With state economic forecasters predicting next year could be on the lean side for state spending, a statewide think tank says there is a way for the state to save money and give an economic boost to Florida’s working poor.
In its latest edition of The Journal. the James Madison Institute suggests legislators repeal or amend heavy-handed legislation that blocks employment or access to health care and criminalizes addiction.
“Especially in a year when dollars are scarce the Florida Legislature should take commonsense steps to reduce regulations that create barriers to employment or health care,” said JMI Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo. “And smart-on-crime criminal justice reforms will reduce incarcerations in Florida, thereby reducing associated costs and preserving families in the process.”
The institute is calling on legislators take three steps in order to stimulate Florida’s economy, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and create growth opportunities for Florida’s working poor.
The first step is to Increase health care access.
Nuzzo and JMI President Dr. Bob McClure, say that by giving physical therapists direct access to patients, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants a broader scope of practice, and allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication. They say the greater utilization of nonphysician health care professionals will help fill the gap expected as a result of Florida’s projected physician shortage, while increasing access to care. It’s projected that Florida will need more than 4,500 doctors over the next 20 years.
The second step would be to eliminate unnecessary occupational licensing that JMI says creates barriers to employment in certain jobs such as cosmetologists, massage therapists, aestheticians, athletic trainers, manicurists, pest control workers, private detectives, and veterinary technicians. JMI says Florida is the fourth-most burdensome state when it comes to imposing occupational regulations.
The third step is to restore judicial discretion for drug sentencing, ending minimum mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenses; raise Florida’s felony theft threshold; and reduce the number of offenses for which a driver’s license can be suspended.
Minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenders costs the state $106 million. Florida’s felony theft threshold, which hasn’t been changed in more than 30 years, is just $300, compared with $2,500 in Texas. Additionally, Florida statutes are filled with non-driving offenses that result in driver’s license suspensions. Someone could be convicted of a felony for stealing a cell phone or incarcerated for failing to pay fines or fees or driving with a suspended license.
Spending on the state corrections system is the third-largest portion of Florida’s budget. JMI claims these reforms would produce substantial savings for the state in the area of corrections.
To read more about JMI’s recommendations to the Legislature, click here.
The 2018 legislative session is scheduled to start January 9.