Weekly Roundup: State Swats at Abortion Clinic

Recap and analysis of the week in state government and politics

 By Ryan Dailey

The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — In a move that attorneys for an Orlando abortion clinic argued might force it into “bankruptcy or closure,” state health regulators this week ordered the clinic to pay a $193,000 fine for violating a law that requires women to wait 24 hours before having abortions.

The fine amounted to nearly three times the penalty recommended by an administrative law judge.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration issued a final order Monday requiring the Center of Orlando for Women to pay a $1,000 fine for each of 193 violations shortly after the law took effect in April 2022.

The agency’s decision came after Administrative Law Judge J. Bruce Culpepper this spring issued a recommended order that said the clinic should pay a $67,550 fine — $350 for each violation. But under administrative law, the recommended order had to go to the Agency for Health Care Administration for a final decision.

Monday’s final order, signed by Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Jason Weida, said “the record is devoid of any reasons why respondent (the clinic) could not comply with the law prior to May 9, 2022, which was the date it first began complying with it.”

The law, which initially was passed in 2015 but went into effect last year after a lengthy legal battle, requires women to receive information from doctors about abortions and then wait at least 24 hours before having the procedures.

The clinic’s attorneys had sought to pay a fine that was lower than what the administrative law judge recommended.

In a document filed in March at the state Division of Administrative Hearings, a lawyer for the clinic proposed paying a $19,300 fine — $100 for each violation — and said a $193,000 fine “would likely force the clinic into bankruptcy or closure.”

The Orlando clinic also argued that it repeatedly sought clarification from the health care agency in April 2022 and early May 2022 about when the law would take effect but did not receive information.

In his recommended order calling for a $67,500 fine, Culpepper pointed to “certain extenuating and mitigating facts that should be considered when assessing the gravity of the Center’s violation … and in turn, the appropriate and reasonable fine to levy upon the Center.”

But Monday’s final order by the Agency for Health Care Administration said, for example, that the clinic’s “office manager admitted she knew about the law yet did not change respondent’s operating procedures to comply with it.”

KEEPING THE BOSS $AFE

The cost of providing security for Gov. Ron DeSantis and his family ballooned during the past fiscal year while the governor was gearing for his presidential run, according to a report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this week.

The report, published Tuesday, showed that Florida spent more than $9.876 million during the 2022-2023 fiscal year on protecting and transporting the DeSantis family and visiting officials. That figure represents a 25 percent increase over the year before, when it cost $6.097 million to protect the governor.

About $9.4 million of the costs in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, which ended June 30, went to guarding and transporting DeSantis and his family and protecting the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

The biggest cost increases involved the governor, with $5 million going toward salaries of law-enforcement officers who provided security for him and $3.04 million for costs tied to transportation.

By comparison, $2.375 million during the 2021-2022 fiscal year went toward law-enforcement pay for guarding DeSantis and $2.391 million was tied to transportation.

DeSantis formally announced his presidential bid May 24, but he spent chunks of the year traveling the country, including to promote his book “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.”

Costs of providing security details for people outside the first family also rose.

Those expenditures included 97 separate protective details that cost $457,242, up from 74 details in the previous fiscal year that totaled $154,095.

Among the biggest costs for visiting dignitaries was a $117,053 price tag related to DeSantis’ inauguration in January. Also, the state faced security costs for people attending a Republican Governors Association conference in November in Orlando.

MOVING ON

DeSantis’ festering feud with the Walt Disney Co. hasn’t fizzled out, but comments from the governor this week indicated that one party in the fight might be over it.

DeSantis on Monday said Walt Disney Parks and Resorts should drop a federal lawsuit that claims retaliation by the state and accept changes to a special district that long benefited the theme-park giant.

In a CNBC interview focused on the economy, the governor said the state has “basically moved on” from issues surrounding the changes to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The Legislature this year replaced the Reedy Creek district with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The changes have led to state and federal lawsuits, with Disney alleging the changes are retaliation for its opposition to a 2022 law that restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.

“Your competitors all do very well here. Universal. SeaWorld. They have not had the same special privileges as you have,” said DeSantis when pressed on what he’d say to Disney CEO Bob Iger about the federal lawsuit.

“So, all we want to do is treat everybody the same and let’s move forward. I’m totally fine with that,” DeSantis said. “But I’m not fine with giving extraordinary privileges, you know, to one special company at the exclusion of everybody else.”

DeSantis has featured his stand against Disney in his presidential campaign, including accusing Disney of supporting the “sexualization” of children.

Iger during a media appearance last month called those claims by DeSantis “preposterous.”

Meanwhile, the state is seeking dismissal of the federal lawsuit filed in April by Disney. In the lawsuit, Disney argues its First Amendment rights were violated and business harmed by a “relentless campaign” of retribution orchestrated by DeSantis and other officials for opposing the 2022 law.

 

About Carma Henry 24585 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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