30 Mar Florida Senator John Thrasher Discusses Lawmakers’ Unenviable To-Do List (FL)

March 30, 2011

By: Matt Dixon
Source: The FloridaTimes Union

Facing the prospect of having to revamp the Medicaid system, push education reforms opposed by educators, redraw the state’s political lines and fill a nearly $4 billion budget gap, the job of Florida lawmaker may soon find itself next to elephant scooper on the list of the world’s least enviable professions.

And with the 90-day regular legislative session set to kick off next week, state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, finds himself in the middle of much of the mess.

He was in Jacksonville Thursday talking with local members of the media about some of the biggest issues facing the state leading up to the session:

Organized labor
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With massive public employee union protests in Wisconsin as a backdrop, the Florida Legislature is set to consider three union bills, including one filed by Thrasher, that are opposed by organized labor.

Thrasher’s bill would end the longstanding practice of union dues being paid though direct deductions from paychecks of state and local workers. It would also stipulate that members sign off before their dues are used for politics.

Unions are widely considered the last large block supporting Democrats in the state, but Thrasher said it is about removing the role of the state – in this case, the employer – from the process.

"We actually deduct dues and take them to the unions, and they then use them however they want to," he said. "Why should the state be enabling or not enabling the unions?"

Thrasher said he is "not interested" in two labor-related bills that have popped up in the House. One would require unions that don’t have 50 percent membership from the employees to vote each year if it should stay together. Another would require that unions annually send financial reports, and an explanation how to disband to members.

Education

After sponsoring – and taking heat over – a bill that would have ended teacher tenure and tied their pay to student performance last session, Thrasher said he will be less involved a similar bill this year.

"I voted on it the other day in budget committee, and that was the first time I’ve seen it," he said.

He said this year’s bill, sponsored by s tate Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, largely mirrors his 2010 version.

"It is a lot like Senate Bill 6 in a lot of ways. It’s just renamed and more people are paying attention to it this time for some reason," Thrasher said. He predicted the bill would pass.

Medicaid reform

Thrasher stressed the Senate’s emphasis on getting primary-care physicians involved in the Medicaid system as part of their massive overhaul plan.

"We actually increase the amount of money paid to primary-care physicians … about a 50 percent increase," he said. Savings will be there because people will get basic care before having to go to the emergency room, he said.

The House and Senate are debating similar Medicaid reform measures.

Thrasher also said he thinks a change that could save the Shands teaching hospitals $10 million annually will remain in the reform bill. Under the plan, damages awarded from medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from non-medical employees would be capped, costing Shands less in insurance premiums.

Redistricting

After voters passed two constitutional amendments requiring politics be removed from the drawing of political districts, Thrasher said lawmakers have a tall task ahead of them.

He predicted that Jacksonville will not lose any of its three state senators, and that the two new congressional seats Florida will get due to increased population will be in the Tampa and North-Central Florida areas. He also said lawmakers plan on holding 20 public hearings on the issue across the state this summer.

Ultimately, however, the issue may be out of their hands.

"I think the courts will end up drawing them," he said of the inevitable legal challenges that will follow the process.

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