Scott signs pregnancy center, Bethune statute bills

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Christine Sexton and Jim Saunders | The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed 30 bills into law, including a measure that could make more permanent a controversial pregnancy “support services” program and a bill that calls for placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol. 

The list of bills signed by Scott also included a measure that will revamp regulations for the payday-loan industry, a plan to create a slavery memorial at the Capitol and a series of proposals dealing with health-care issues. 

The pregnancy “support services” measure (HB 41), sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, drew fiery debate during this year’s legislative session. 

The bill will put the program into law after years of lawmakers supporting it in annual budgets. Putting programs into law makes them more permanent than authorizing them through the budget process. 

The program provides services to women and encourages carrying pregnancies to term. But the left-leaning group Progress Florida on Monday night criticized Scott for signing the bill, calling centers used in the program “fake clinics that use medically inaccurate information to oppose abortion and judge, shame, and mislead women.” 

In contrast, the Bethune bill (SB 472) received nearly unanimous support in the House and Senate before getting Scott’s signature. Under the plan, a statue of Bethune — the founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach — is expected to become one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. 

Bethune’s statue will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Florida’s other representative in the hall is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning. The Bethune bill was sponsored by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach, and Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach. 

Scott’s office released the list of 30 bills Monday night, eight days after the annual legislative session ended. 

Many of the bills passed easily during the session, including a measure (HB 67) that will lead to the creation of a slavery memorial at the Capitol. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, Rep. Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie, and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, calls for the Department of Management Services to develop a plan and costs for the memorial on the Capitol grounds and to then submit the plan to the governor and legislative leaders. 

More controversial was a bill (SB 920) that will allow payday lenders to make larger loans for longer periods of time. The payday-loan industry lobbied for the bill, which drew opposition from some consumer-advocacy and religious groups. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, would allow the businesses to make “installment” loans up to $1,000, with repayment over 60 to 90 days. Current law limits the high-interest loans to $500 for periods of seven to 31 days. 

Scott also signed bills that deal with a variety of health-care issues. 

One of the measures (SB 660) expands an insurance-code exemption for non-profit religious organizations. That measure was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic. 

Another bill (SB 510) requires that adverse incidents of planned births that occur outside of hospitals be reported to the Florida Department of Health. That bill was sponsored by Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta. 

Also approved was a sweeping regulatory bill (SB 622) that includes such things as eliminating a longstanding state HMO review panel and making changes to the state’s assisted-living facility licensure requirements. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville.

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