A Youthful Plea for Patriotism

I watched President Trump’s State of the Union address.  I will be curious to hear from our readers what part of the speech that they liked or didn’t.  For me? The most special part was the President’s recognition of 12-year-old Preston Sharp, the California boy who has placed American flags and flowers at the graves of more than 40,000 veterans.  He was the young man sitting next to the First Lady.

The idea came to him when he visited his grandfather’s grave at the McDonald Cemetery in Redding, Calif., in 2015, and he noticed many veterans’ graves had no flag or flower. He decided to take it upon himself to make sure every veteran would be honored.

Sharp’s labor of love has inspired thousands of others to honor the veterans buried near them as well. It’s the least controversial movement out there right now and it seems to be gaining momentum. Each time Sharp visits more cemeteries, more and more people show up to thank him and help him clean graves and drop flowers. As of now, Sharp has already facilitated the placement of 40,000 flags and flowers at the graves of our veterans. That number is going to go up and he has a goal to raise $1 million to use for his journey. He’s raised nearly $52,000 so far.  I just went online to Preston’s GoFundMe site and donated to him and hope you will, too.  I hope this week’s newsletter gives a bit of inspiration as you start your week!

Bill Watch
Recap of Week Four & Preview of Week Five of Session

It’s hump week – the fifth week of the nine-week Florida legislative session.  This week, the Senate’s Assignment of Benefits (AOB) reform bill will have its second committee hearing, with grumbling that it doesn’t go far enough in consumer protections and isn’t something that insurance companies, plaintiff attorneys, and vendors can all agree to live with.  But nor is the House plan for that matter.  So there is a sense of déjà vu, as this is the sixth year the legislature is attempting to pass AOB reforms.

This past week saw new bills and directives to help fix some of the challenges uncovered by Hurricane Irma so that Florida is even better prepared and our collective response improved when the next big storm or other disaster hits.  We’ve outlined the most significant in this week’s report.

The week was highlighted though by both chamber’s Appropriations Committees approving their respective budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1 – $87.2 billion for the House, while the Senate is at $87.3 billion (our current year budget is $85 billion for comparison). The chambers will vote on their budgets this week. Many tax reduction ideas are being discussed but no clear tax package has yet emerged.

Here’s a look at where things stand in this week’s 2018 Bill Watch:




Assignment of Benefits (AOB)
The Florida Senate’s version of AOB reform will go before the second of its three committees tomorrow, with the Judiciary Committee taking it up at 2pm.  (To watch, go to www.thefloridachannel.org, then on the right side select “Live Stream”, then scroll down and select the Senate Judiciary Committee.)  Look for skepticism from some Senators on whether this version of reform goes far enough to stem the well-documented – and growing – abuses that exist in the system to the detriment of consumers and insurance companies alike.

The bill in question is SB 1168 by Senator Greg Steube (R-Sarasota), which passed the Banking and Insurance Committee by a 7-3 vote on January 23.  The vote followed weeks of testimony last fall from various sides of the AOB issue before the same committee.  It came after an alternative measure by Senator Doug Broxson, incorporating parts of SB 1168, Senator Hukill’s SB 62, Florida Office of Insurance Regulation recommendations, and Citizens Property Insurance input was shot down.  See Bill Watch Backgrounder: Assignment of Benefits for more details.

SB 1168 differs most from other Senate measures in how attorney fees are handled in third-party AOB disputes with insurance companies.  It continues current practice to allow such fees to the prevailing party in a lawsuit or settlement – whether that be the policyholder or a third-party vendor exercising an AOB.  This is contrary to the intent of Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute and to the advice of Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. Several senators voiced their expectation that insurers and trial attorneys continue to work toward a better compromise than the current version of SB 1168 provides.

The Florida House on January 12 passed its version of AOB reform, with HB 7015 by Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City).  The bill addresses AOB abuses and enhances consumer/policyholder protections.  While one-way attorney fees would continue to exist for first-party claims filed by a policyholder against an insurer, this bill sets special two-way attorney fees for third-party claims.  Its purpose is to discourage frivolous and abusive claims and lawsuits.  Please refer to the above Backgrounder for further details on the House measure.   

Meanwhile, Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona), who has been a champion in the fight against the abuse of assignment of benefits for the past several years, has a catch-all insurance bill (HB 465), known as an “omnibus” bill to change several provisions of the insurance code.  This past week the bill was revamped again for the second time in as many weeks, with the new version as CS/CS/HB 465.  The bill passed the House Commerce Committee last Thursday and now heads to the full House.  Among the changes in this bill is the addition of the Intelligent Mail Barcode or other similar tracking methods used or approved by the United States Postal Service as an acceptable delivery method under a policy’s proof of mailing requirement.  Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues questioned Rep. Santiago on the veracity of the process, noting it tracks a package to the mail center and then the mail truck, but not to someone’s home.  Rep. Rodrigues said he knows from personal experience (and those of his neighbors) that mail mix-ups occur and said something as important as an insurance notice should have a traceable delivery abilities.  Look for more discussion about this when the bill is debated on the House floor.  Previous changes to the original bill included elimination of a provision that would have excluded from the Department of Financial Services complaint registry complaints filed by third parties who are not satisfied with an insurance company’s claims handling when an assignment of benefits is involved.

The Senate Bill (SB 784) by Senator Brandes is scheduled for its first committee stop tomorrow before the Banking & Insurance Committee.

Windshield AOBThere were ruffled feathers from some windshield repair shops following last week’s passage of Senator Dorothy Hukill’s CS/CS/SB 396 by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.  The bill would allow auto insurers to require an inspection of a damaged windshield of a covered motor vehicle before the windshield repair or replacement is authorized.  The bill addresses what Sen. Hukill has called “the proliferation of damaged windshields in Florida by bad actors, waiting in parking lots and car washes, offering free windshields and incentives for their services, whether needed or not, and it’s driving up costs.”  The bill includes requirements that the inspection take place within 24 hours from the notice of a claim – but must be skipped if the damage has impacted the vehicle’s structural integrity or otherwise would be a violation to drive on the roadway.  The bill is also meant to cut down on the number of AOB lawsuits by out-of-network windshield shops.  Those lawsuits, according to the state Department of Financial Services, have grown from 397 in 2006 to 19,513 in 2017.

Prior to last week’s meeting, Hukill filed an amendment which would prohibit windshield shops from offering incentives to customers to file insurance claims for damaged windshields.  The amendment was tabled at the start of the meeting after Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-Miami) filed a motion of germanity, which is a procedural point of order, alleging the bill’s title didn’t reflect its content.  Senator Hukill’s staff created a new amendment –same as the old one she said, but with a new title that she said reverted back to the original title.  Rodriguez upon review complained the title still didn’t reflect its intent. The title he said relates to the relationship between the insurer and the insured, yet the bill’s language actually regulates motor vehicle repair shops, under a different section of statutes.  When the committee voted a time certain to vote on the bill, time ran out for Senator Rodriguez to submit another motion of germanity and the amendment and subsequently the bill passed the committee, amid cries of “this isn’t right” by some windshield repair shop representatives in the audience.  The bill has been revamped several times and is returning to the Banking and Insurance Committee where it first passed unanimously on January 16.

Hukill’s bill has an identical companion bill in the House (HB 811) by Rep. Plasencia, which is still awaiting its first of three committee hearings.

Workers’ CompensationThere’s no further progress to report from this past week on this issue.  Like AOB reform, Workers’ Comp reform is another issue being fast-tracked by the Florida House while the Senate still has no formal bill.  The House, on January 12, passed HB 7009 by Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills).  It’s a near replica of HB 7085 from last session that died over disputes on maximum hourly attorney fees.  This is by far one of the most contentious – and by court rulings, most immediate – issues facing the legislature after the state Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling that our workers’ comp system was unconstitutional.  While the bill has no Senate companion, Senate President Negron has been quoted as saying his chamber is eager to pass something this session.

Last year’s House bill came on the heels of a 14.5% average increase in workers’ comp rates – adding to the urgency.  This fall, however, OIR approved decreased rates averaging 9.5%.  Rep. Burgess has warned that those decreased rates don’t reflect the lagging cost increases still anticipated from state Supreme Court decisions throwing out limits on attorney fees and extending certain disability payments.  Recent statistics do show increases in workers’ comp legal fees, as previously reported in the LMA Newsletter.  Rep. Burgess said it was important to be proactive and pass reforms now, before the next rate increase.  The bill eliminates fee schedules but puts a cap of $150/hour on plaintiff (workers) attorney fees.

HB 7009 is one of the five most-lobbied bills in the legislature according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.

Workers’ Compensation for First RespondersThe House began moving its bill this past week, with passage of HB 227 by Rep. Matt Willhite (D-Royal Palm Beach) by the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee.  The bill and a similar one in the Senate, CS/SB 376 by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation), remove the requirement on some first responders that there be a physical injury in some circumstances in order to receive medical benefits for a “mental or nervous injury”, so long as the responder witnessed a specified traumatic event.  The Senate bill passed the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously on January 16 – its second committee – and awaits a hearing before the Appropriations Committee.  These efforts are inspired, in part, by the city of Orlando’s refusal to pay such benefits to a police officer reportedly diagnosed with PTSD after responding to the Pulse nightclub shootings.  SB 126 by Senator Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee), which would require treatment begin within 15 days, has not been heard.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP), also called No Fault InsuranceEfforts continue behind the scenes to add Bad Faith provisions into both the House and Senate versions of bills that would do away with PIP insurance. Various bills under consideration would eliminate the state requirement that motorists carry $10,000 in PIP insurance and put responsibility for vehicle accidents on the party at fault.  While the House has passed its PIP repeal bill and the Senate is working its version through committees, some insurance interests are withholding formal support because neither bill provides protections from bad faith lawsuits that will likely go with the territory of returning to a tort system.

The House chalked up another quick victory on January 12 with passage of HB 19.  The bill eliminates PIP and would require motorists instead to carry Bodily Injury liability insurance at a minimum $25K/$50K level.  Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) who is sponsoring this bill for second year in a row, has noted that despite various PIP reforms in the past, costs keep going up, driven partly by fraud.  OIR and committee staff analysis show auto rates would go down (5.6% overall) if the bill passes and should encourage those driving illegally without proper insurance (22% of Florida drivers she has said) to get coverage.  The bill also revises the uninsured and underinsured coverage legal damage thresholds.

HB 19 is one of the five most-lobbied bills in the legislature according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.

The Senate’s answer to PIP reform took its first formal step forward on January 10 with the Banking and Insurance Committee passing SB 150, by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon).  It goes beyond the House bill and replaces PIP with mandatory $5,000 of Med Pay coverage (and loses the consumer savings as a result) plus varying amounts of Bodily Injury liability limits which appears to give consumers choices. Senator Lee revamped his original bill to now focus Med Pay coverage solely on emergency hospital treatment and within two weeks after the accident.  The bill was further amended to allow less expensive treatment by other practitioners, including chiropractors.  Some senators expressed concern that the bill will effectively raise auto insurance rates for those motorists who have just PIP policies.  But Senator Lee refuted that, noting that mandatory BI will cost $49 per $1,000 of coverage versus the current $121 per $1,000 of PIP coverage.  As an example, he said a scenario of PIP + minimum BI + Med Pay would cost just $4 more, proof of a more efficient system without PIP.

SB 150’s Bodily Injury liability coverage choices are:

  • 20/40/10 minimum coverage from 1/1/19-12/31/20 or a Med Pay and motor vehicle liability policy with a combined property damage and bodily injury coverage of $50,000 for one crash;
  • 25/50/10 minimum coverage from 1/1/21-12/31/22 or a Med Pay and motor  vehicle liability policy with a combined property damage and bodily injury coverage of $60,000 for one crash; and
  • 30/60/10 minimum coverage from 1/1/23 and thereafter or a Med Pay and motor vehicle liability policy with a combined property damage and bodily injury coverage of $70,000 for one crash.

Senators are facing pressure by Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano to “get ‘er done” this session before he takes over in the fall.  The bill is awaiting its next hearing before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

Hurricane Irma Damage – The legislature and the Governor are busy reviewing and putting into motion specific recommendations by the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness from Hurricane Irma’s impacts.  Included are a number of evacuation-related proposals, including an extension of the Suncoast Parkway north from the greater Tampa area to the Georgia state line. Other proposals include using passenger rail to evacuate citizens and looking at converting portions of highways during emergencies into all one-way traffic, a process known as “contraflow.”  Here’s more on some specific bills and directives to date:

Trash Pickup – The House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee last week passed CS/HB 971 by Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) that would prohibit a municipal or private garbage service from charging customers for missed trash pickups, unless the trash is removed within three days of the normally scheduled date.  The bill also prohibits telephone or cable companies from charging their customers for service that was interrupted for longer than 24 consecutive hours, unless it was the customers fault.  The bill opened a broader discussion on the timing of garbage and yard waste both after and before a storm.  Trash haulers who spoke said there should be no collection of garbage or yard trimmings 48 hours before a storm, as they can become projectiles in high winds.  Afterward, in the case of Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville, one hauler testified many areas of the city were still flooded seven days later, preventing trash trucks from garbage pickup. Committee members expressed concern about the complexity of the bill and that it would create new costs that would inevitably fall on customers.  Although the bill passed committee, many members said their ultimate approval was dependent on the bill improving.

Underground Utilities – Legislation giving the state Public Service Commission the sole ability to require underground transmission lines passed the House in late January and awaits action in the Senate.

Nursing Home Emergency PowerCS/SB 1874 by Senator Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) would require the Agency for Health Care Administration to adopt and enforce rules requiring each nursing home and assisted living facility to have an emergency power source and fuel supplies to last at least 96 hours during a power outage.  The bill was prompted by the deaths of residents of a Hollywood nursing home that lost its air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma.  The bill passed the Senate Health Policy Committee last week and now goes to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

Fuel Emergencies –   The state agriculture commissioner would be empowered to lower gas prices during an emergency under an amendment that was added last week to CS/HB 553, a House omnibus bill on regulations by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The bill, with the amendment, passed the House Commerce Committee last week and is ready for consideration by the full chamber. The measure’s specific intent is to require gas stations that run out of lower octane fuel to then sell their higher octane fuels at the lower octane price.  A representative from the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association said the measure would place Floridians at greater risk of predatory pricing in the longer term, because the big oil companies can afford to sell 93 Octane gas at 87 Octane prices while the smaller mom and pop operators cannot.  Representative Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) pointed out the measure would help consumers immediately prior to and after a disaster, when they need it most, in what was a very good debate among members.

The Senate meanwhile, through its Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security last week passed CS/SB 700 that would create a Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Division of Emergency Management. The task force would recommend by April 30, 2019, a strategic fuel reserve plan to meet the state’s fuel needs during emergencies and disasters.

Governor Directives – Governor Scott this past Friday issued a series of directives to state agencies, mostly the Department of Transportation, to begin immediate work implementing some of the House Select Committee report’s recommendations.  This includes the DOT by this July, identifying areas along major evacuation routes where more fuel services are needed and looking at options to expand fuel capacity for first responders. Other directives include expanding emergency shoulder use along key interstates, a strategy used during Irma last September as traffic backed up while motorists fled north on I-75 ahead of the storm.  The Governor also directed that cameras and message signs be installed along I-75 from Ocala north to the Georgia state line and enhancements be made to the state’s “Florida 511” traffic information website for motorists.  The DOT’s previous review suggested emergency shoulder plans for I-75 northbound from Alligator Alley in Fort Lauderdale; on the turnpike northbound from Orlando; on Interstate 95 northbound from Jupiter to south of Jacksonville; and on Interstate 10 westbound from I-75 to just east of Tallahassee.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness issued its final report on January 16 with 78 recommendations to make Florida a safer and better prepared state when the next big hurricane hits.  They include extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to the Georgia line to aid in evacuations, strengthening the power grid, and better protecting vulnerable populations housed in shelters and senior care facilities.  The report is now in the hands of House Speaker Corcoran who has made clear the House spending priorities this session will be for hurricane relief.  Both chambers have bills that would make backup generators mandatory and nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, one of the report’s recommendations.  How to help the industry pay for it is still being debated.  Among the proposals are increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates or offering tax incentives. The report capped 20 hours of committee meetings over two months hearing various ideas from government and private interests.

Better management of local shelters was another priority in the report with recommendations to provide more training and better coordination. Developing a better communication process between local emergency management officials and electric utilities to identify restoration critical to public safety was suggested.  As for fleeing Florida prior to storms, the report recommends the state develop and implement a real-time, web-based evacuation route/destination resource tool to assist the public in making informed decisions relating to the selection of evacuation routes and destinations. Also, better utilization of rail lines before, during, and after an event to bring gasoline and diesel fuel and likewise, using expanding passenger rail service for evacuations.

Other recommendations of note to insurance interests: investing in plans that cost effectively mitigate flood risks to developed areas, including protection of greenways and blueways that act as flow ways or provide temporary storage during high water events.  Also, to provide incentives, such as civil immunity, for parking garage owners to make their garages available to the public during a hurricane. Rep. Holly Raschein’s suggestion that high-risk areas not be rebuilt after storms and instead, could be part of a state buyout program, did not make the final list.  The report’s full list of 78 recommendations are in Appendix 3 beginning on page 43.

Hurricane Flood Insurance – New amendments were filed this past week on other bills prompted by Hurricane Irma’s aftermath.  CS/HB 1011 by Rep. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) would require homeowners insurance policies that do not include flood insurance (most don’t) to so declare and would require policyholders to initial that declaration in acknowledgment.  The bill and its Senate counterpart, CS/SB 1282 by Senator Taddeo (D-Miami) were filed in December and prompted by two realities: upwards of 60% of Irma’s damage here was caused by water and up to 80% of Florida flood victims may not have either NFIP or private flood coverage.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee last week passed SB 1282, along with two amendments that 1) require the policies to acknowledge that private flood coverage is available for those homeowners with property valued above the National Flood Insurance Program’s $250,000 coverage limits; and 2) push the effective date of the measure to 2019 to allow insurance companies enough time to change their forms.  The House Commerce Committee last week passed CS/HB 1011 but removed the specific reference to the National Flood Insurance Program.  That measure is now ready for consideration by the full House.

Florida Hurricane Cat FundThere’s no further progress to report from this past week on this issue.  CS/HB 97 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) received its first hearing January 23 before the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee and was passed after interesting debate.  The bill addresses the growing balance – until Hurricane Irma – of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. The Fund provides reimbursements to insurers for a portion of their catastrophic hurricane losses.  Insurers pay premiums into the fund each year and pass the costs along to their policyholders, just like reinsurance.  But in quiet years, the fund has grown beyond its current statutory requirement of $17 billion, prompting the question: Should you reduce collections and thereby reduce premiums to policyholders?

The bill attempts to do that by changing the premium formula through changes in the rapid cash build-up factor based on the projected fund balance each year.  The factor would vary, from 25% when the fund balance is less than $14 billion, to 0% when the fund balance is at least $16 billion.  (A previous amendment to gradually reduce the Cat Fund limit of $17 billion to $14 billion by the year 2022 was withdrawn.)  The elimination of this “hurricane tax” as the rapid cash build-up factor is often described, will reduce rates approximately 4% but may be offset by other rate increase drivers like the assignment of benefits.

Jay Neal of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform supported the bill, noting the average policyholder pays an extra 4% now for the rare possibility of a catastrophic event.  “When fund balances are high, we don’t see the need to have the assessment and instead let the consumer spend that money elsewhere in the economy,” he said.

Other groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida urged caution, saying the bill too dramatically reduces the rapid cash build up, creating the risk of special assessments on policyholders if the fund is caught short after a big hurricane.  Indeed, the representative for the Cat Fund testified that they are projecting a $2 billion hit to the Fund from Hurricane Irma.  If Irma had been a direct hit on Florida, the Fund would have been exhausted, requiring such special assessments to build the fund up for the next season.

Bill sponsor Rep. Santiago admitted more debate is needed.  Although acknowledging that the “safety valve” in the bill wouldn’t produce consumer savings this year due to the $2 billion hit from Irma, “that safety valve would work, so that in quieter years, there would be savings…to help constituents avoid what I consider a tax year after year.”  CS/HB 97’s next stop is the Commerce Committee.

SB 1454 by Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has key similarities but would eliminate the rapid cash build-up factor resulting in immediate rate savings.  It still awaits its first hearing.

Direct Primary Care   There’s no progress to report from this past week on this issue.  Informally dubbed “concierge medicine for the masses”, HB 37 by Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) passed the House on January 25.  The bill allows doctors to enter into monthly fee for service arrangements directly with individuals or employers, essentially bypassing health insurance organizations.  Burgess, in explaining the bill on the floor, said a lot of doctors don’t enter direct primary-care agreements because of regulatory uncertainty. The bill would make clear direct primary care is not subject to insurance regulations.  Burgess said the agreements are more affordable than insurance (typically costing about $75 month) and co-sponsor Rep. Mike Miller (R-Winter Park) said the bill gives the “ultimate decision-making process” to doctors and patients. “We’re trying to lower the cost of health care and improve the outcomes,” he said.  Two amendments which would have essentially added Obamacare provisions by preventing a primary care practice from declining a new patient because of health status or discontinuing care to an existing patient due to health status, as well as eliminating refunds to an employer paying on behalf of an employee, directing the refund go instead to the patient – failed to pass. A companion bill, CS/SB 80 by Senator Lee, passed by unanimous votes in October out of the Banking and Insurance, as well as the Health Policy Committees and awaits action in the Appropriations Committee.

HB 37 is one of the five most-lobbied bills in the legislature according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.

Health Insurer Authorization CS/SB 98 by Senator Steube was passed by the Senate this past week.  It and a revamped companion bill CS/CS/HB 199 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa) would require insurers and Medicaid HMOs to approve or deny prior authorization requests as well as appeals from denials of care within three days in non-urgent situations and one day if the care is urgent.  It would also prohibit prior authorization forms from requiring information not necessary to determine the medical necessity or coverage for a treatment or prescription.  Health insurers and their pharmacy benefits managers would also have to provide requirements and restrictions on prior authorizations in understandable language and to make them available on the internet, along with a 60-day notice of any changes.  It also defines “step therapy” and prohibits insurers and HMOs from requiring patients repeat step therapy protocols. In recognition of the current opioid crisis, the Senate previously approved an amendment requiring insurers waive step therapy requirements if the treatment being recommended is a non-opioid alternative.

Meanwhile, there was quiet, but dramatic testimony last week on CS/CS/HB 199 before the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.  A schizophrenic patient testified that getting on the right medication and staying on it are crucial.  She hinted she had to start over with step-therapy protocols when her psychiatrist of 10 years retired.  Denying a drug, even temporarily, she said, can lead to hospitalization and death.   A representative from America’s Health Insurance Plans warned that disregarding step therapy protocols could impact patient safety.  An amendment was added that clarified that this applies to insurance in both small group and large group plans.  There was a question on whether this will increase rates for consumers. Rep. Harrison said possibly, but that it hasn’t happened in other states with this requirement.  The bill passed and now heads to the Health & Human Services Committee.

Senator Steube is also sponsoring SB 162 that would prohibit health insurers and HMOs from retroactively denying insurance claims under certain circumstances. The bill passed its last committee stop last week before the Rules Committee and is ready for a vote on the Senate floor.

Flood Insurance and Mitigation There’s no further progress to report from this past week on this issue.  SB 158 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) provides greater funding for flood mitigation so that more individuals and communities can meet NFIP flood insurance standards.  The bill would allow flood mitigation projects to be funded by the Florida Communities Trust to reduce flood hazards. Senator Brandes has for the past 5 years taken the lead in Florida in the flood insurance arena.  The bill has been referred to the Committees on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, Appropriations, and the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources but has not been scheduled to be heard.  An identical House companion, HB 1097 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Augustine) was filed in late December.  

TelehealthCS/SB 280 by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) passed the Senate Health Policy Committee last week, its second of four committee stops.  It’s part of a continued effort to put remote health practitioner visits via the internet on an equal footing as in-office visits, in order to reduce health costs and provide parity of care to rural patients.  A state panel in 2016 executed a list of legislative directives to help smooth the kinks and establish recommended procedures to help make this bill a reality.  SB 280 would establish the standard of care for telehealth providers; encourage the state group health insurance program to include telehealth coverage for state employees; and encourage insurers offering certain workers’ compensation and employer’s liability insurance plans to include telehealth services.  A companion, HB 793 by Rep. Massullo, was filed in late November and has been referred to the House Health Quality Subcommittee and the Health and Human Services Committee, but has not been scheduled for consideration.

Texting While DrivingMoving Florida’s current ban on texting while driving from a secondary offense (where you can be ticketed during a traffic stop made for another reason) to a primary offense continues to steadily advance, with a vote possible soon by the full House.  The House Government Accountability Committee last week passed a revamped CS/CS/HB 33 by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), which now includes an amendment its Senate companion had adopted two weeks ago requiring that the driver’s race and ethnicity be recorded by law-enforcement officers when ticketing for texting while driving.  The amendment passed out of concerns about racial profiling of minorities.  Under the bill, first-time violators would face a $30 fine plus court costs for a non-moving violation. Second-time offenders would face a $60 fine plus court costs with a moving violation. Those involved in crashes or texting in school zones face additional penalties.  Like its companion, SB 90 by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville), the bill requires the officer notify the driver of the constitutional right not to have their cellphone examined by authorities. Neither applies to stationary vehicles.  Florida is one of four states where texting while driving isn’t a primary offense.  The House bill is now ready for a floor vote and the Senate bill is awaiting its last hearing before the Appropriations Committee.

Controlled SubstancesTwo bills continue to progress rapidly through their respective chambers to address the huge increase in Florida’s accidental drug overdose deaths.  SB 8 by Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) will have its last committee hearing this Wednesday before the Rules Committee.  It would restrict an opioid supply to three days for standard prescriptions but would allow doctors up to a seven-day supply in certain medical cases. Additionally, it provides for more continuing education for responsibly prescribing opioids and requires participation in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program by all healthcare professionals that prescribe opiates. It specifically requires doctors to check the database before writing prescriptions, to avoid enabling “doctor shopping” multiple-prescription patients.  Speakers at past hearings have included doctors and patient groups and were very positive and supportive of the bill.  Pain doctors and ER physicians have expressed some concern about the three-day limit, but overall, the bill’s concepts have been favorably viewed.  The Senate’s budget, passed last week by its Appropriations Committee, provides $53 million for the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction.

A similar bill in the House (HB 21) by Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) is awaiting its last stop before the Health & Human Services Committee.  It has the same prescription limits as the Senate version. It would also authorize the state Department of Health to share data with other states to avoid patient abuse in filling multiple prescriptions. The House earmarked about $50 million to address the opioid crisis, with more than half of that to come from federal funding.  The House also wants to spend $1 million on the statewide prescription drug database.

Governor Scott has requested the legislature appropriate $53 million toward the fight against opioid abuse, something state Attorney General Pam Bondi earlier in the session called “a great start” but nowhere near enough given the funding that will be necessary for treatment.  She serves on the President’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission.  She’s also conducting a multistate investigation into potentially unlawful practices by drug companies in the distribution, marketing, and sales of opioids.

HB 21 is the most-lobbied bills in the legislature according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.



Assignment of Benefits (AOB)
There are other AOB bills in the Senate, but they are all stalled. They include SB 62 by Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange).  The bill prohibits certain attorney fees and requires those vendors that execute the AOB to comply with certain requirements prior to filing suit.  HB 7015, which passed the House on January 12 has some elements of this bill.

Likewise stalled is SB 256 by Senator Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale), which would prohibit insurer managed repair programs and prevent most property insurance policies from prohibiting or limiting AOB.  But it would also require the AOB be in writing, be limited to an accurate scope of work to be performed, and allow the policyholder to cancel the AOB within seven days without penalty and otherwise, be shared with the insurer within seven days of execution. A final repair bill would be required to both policyholder and insurer within 7 days of work completed.  Referral fees would be limited to $750 and require water damage remediation assignees to be ANSI certified. Insurance companies would be required to offer any settlement within 10 days of assignee filing suit over an AOB dispute.  It also prohibits insurers from including the costs of attorney fees paid in losing cases into their rate base or future rate requests.  Under the bill, OIR would be required to conduct an annual AOB data call beginning in 2020.  HB 7015 which passed the House on January 12 has some elements of this bill, but not the attorney fee rate recoupment.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) There are other PIP bills, but they are also stalled. HB 6011 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) deletes the requirement for policyholders & health care providers to execute disclosure & acknowledgment forms to claim personal injury protection benefits.  It had its first reading on January 9 but remains unscheduled for committees.  These requirements were originally established to help prevent fraud and include verification that actual services were rendered and weren’t solicited by the provider.  HB 6011 has no Senate companion.

Regulation of Workers’ Compensation Insurance Filed by Senator Lee on the Friday before Session began, SB 1634 authorizes the Insurance Consumer Advocate to intervene as a party in certain proceedings relating to the regulation of workers’ comp insurance or to seek review of certain agency actions before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).  The bill also specifies requirements and procedures for the consumer advocate in the examination of workers’ compensation rates or form filings.  There is no House companion bill.

Property Insurance –  Filed by Senator Lee on the Friday before Session began, SB 1652 would prohibit property insurers who fail to make inspections within 45 days of notice of claim from denying or limiting payments for certain hurricane-related claims under certain circumstances.  It also restricts insurers from requiring proof of loss and requires all these changes be added to Florida’s Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights and provided to the policyholder.  The bill also requires property owners to disclose the sinkhole report in lease or lease/purchase agreements when an insurance claim has been paid for sinkhole damage. It has no House companion bill.

Florida Building Commission – The Florida Building Commission, which oversees state building codes – some of the toughest in the nation due to Florida’s susceptibility to hurricane damage – would be downsized under HB 299  by Rep. Stan McClain (R-Ocala), who is a residential contractor. The bill would cut the board more than in half, from 27 to 11 members, removing representation from several sectors in the building industry.  The bill removes members representing: air conditioning, mechanical or electrical engineering, county code enforcement, those with disabilities, manufactured buildings, municipalities, building products, building owners/managers, the green building industry, natural gas distribution, the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, the Governor appointee as chair, and reduces from three members to one municipal code enforcement official and would no longer require a fire official. The bill also changes the qualifications of the architect member, removing the requirement of actively practicing in Florida. Rep. McClain said the bill is meant to remove any Commission members that aren’t directly involved in the building process but that he’s open to suggested changes. An amendment that would have removed the insurance representative was withdrawn this fall.  HB 299 would leave the Commission comprised mostly of contractors. The bill is on its way to its last stop at the Commerce Committee but has no Senate companion.

Contractors Without InsuranceHB 89 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) requires that contractors lacking public liability insurance shall be personally liable to a consumer for damages that having the proper insurance would have covered.  The bill passed the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee in early November but has two more stops.  Its Senate companion SB 604 by Senator Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) hasn’t had a hearing in any of its three committees yet.

Trade Secrets in Public Records CS/HB 459 & CS/HB 461 by Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) were revamped and passed the House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee on January 17.   On a related note, a Leon County judge recently ruled as well that a TV production/PR company had to release its records surrounding a state contract involving Emeril Lagasse’s $11.6 million Visit Florida contract.  These bills and this judicial dispute arise from House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s October press conference about his objection to state agencies who claim trade secret to shield contract and vendor information.  Corcoran said that agencies should not be entitled to trade secret privileges if they “spend one penny of taxpayers’ dollars.”  CS/HB 459 repeals all public record exemptions for trade secrets in current law, all associated processes for designating a trade secret, and all references to trade secrets contained in definitions for proprietary business information.  This includes the trade secret process used in the insurance code, Section 624.4213, Florida Statute.  Interestingly, a “sister” bill, CS/HB 461 enacts a new trade secret process that is not unlike current law regulating insurance entities use of trade secrets now.  It clearly defines the term and specifically excludes from the definition any of the myriad contracts and agreements between agencies and outside vendors that Speaker Corcoran has been critical of.  So in essence, CS/HB 459 repeals the current insurance entity trade secret practice and CS/HB 461 restores it.  CS/HB 459 has companion SB 956 and similar bill SB 958 (both filed by Senator Mayfield in November) and CS/HB 461 has a similar bill in SB 958.  Neither Senate Bill has progressed so far.

HB 37 is one of the five most-lobbied bills in the legislature according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.

Insurance Rates Like he’s tried to do with AOB, SB 258  by Senator Farmer would prohibit insurance companies from including the costs of attorney fees paid in losing cases into their rate base or future rate requests in Workers’ Compensation and Life policies.   Farmer’s similar bill in the 2017 session failed.  SB 258 has been referred to the Committees on Banking and Insurance, Appropriations, and Rules but has not been scheduled to be heard.  It is stalled and has no House companion.  

Insurance Reporting Filed by Senator Farmer on the Friday before Session began, SB 1668, follows the same bent as his previous bills on verifying insurance litigation costs.  It would require insurers filing rates with the Office of Insurance Regulation provide specified information and projections relating to claim litigation in their rate filings.  This includes litigation costs and total dollar value of denied or limited claims where either party prevailed (insurer or insured) and those claims that reached settlement, along with attorney fee breakdowns for all parties. This information would be culled from the year prior to the rate filing, as well as projected costs for the following year.  It has no House companion bill.

Insurance Credit Scoring and Redlining SB 414 by Senator Farmer would ban the use of credit scores as a determining factor in calculating auto insurance premiums.  Currently, insurers are permitted to use a customer’s credit history as a justification for higher insurance rates.  Statistically, drivers with poor credit scores pay more and according to Farmer “the use of credit scores as a determining factor for auto insurance rates has been found to disproportionately affect minority populations, with African American and non-white Hispanic policyholders often paying higher premiums, and is not a reliable indicator for increased risk.”  Similarly, SB 410 would prohibit the use of zip codes as a determining factor in calculating auto insurance premiums, which Farmer called “de facto discrimination.”  HB 659, which passed and became law in 2016, allows single zip code rating territories if they are actuarially sound and the rate is not excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory.  Neither SB 414 nor SB 410 have had a hearing yet, and with no House Companion, their future is very uncertain.

Patient’s Choice of ProvidersDubbed the “Patient’s Freedom of Choice of Providers Act”, HB 143 by Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) prohibits a general health insurance plan from excluding willing and qualified health care provider from participating in a health insurer’s provider network so long as the provider is located within the plan’s geographic coverage area.  The bill has been referred to the Health Innovation Subcommittee, but has stalled.  There is a Senate companion, SB 714, which is also stalled.

Autonomous VehiclesA revamped HB 353 by Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) authorizes the use of vehicles in autonomous mode “regardless of whether a licensed human operator is physically present in the vehicle.”  It unanimously passed its second hearing stop last week before the House Appropriations Committee and is on its way to the Government Accountability Committee.  There was acknowledgment by various parties in the meeting that Florida is in a race with other states to legalize so-called “self-driving cars” together with the impact that would have on our existing AV research projects here.  The autonomous technology would be considered the human operator of the motor vehicle and provides that various provisions of law regarding motor vehicles such as rendering aid in the event of a crash do not apply to vehicles in autonomous mode where a human operator is not physically present as long as the vehicle owner promptly contacts law enforcement. The bill also addresses the applicability of laws regarding unattended motor vehicles and passenger restraint requirements as they relate to vehicles operating in autonomous mode where a human operator is not physically present in the vehicle.  A Senate companion (CS/SB 712) by Senator Brandes unanimously passed the Transportation Committee this past week and awaits hearings in the Banking and Insurance, and Rules Committees.

Property Tax Exemption for GeneratorsThere’s no progress to report from this past week on this issue and at this point, it is stalled.  Designed to help those who want to help themselves the next time a big hurricane or other calamity hits and the power goes out, SJR 974 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) would place a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot for voters to consider a property tax exemption for the just value of a permanently installed stand-by generator system when assessing annual property taxes; a companion bill SB 976 (Brandes) would implement the measure.

Helpful Links:

House Calendar for the Week of February 5-9, 2018

Senate Calendar for the Week of February 5-9, 2018

Florida Department of Health Loses Bids to Restrict Medical Marijuana for Now
Efforts to allow smokeable and “grow your own” may proceed

Lawsuits filed by patients who want the right to smoke marijuana to relieve their debilitating medical conditions and the right to grow marijuana plants can proceed.  Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers, in a recent pair of rulings, denied the Florida Department of Health’s requests to dismiss the lawsuits.  Several patients are challenging a state law passed during the special session last year that implemented how constitutional Amendment 2, passed by voters in 2016, is carried out.  The law bans smokeable marijuana.

Three patients with qualifying medical conditions outlined in the law brought suit, claiming Amendment 2 allows patients to smoke marijuana.  The Department of Health disagrees, arguing the amendment doesn’t expressly allow it and the legislature was within its authority to ban smoking because it has expressed power to implement the amendment.

The amendment says “Nothing in this section shall require any accommodation… of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.  The patients’ attorney, former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills, argues the language implies that smoking in a private place would therefore be permissible.  Judge Gievers ruled the three patients do have standing and the lawsuit can proceed.

The judge also ruled in favor of the patient in the other lawsuit, Joe Redner, who said a 2014 state law gives him the right to grow his own marijuana plants to self-treat his Stage 4 lung cancer.  Redner argues that cannabis means all parts of any plant and that as a medically-certified patient, he is entitled to use and possess it for his medical condition.  Redner said he emulsifies the plant in water and drinks the resulting juices.  He said such raw plants are not commercially available.  The Department of Health disputes whether qualifying patients have a constitutional right to possess growing plants and administer them to themselves.

Judge Gievers, in refusing to dismiss the case, also cited the subsequent 2016 constitutional amendment, which she wrote “makes clear that no legislation should be adopted other than that consistent with the amendment.”

Mitigation a Cheap Date Considering Post-Storm Breakups
New report demonstrates fewer deaths and injuries, too 

If you could spend $1 today to avoid spending $6 in the future, would you do so?  That’s the proposition raised by the National Institute of Building Sciences in a recent study on reducing the costs of natural disasters.  With NOAA declaring 2017 the costliest year on record for weather disasters, the report is timely and its conclusions eye-opening for anyone who lives in, owns, manages, insures, or regulates structures.

The report, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report , reviewed 23 years of federally funded mitigation grants by FEMA, HUD, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).  It found mitigation funding can save the U.S. $6 in future disaster costs for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.  The public-sector mitigation strategies the project team studied include:

  • For flood resistance, acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings, especially single-family homes, manufactured homes and 2- to 4-family dwellings.
  • For wind resistance, adding hurricane shutters, tornado safe rooms and other common measures.
  • For earthquake resistance, strengthening various structural and nonstructural components.
  • For fire resistance, replacing roofs, managing vegetation to reduce fuels and replacing wooden water tanks.

The report also examines scenarios that focus on designing new buildings to exceed provisions of the 2015 International Codes (I-Codes), the model building codes developed by the International Code Council.  The report demonstrates that investing in hazard mitigation measures that exceed code can save $4 for every $1 spent.  Here are some strategies to exceed minimum 2015 I-Codes:

  • For flood resistance (to address riverine flooding and hurricane surge), building new homes higher than required by the 2015 IBC.
  • For resistance to hurricane winds, building new homes to comply with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) FORTIFIED Home Hurricane standards.
  • For resistance to earthquakes, building new buildings stronger and stiffer than required by the 2015 IBC.
  • For fire resistance in the wildland-urban interface, building new buildings to comply with the 2015 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (IWUIC).

The project team estimated that just implementing these two sets of mitigation strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long term.  The report acknowledges that while mitigation is a good investment, the reality is that not everyone is able or willing to bear these construction costs for more resilient buildings.  Past NIBS reports address incentives to help make this happen.

Flood Vent Firm Barred From Falsely Advertising
Homeowners may have been mislead

Smart Vent Products, a leader in wet and dry floodproofing solutions, announced that the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (case number 13-5691) ruled Crawl Space Door Systems, (CSD), a competitor of Smart Vent, falsely represented its flood vents to be compliant with FEMA’s Technical Bulletin 1, August 2008 (TB-1).

CSD’s false claims may have misled homeowners that CSD flood vents were compliant with FEMA’s TB-1, which has strict standards for flood protection. Smart Vent filed the unfair competition suit against CSD in 2013 to primarily help ensure that homeowners don’t lose their largest asset, their home and its irreplaceable contents, and business owners don’t lose the company store, because un-certified and ineffective flood vents failed to meet federal standards.

Smart Vent’s state-of-the-art flood vents are certified by the International Code Council Evaluation Service. This body evaluates mass-produced engineered flood vents, including the underlying manufacturing processes and quality controls, ensuring compliance with FEMA TB-1 regulatory criteria. Smart Vent’s flood vents stay closed until they come in contact with flood water. Flood waters lift the internal floats, which unlatch and allow the flood door to rotate open. This allows the flood water to automatically enter and exit through the frame opening, relieving pressure from the foundation walls. And unlike some competitors’ products, Smart Vent flood vents feature large unobstructed openings that allow flood debris to easily pass through instead of being trapped against screens or smaller openings.

“Our mission at Smart Vent is and always has been to provide the best flood protection solutions and information available,” said Tom Little, VP of Smart Vent. “Every year thousands of Americans suffer catastrophic flood damage to their homes or other structures because they aren’t adequately protected. So when we see a company making false claims about its flood vents, we feel obligated to take action and safeguard consumers whether they are our customers or not. This decision reaffirms the superiority of the Smart Vent products line in the United States’ marketplace.”

U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle ordered that Crawl Space Door Systems, Inc., its employees, agents and others acting on its behalf were permanently barred from falsely advertising that its mass-produced, louvered flood vent products were FEMA TB-1 compliant. The court injunction noted “CSD failed to provide any evidence to rebut a finding of deception or materiality” and the order “furthers the public’s interests by protecting consumers (from) the deception and confusion caused by CSD’s false advertising of its flood vents.”

Little said, “With so many people rebuilding homes in Texas and Florida after the recent hurricanes, this ruling couldn’t be more timely.”

Smart Vent’s Flood Risk Evaluator division has set up a hot line 800-507-0462 and e-mail consumerconcern@yourfloodrisk.com to provide free evaluations of homes and buildings that have this falsely advertised flood vent in their foundations and any other questions consumers have about protecting their structures. Smart Vent will review property characteristics to ensure that there are enough flood vents to adequately relieve estimated flood water pressures which can lead to devastating damage.

Hitting Florida’s Roadways with Autonomous Vehicles
Changes in road and traffic design on the drawing board

As we’ve been reporting in this newsletter’s Bill Watch, the Florida legislature is considering changes in state law that would allow fully autonomous vehicles on the roadways – regardless of whether a human occupant is onboard.  With this change will come changes to how our roads are designed, with traffic engineers predicting that within the next 25 years, we could see three or four lanes on a 30-foot wide street, where just two lanes now exist.

Autonomous vehicles (AV) have sensors that go way beyond current technology, such as automatic braking or lane correction available in some of today’s cars.  AVs communicate with other vehicles, the roadway, and traffic signals to navigate efficiently and avoid various collisions.  Greyhound Bus Lines has suddenly lost its corner on the old phrase “leave the driving to us.”

Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Greg Stuart was recently quoted in the Sun-Sentinel, as saying “The width of these (roads) is now going to be changed because within the next seven to 10 years vehicles are going to be able to pass each other within 2.5 inches.”  Because the vehicles will be wirelessly connected to one another, more can travel closer together on the same amount of roadway, allowing infrastructure to be appropriately downsized, from lanes to off-ramps to all rights-of-way.

These changes will also allow a big increase in the number of vehicles using the roadways, too.  That has traffic engineers looking at the potential downsides to AV.  While fewer crashes will improve traffic flow, there will be more vehicles on the roadway as people who cannot drive will soon be able to hit the road.  Traditional mass transit use is expected to decrease as a result.

But do not despair with all of this computerization.  AVs will also take on some very human characteristics as well – including finding shortcuts through neighborhoods when major thoroughfares are congested.

Effective Transportation Plans Remain a Challenge for Miami-Dade County
One new development incorporating higher-speed rail

Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous with 2.8 million people and growing, is continuing to struggle with its transportation needs.  Although among the 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters, the county is again at a proverbial cross-roads of how best to move its residents around.  At the same time, progress is being made on one project that will tie-in a big residential and commercial complex in the city of Miami’s urban core with new higher-speed rail.

At a recent meeting of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, transit and “transit-supportive projects” were established as the organization’s number one priority.  For example, over the next five years, the county plans to install 300 “smart signals” at the busiest intersections that use cameras to monitor traffic flow and automatically change the timing of red lights to improve the flow.

More effective mass transit solutions remain elusive though.  The county has launched the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) plan, which divides the county into six proposed mass transit corridors.  How to fund the multi-billion dollar effort and the timetable are still being worked out.  County commissioners recently asked for a full accounting of past transportation tax receipts that were supposed to go to new projects but instead were diverted to other uses.

Meanwhile, the private sector isn’t waiting for future transit improvements – it’s capitalizing on those already in the works, in a project that is designed to re-vitalize Miami’s urban core.   Residential towers are already under construction for the big Miami Worldcenter project, which will sit on a 27-acre parcel in the Park West neighborhood.

The high-rise development is a mix of residential, hotels, retail, entertainment, and a convention center adjacent to the American Airlines Arena and All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral train station.  All Aboard Florida utilizes higher speed rail that will eventually connect Miami to Orlando with numerous stops along the way.  The service recently began its first-leg of service between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

Miami-Dade County is the 7th most populous county in the United States.  Its annual budget of $7.4 billion is larger than the budgets of 14 states.  With 34 incorporated cities and unincorporated areas, slightly more than half of the county population lives in an unincorporated area. That unincorporated area, if it were a city, would be the largest in Florida.

Florida Job Demand Outpaced the Nation

Often we close the newsletter with something powerful so that when you finish reading it, you are inspired for the week.  We received this from the Governor’s office and thought it would be a great inspiration, as excerpted:

Governor Rick Scott announced that job demand in Florida increased by 2.8 percent over-the-year in December by adding 7,342 job openings. Florida’s job demand outpaced the nation’s demand, which increased by only 0.3 percent over-the-year in December. There were a total of 265,244 job openings across Florida in December, according to Help Wanted OnLine. In December, Florida also had the fourth-highest over-the-year increase in job openings out of the 10 most populous states. 

Governor Rick Scott said, “I am proud to announce that Florida job demand outpaced the nation last year, further proving that Florida remains an ideal location to find a good job and raise a family. Florida businesses are hiring here because we have worked every day for the past seven years to cut taxes and reduce regulations to make it easier for job creators to invest in creating new opportunities. Last year was a great year for families to find the jobs needed to succeed and we look forward to another year of economic growth across our state.”

In December, more than 68,000 advertised positions were in STEM-related fields. The top occupation in demand continued to be registered nurses, with nearly 14,000 openings across the state. The job demand over-the-year growth rate was highest in the following cities: Hollywood, Tallahassee, Gainesville and Melbourne. Hollywood had the highest percentage gain in online job demand over-the-year, with job ads climbing 29.2 percent since December 2016. Over the last year, Florida businesses also created more jobs than any other state in the trade, transportation and utilities industry, with 33,600 new jobs.