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VA Seeks End to State Lawsuit About Hospital Inspections

Oct 31, 2014

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has fired back at Gov. Rick Scott's administration in a legal battle about whether state health officials should be able to inspect VA medical centers.

Credit VA.gov / Department of Veterans Affairs

Attorneys for the federal agency filed a document last week arguing that a lawsuit launched by the state Agency for Health Care Administration should be dismissed on constitutional grounds. In part, the document points to the U.S. Constitution's "Supremacy Clause," which it says bars states from regulating federal-government activities without consent.

The document said the state's "effort to compel the VA, a federal agency, to submit to inspection and oversight by the AHCA, a state agency, is fundamentally at odds with the nature of our federal constitutional system" because of the Supremacy Clause.

"Plaintiffs (the state and individual plaintiffs) have not identified any federal enactment that would suggest, let alone clearly and unambiguously demonstrate, that Congress has authorized states to inspect , oversee, or otherwise regulate the provision of care at VA medical centers,'' the federal attorneys wrote. "Nor are defendants (the federal agency) aware of any such enactment. Indeed, although congressional silence on the matter is sufficient to shield the VA's operations from state regulation, in this instance Congress has enacted legislation that is affirmatively inconsistent with state oversight of the VA."

The state filed the lawsuit in federal court in Tampa this summer amid a national outcry about the VA's problems in providing care to veterans. The Agency for Health Care Administration said it received numerous reports of substandard care and conditions in VA hospitals but was not allowed to conduct inspections.

"AHCA has sought to fulfill its duty, required under Florida law, to investigate such complaints and inspect VA hospitals and records in the interest of public health and safety," the lawsuit said.

UF/Times Poll Says Governor's Race Tied

A new University of Florida poll indicates the governor's race is deadlocked, with Republican incumbent Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist each getting the support of 36 percent of likely voters and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie receiving 6 percent, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The poll of 850 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 24 to Oct. 28 for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and News 13 of Orlando by the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service and Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Earlier Thursday, Quinnipiac University released a poll that showed Crist leading by a margin of 43 percent to 40 percent, with Wyllie at 8 percent. That poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. With Tuesday's election nearing, Quinnipiac said Crist has received a boost from independent voters.

Conservation Effort Draws Cash in Final Days

A group spearheading efforts to pass a ballot measure for land conservation raised more than $477,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday, newly filed finance reports show.

The group, "Florida's Water and Land Legacy, Inc.," received $240,000 of the money from the League of Conservation Voters and $232,480 from Paul Tudor Jones II, a hedge-fund manager who is chairman of The Everglades Foundation.

Credit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service

The ballot proposal, known as Amendment 1, does not appear to have organized opposition, though it has drawn criticism from Republican legislative leaders and groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

If approved by 60 percent of voters Tuesday, the measure would lead to setting aside a portion of the state's documentary-stamp tax revenues for such purposes as acquiring conservation lands and protecting water sources. Documentary-stamp taxes are paid when real estate is sold.

"Florida's Water and Land Legacy" had raised a total of $5.7 million as of Wednesday, while spending $4.9 million, the filings show.