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Politics / Issues

Supreme Court Won't Consider Trauma Suit

Tampa_General_Hospital.jpg
Skip O'Rourke
/
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa General Hospital

The Florida Supreme Court this week declined to hear an appeal from the HCA health-care chain amid broader legal and political battles about the continued operation of trauma centers at some HCA hospitals.

In a brief order issued Monday, justices said they would not review a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that helped hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas continue challenging the HCA trauma centers.

The Florida Department of Health, along with HCA, contended that Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville did not have legal "standing" to challenge state approvals of the HCA trauma centers. But the 1st District Court of Appeal in September rejected that position, prompting HCA to seek a review in the Supreme Court.

The decision this week is part of a web of legal and legislative wrangling that primarily focuses on whether HCA-affiliated trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County should be allowed to continue operating.

The Supreme Court case also involved HCA's Orange Park Medical Center, which in 2011 opened a trauma center but was later required to close it. The ongoing disputes stem, at least in part, from rulings that the Department of Health used an invalid rule in approving the HCA trauma centers.

Lawmakers are considering bills that would ensure the continued operation of trauma centers at the Manatee, Pasco and Marion hospitals.

Coalition Pushes For Open Government, Ethics Reforms

A coalition of groups called Wednesday for lawmakers to approve bills that would overhaul open-records and ethics laws before the legislative session ends in little more than two weeks.

The organizations - including the First Amendment Foundation, Common Cause Florida, Integrity Florida, the Citizens Awareness Foundation and The Tea Party Network - said the House should pass a counterpart (HB 1151) to a measure approved by the Senate (SB 1648) strengthening the state's open-government rules.

The bill would create laws mirroring several court decisions, including one barring officials from demanding that citizens put requests for records in writing. Also, the bill would require open-government training for government employees.

It comes as the Legislature is on pace to boost the total number of exemptions from open-records laws to almost 1,100, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. "It's a concern for us that the Legislature is very willing to create all of these exceptions to the constitutional right of access, but drags its heels on any attempt to improve our open-government laws," Petersen said Wednesday at a press conference.

The coalition also pressed lawmakers to approve a handful of ethics bills, including one measure (SB 846) that would bar local elected officials from working as legislative lobbyists in the future - though they would be able to represent their agencies at the Capitol.

The bill also would require independent special districts to set up lobbyist-registration systems. (Disclosure: The News Service of Florida is a member of the First Amendment Foundation.)

Senate Panel To Take Up Abortion Bill

With the House already approving the proposal, the Senate Rules Committee on Monday is expected to consider a controversial bill aimed at preventing abortions after fetuses reach the point of "viability."

The bill (SB 918), sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, would be ready to go to the Senate floor if it is approved by the committee. Under current law, abortions in most cases are barred during the third trimester of pregnancy.

But the bill would require that physicians conduct examinations before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable. If viability is reached, abortions would generally not be allowed - a change that the bill's supporters say could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy. The House version (HB 1047) of the bill was approved last week in a 70-45 vote.