams and sexual abuse treatment programs.” In a House appropriations committee meeting this month, advocates raised concerns over whether the bill would eradicate programs aimed at protecting children. Hudson denied that the state would no longer have those programs, mostly because the state budget, so far, restores funding to groups that carry out those programs. ”I am not eliminating child protection teams,” he assured testifiers earlier this month. Today, Hudson introduced an amendment that backed off removing the language, at the behest of “stakeholders.”

Christopher Nuland, the legal and legislative consultant for the Florida Public Health Association, said his organization had a “fundamental difference of opinion” with what sponsors of the bill are trying to achieve in a meeting earlier this month.

“Public health promotion should be a state function,” he said, “and one of the things that this bill does is remove that as a function from the Department of Health.”

“We need a unified public health system in order to address the threats that will affect the state of Florida,” Nuland warned.

Today, Nuland reiterated his concerns and said that, despite slight improvements, the bill remained problematic.

Richard Polangin, Florida PIRG’s Healthcare Policy Coordinator, told committee members earlier this month that the bill, as it was written, removes “very important preventative health care language from current law” and would repeal a number of preventative health programs. Polangin explained that there is no reason to remove some health programs from DOH-related statutes.

“There is no harm in keeping these programs in statutes regardless of funding,” he said. He said that many programs receive money from the federal government and simply require that the DOH act as an intermediary.

According to Polangin, these programs are just “tools in the department’s toolkit” for accessing and preserving public health in the state.

Polangin has also expressed concerns that the bill changes the wording of the role of the State Surgeon General.

The House bill currently strikes out language that says:

The State Surgeon General shall serve as the leading voice on wellness and disease prevention efforts, including the promotion of healthful lifestyles, immunization practices, health literacy, and the assessment and promotion of the physician and health care workforce in order to meet the health care needs of the state. The State Surgeon General shall focus on advocating healthy lifestyles, developing public health policy, and building collaborative partnerships with schools, businesses, health care practitioners, community-based organizations, and public and private institutions in order to promote health literacy and optimum quality of life for all Floridians.

“We don’t understand why this language is being deleted,” he said. Polangin, who said he was speaking on behalf of an advisory board comprised of public health professionals across the state, said that he and the board believe “it is important for that language to remain in law.”

An amendment introduced by state Rep. Mia Jones today would have reinstated the language. Jones’ amendment, which failed, also would have reinstated the Office of Women’s Health Strategy.

Nuland testified in support of the amendment and explained that it “would add no cost” to the state, but would reaffirm the state’s commitment to women’s health.

Jones and state Rep. Elaine Schwartz said the amendment was necessary. Schwartz said ”women’s health is a constant battle that is going on,” in the Legislature, citing numerous bills aimed at limiting legal abortions as an example of why statutes aimed at protecting women’s health need to be enacted.

Although Jones’ amendment failed, she said she will introduce another similar amendment if the bill goes to a final vote on the House floor.

During past hearings, Polangin warned that the bill ”makes unnecessary changes to the structure ” of the DOH and could potentially eliminate the Department of Environmental Health.

He explained that the department oversees the “regulation of septic tanks, drinking water from private wells, [programs that] protect the public from radiation hazards, and [prevent and monitor] the spread of diseases from animals to humans, such as west nile and rabies.” The bill would maintain the services, but disperse them to agencies all over the state. ”There is a reason for these programs to be located together,” he explained earlier this month.

Today he told legislators that “Florida is an environmentally sensitive state” that requires an agency that monitors environmental health exclusively.

During a Senate health committee hearing of the bill earlier this month, Col. Michael Smith testified against the bill’s removal of the Florida Center for Universal Research to Eradicate Disease. He said the Center was one of the few institutions that oversees the state’s biomedical research. Removing the Center, he said, would make it harder for the state to receive federal grants for research. According to Smith, the state is already in poor standing for research grants in comparison to other states like California and North Carolina.

Dr. Landis Crockett, a medical doctor with decades of experience in public health, told a House health committee a few weeks ago that Hudson and Garcia’s bills “embarks us upon a perilous and costly voyage.”

The DOH, as it stands today, was created by a Republican state lawmaker and former medical doctor. Public health advocates have long considered the Department of Health as one of the greatest achievements of Dr. William G. “Doc” Myers.

Florida students to hold prayer vigil to support proposed in-state tuition bills

Posted on: February 2nd, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Students Working for Equal Rights and other groups will hold a prayer vigil at the Miami office of Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores today, two days after a Florida Senate committee shot down a bill that would have allowed U.S.-born children of undocumented workers to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges. (more…)

Florida Senate comm. blocks bill giving undocumented children in-state tuition rates

Posted on: February 1st, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

A Florida Senate higher education committee yesterday shot down a bill filed by state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, that would allow children of undocumented workers to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges.

Under current law, if you are born in Florida and go to school here through high school, but your parents are undocumented immigrants, you do not qualify for in-state tuition to study at a public higher ed institution.

Garcia said during the Tuesday committee meeting that his measure “is an equity bill” that “would clarify an injustice” because “right now an American-born citizen cannot qualify for in-state tuition even if he or she meets the residency requirements of the state because of the residency status of their parents.”

The “Resident Status for Tuition Purposes,” also filed in the House by state Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonvile, would classify “as residents for tuition purposes a United States citizen who attends a Florida high school for at least 2 consecutive years and submits his or her high school transcript to and enrolls in an institution of higher education within 12 months after graduating from a Florida high school.”

The chairman of the committee, state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, said that Garcia’s bill would change existing legislation and “make it easier for illegal immigrants to come to Florida and send their kids to school than for a person coming down from Tennessee.”

“We are going to make it tougher if you’re coming from the state of Georgia than if you’re coming from the state of Nicaragua,” Oelrich said, adding, “If we open it up to say that residency means that you’re born somewhere in America and go your last two years of college that we will effectively gut the delineation between in-state and out-of-state tuition.”

Garcia responded that while he did not agree with Olerich’s interpretation, he would accept amendments to his bill. “But this injustice must be addressed,” he argued.

State Sen. Thad Altman R-Melbourne, said “all we’re doing here is getting out of the business of determining citizenship,” while Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, pointed out that Florida has already invested in the education of these American-born students.

Dulce Beltran, a college registrar at Miami-Dade College, spoke in favor of the bill and pointed out that “we have students whose parents are incarcerated, who face tremendous uphill battles to prove residency, and the parents are U.S. residents, Florida residents.”

“These are students who have never stepped out of Florida,” Beltran said. “The parents are no where to be found” and “the student has no way to prove residency.”

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City said Garcia’s bill would “take the fact that the parents are undocumented and eliminate that as having any negative effect on the student’s ability to clear the residency, so we would be treating children of parents who are lawfully in the U.S. and have citizenship the same as children of non-residents.”

Altman offered an amendment to “fill” the “loophole” suggested by Oelrich and Negron.

“I’m trying to protect the individual who’s here and is a U.S. citizen and whose parents live here,”Altman added. The amendment failed.

Carla Montes, a Florida-born student who spoke in support of the bill, told the Senate committee she had to postpone her higher education plans for a year, and get a full-time job so she could pay out-of-state tuition.

Juan Escalante — a recent graduate from Florida State University who spoke in favor of Garcia’s bill — told the senators that two of his friends, born in Miami, who attended Florida schools from K through 12th grade but whose parents are undocumented immigrants had to move to Pennsylvania, where after a year they would qualify for in-state tuition “as U.S. citizens.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit in October “on behalf of several aspiring college students who are denied in-state college tuition rates in Florida because they cannot prove the lawful immigration status of their parents.”

Garcia concluded, saying that he “didn’t want this to turn into an immigration issue, an immigration debate,” but asked the committee to resolve this issue so that U.S.-born students who live in Florida “have the same rights and privileges that every senator up here has.”

Florida senator proposes removing E-Verify requirement from immigration-enforcement bill

Posted on: May 3rd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Florida Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales proposed an amendment to the controversial immigration-enforcement bill the Senate will discuss and vote on today. #

The Miami Herald reports today that  Alexander proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 2040, “taking away the burden of checking a person’s immigration status from employers, who would no longer be required to use the federal government’s e-Verify system or any other alternative on prospective hires.” #

The Herald adds: #

The state, however, will have to use e-Verify on any public benefits applications, including on people looking through work in person at Florida’s workforce agencies. #

And instead of checking a person’s immigration status after a conviction, Alexander’s amendment puts forth running a check after a person is arrested and booked. That could be troubling for law enforcement; police officers have said they fear such measures could deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes –- particularly when it comes to domestic violence. #

The Herald reported yesterday that Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, proposed amendments to the bill that “would make a business lose its occupational license and be barred from entering into any state or local government contracts if it hires undocumented immigrants. Businesses would also face a $5,000 civil fine for every undocumented immigrant it employs.” #

Florida social, religious and business groups and elected officials have actively opposed S.B. 2040, not only because of E-Verify language but because it authorizes local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. #

Survey: Floridians want Arizona-style immigration enforcement

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Why are lawmakers pushing an immigration-enforcement measure that may draw a constitutional challenge, over the objections of business groups, immigrants and their advocates? One reason is that voters appear to support it, as a new poll by Suffolk University shows. #

The poll finds that most Florida voters (52 percent) support an Arizona-style immigration crackdown, while 33 percent oppose the measure. #

Whites and Republicans are the strongest supporters of the bill. Black voters oppose it more than two to one, making them one of the strongest centers of opposition. Hispanics and Democrats also oppose the measure. Independent voters support the measure by about the same margins as the population as a whole. #

The poll underscores the balancing act faced by state Republicans, particularly those from areas of South Florida with high Hispanic populations, like Anitere Flores of Miami, who is carrying the immigration measure in the Florida Senate. #

After Easter, the Senate is set to take up its immigration measure, which is less harsh and less likely to draw a constitutional challenge than the House bill, which is ready for a vote on the floor. The measures have been drawing opposition from a growing number of legislative Republicans. #

Sen. Rene Garcia, the Hialeah Republican who leads the Hispanic caucus in the legislature, said this week that he opposes the House version, which he said poses “a significant threat to individual freedom,” and still has concerns about the Senate bill, which he said “offers some reasonable solutions to the perceived illegal  immigration problems in our state.” #

Florida Senate Republican speaks out against immigration bills

Posted on: April 21st, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Florida Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, who is also the chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said today that he opposes a state House immigration-enforcement bill he says “presents a significant threat to individual freedom because of the potential of racial profiling.”

In a press release issued today, Garcia says “there are striking differences between the two immigration reform bills HB 7089 presented by Representative William Snyder and SB 2040 presented by Senator Anitere Flores that should be acknowledged. Fundamental freedoms and right to privacy weigh heavily with the senator in his decision to swing his support to one version of the bill over the other.”

Immigrant-rights advocates, religious organizations and business groups have voiced strong opposition to both Republican-sponsored immigration-enforcement bills.

The Miami Herald reported yesterday:

Starting on Wednesday, three organizations — Democracia Inc., SEIU Florida and America’s Voice Education Fund — will begin airing Spanish-language radio advertisements calling out two Miami Republicans, Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

We Are Florida! issued a pledge last Friday to the Miami-Dade legislative delegation that states that either “Arizona light” S.B. 2040 or the “Arizona heavy” H.B. 7089 would hurt the social fabric of our community, harm the state’s economy and create a huge financial burden for state and local governments by having local law enforcement take on the task of enforcing federal immigration law.

Two more Miami-Dade Republicans opposed to GOP immigration bills

Posted on: April 20th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

The list of the Miami-Dade delegation members in Tallahassee opposed to immigration-enforcement bills keeps growing, according to one activist group.