Legislature Eliminates Freebies Paid for by Lobbyists

Lobbyists can no longer pay for food, booze or any other gifts for Florida lawmakers and other state and local officials under a bill passed by the Legislature.

It now goes to Gov. Jeb Bush, who says he will sign the legislation. The legislation was Senate President Tom Lee's leading priority. It also spells out additional reporting requirements for lobbyists, who will now be subject to random audits by the state.

The gift ban would cover all elected officials and virtually anyone employed in state government, including appointed public service commissioners who regulate utilities.

The new bill calls for fines and penalties including having licenses suspended for lobbyists who fail to meet the bill's reporting requirements.

Meanwhile, the most aggressive Medicaid reform effort in the country is about to get underway in Florida.

Lawmakers passed a bill this week in special session to move hundreds of thousands of the state’s elderly, disabled and low-income residents into HMO-style managed care programs. The programs will start in Duval and Broward counties, and are intended to eventually roll out statewide.

But many lawmakers are concerned about whether healthcare will actually improve for the people on Medicaid under the new system.

In other action, lawmakers passed a bill to regulate the slot machines that are coming to Broward County. The bill opens the door to Las Vegas-style games on tribal lands too.

Representative Juan Zapata is one of several lawmakers who think voters should get to reconsider whether they actually want that much gambling in Florida.