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Bill Could Turn Fla. Health Department Tasks Over To Counties

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – A Florida house sub-commitee approved sweeping changes in Florida’s department of health that could put local health matters, and how to pay for them, in the hands of local county lawmakers,if the proposal can win an uphill battle.

The plan approved by the subcommittee Monday would take huge chunks of the responsibilities now handled by the Florida Department of Health, centrally and by county health departments and move them, the jobs they carry, and the costs they incur under direct county control.

The state would abate the costs to the county in assuming the new responsibilities by giving them block grants.

Many county officials are not sure they want the gift.

“We feel like it’s really not ready for prime time,” Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge told the House Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee.

But the subcommittee voted 7-4 to approve the bill, which emerged as lawmakers get ready to hit the halfway point of the legislative session Wednesday. It remains unclear whether the Senate would support such a bill, as its committees have not considered similar proposals.

The 152 page proposal that forms the basis of the bill calls for the Department of Health to put together a plan by Oct. 1 to decentralize public-health services, including transferring responsibilities and employees to county health departments. The decentralization would take effect in January 2014, with the state sending block grants to counties to pay for services.

Lucy Gee, acting deputy secretary at the Department of Health, said the changes could lead to eliminating 12,000 state jobs, though subcommittee Chairman John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said a lot of those jobs would simply be transferred to counties.

Chris Nuland, a lobbyist for the Florida Public Health Association, which includes public health officials from various parts of the state, said his group has a fundamental disagreement with the direction of the bill and is concerned it could jeopardize public health.

“We believe that public health should be a state-directed function,” he said.

But people on both sides of the issue recounted frustrations Monday in dealing with the department. Wood said more local involvement would be an improvement.

“We all know that reform is very, very difficult, and the biggest difficulty with reform is fear,” he said.

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