State attorney: There’s still time to pass ‘life or death’ sober home legislation

State Attorney Dave Aronberg announces that a grand jury has issued 15 recommendations to combat the opioid crisis in Palm Beach County on December 12, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

With a Friday deadline looming, the outlook is grim for a bill that would crack down on the sober home industry, but its supporters remain optimistic.

A bill that would target unethical marketing practices in the drug-treatment industry, such as patient brokering, still has a shot today of landing on the Senate calendar before Florida Legislative session closes Friday, after it failed to make it on the calendar last night.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, was crafted based on the recommendations of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s Sober Home Task Force.

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“It is clearly not easy to get legislation through Tallahassee in this limited time period, but we are working really hard on it,” said Aronberg, who is in Tallahassee to promote the passage of the bill. “We’ll know more by the end of the day.”

The bill has seen statewide support, even earning praise from Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Senate bill’s House counterpart, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hager of Boca Raton, passed unanimously last week.

But it’s not atypical to see a popular bill die in the Florida Legislature because it simply couldn’t make it on the calendar, said Aronberg, who served nearly a decade in the Florida Senate.

“I have not spoken to anyone who opposes the bill,” Aronberg said. “But popular bills can die without a single ‘no-vote’ because they may not ever get a hearing. That’s where bills can disappear in this process.”

The fate of the bill is in the hands of Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who must place the bill on the calendar, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Palm City, who may push Benecquisto to do so.

It isn’t clear why Benacquisto, who has advocated for mental health and addiction issues in the past, has refused to call up the bill.

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Aronberg says it’s imperative to get the bill on Thursday’s Senate agenda, “otherwise it increases the level of difficulty of getting this passed dramatically.”

The bills would tackle practices such as patient brokering by forcing sober home telemarketers to register with the state. It would also clarify laws that make kickbacks illegal and require background screenings for owners, directors and clinical supervisors of treatment centers.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that these bills are life or death,” Aronberg said. His comments Wednesday came on the heels of Gov. Scott’s declaration of a statewide public health emergency for the opioid epidemic.

Clemens did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“I’ve been through this process enough to say that anything can happen in the final days of session,” Aronberg said. “I’m going to keep working on this until the buzzer sounds.”