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Rick Scott vetoes dental care program for the poor

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Gov. Rick Scott Thursday vetoed legislation that could have helped poor and rural Floridians get dental care, saying it held too much potential for abuse of public dollars.

The bill (HB 139), filed by state Rep. Travis Cummings, had been passed unanimously by both chambers of the Legislature in the 2016 Legislative Session.

It created a grants program aimed at dentists to serve patients in counties with a shortage of dentists or in otherwise “medically underserved areas.” The grants, anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, were to be administered by the Department of Health.

In his veto letter, Scott said he agreed that “maintaining good oral health is integral to the overall health of Florida families.” But he added he could not “support a program that does not place appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments.”

The bill “does not require dentists who receive taxpayer dollars to hire a specific number of new employees or to serve a certain number of low-income patients each year,” Scott said. “Furthermore, the bill opens the door for state dollars to be used to incentivize other high-income professionals.”

He also said the measure was “duplicative of existing programs.”

“Pediatric and adult dental benefits are provided for Medicaid recipients through the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Program and pediatric dental services are available through Florida KidCare,” Scott said. “Furthermore, the large majority of County Health Departments and Community Health Centers provide Florida families in rural communities access to dental services.”

Cummings, an Orange Park Republican, was on a flight and not available for comment till later today, an aide said. A spokeswoman for the Florida Dental Association could not be immediately reached.

This is now the second bill that Scott vetoed from the 2016 Legislative Session. The first (HB 1355) would have created a Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority and authorized its board members to be paid an annual salary of $18,000.

He also is being heavily lobbied to veto a measure (SB 668) aimed at overhauling alimony and child custody in the state. He has until next Tuesday (April 19) to act.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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