Budget Impasse Clears
Last week, the House and Senate’s work on the single, most important constitutionally mandated task – passage of the budget – stalled. The meltdown started a few weeks ago when the House released its version of their budget and the Senate did too – the “only” difference between the two was about $4 BILLION (capitals intended). As a way to manage what appeared to be a budget impasse, the House voted to pass a bare-bones budget in an attempt to avoid a special legislative session or, according to those closely watching this unfold, getting blamed for one. Calling it a “standard operating budget,” the over 400+ page document essentially carried over current state spending levels, with some increases for critical areas like public education and Medicaid. In LMA’s opinion, this House move would not be successful as the Senate said they had no appetite for this “ineffectual” maneuver. The regular session, scheduled to end May 5, and to be compliant with the budget “cooling off” period, must have the budget printed and on legislators’ desks tomorrow (May 2) to be voted on by Friday, May 5. During the House Committee debate for the continuation budget, the Democrats’ voices were raised as they spoke from their seats into their microphones blasting the bare bones budget for not helping so many human services needs such as the disabled and the elderly, rattling off a list of projects that wouldn’t be funded to serve the needy. In fact, many of the House Democrats echoed the Senate Republicans’ complaints. House Republicans responded by saying they were doing the best they could as time is short in the session and they are intentionally trying to avoid a government shut-down with this last-ditch budget meant to keep the lights on.
“The one thing that we will not do, and I think all of us will agree, is bankrupt the state,” House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo said. “And I can tell you, some of the negotiations, that’s exactly where we’re heading. … I can tell you the budget that we were negotiating would ruin the state.” Ironically, within 24 hours of this meeting, cooler minds prevailed and the Senate and House began talking about how they could work together with the Speaker and the Senate President issuing a joint statement expressing cooperation. All weekend the legislators “conferenced,” (meaning that selected house and senate members sat at the table together and talked thru each line item) and as of this writing, it appears the legislature will adjourn as scheduled on May 5. The most pressing question now? Will the Governor veto the budget?!
We will report our thoughts about that in our next edition. And with that, here’s what happened to the bills we were watching last week – in this week’s Bill Watch.
Last week’s legislative activity was peppered with many, many meetings about Florida’s $80+ billion budget and after a tense meeting early in the week in the House Appropriations Committee, calmer minds prevailed and the logjam cleared, paving the way for legislators to begin negotiations. With this backdrop (and we all know how fighting over money can suck all the oxygen out of a room), a few activities occurred on the bills we are watching! Please continue reading for all the details in our weekly Bill Watch on the major legislation we’re following with this coming week being the last week of session:
Assignment of Benefits (AOB) – Rep. Jamie Grant’s new and improved assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse reform bill (HB 1421) passed the full House last week and is awaiting to be heard by the full Senate. The bill has 3 main components: data collection aimed at having concrete evidence of attorney fee amounts and claim costs; parameters around attorney fees vs the current “wild, wild west”; and consumer disclosure language so the consumer is fully aware of the consequences when executing an assignment of benefits document. Rep. Grant’s commitment to finding balance in AOB abuse reform was evident in his opening remarks when he said he had a two-tier criteria for the bill – one to reduce rates and the other to ensure nothing is done to harm those with an actual loss.
In the Senate, Sen. Gary Farmer’s proposed AOB legislation (SB 1648) was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee but the Committee declined to hear the bill so for all intents and purposes, the bill is dead. The bill includes a requirement that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) license water extraction firms and sanction firms who violate provisions in the proposed legislation. Several other provisions are aimed at providing consumer protections but eliminate insurer “repair networks” of vetted contractors who have been pre-screened to repair the damage. Unfortunately, Sen. Hukill’s bill (SB 1038) which had many of the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) recommendations was not heard and isn’t being considered at all this session. Despite the fact that the House Bill is best for consumers who are victims of AOB abuse, the Senate isn’t moving in this direction and it takes both chambers to agree on a bill’s language for it to make it to the Governor’s desk. We are still hoping there can be a compromise between the House and Senate on this critical issue and will watch it closely this week.
Flood Insurance – SB 420 (Brandes) extends rate deregulation from 2019 to 2025 and relaxes eligibility requirements to write flood lines. It allows commercial lines coverage (residential & nonresidential), excess flood coverage, and more surplus lines participation by removing the capital/surplus requirement in favor of a stronger financial strength rating. Note that this and Diligent Effort represent a strong push this year by the unregulated lines to gain a stronger foothold in Florida’s currently stable P&C market. HB 813 (Lee) contains elements of both the Flood and Diligent Effort bills and passed the full House last week. The House bill passed and is awaiting the Senate’s action, which most likely will occur this week, with there appearing to be a flood insurance bill for the third year in a row encouraging the private insurance market to enter Florida in a big way.
Insurance Fraud – SB 1012 & SB 1014 (Brandes) and HB 1007 & HB 1009 (Raschein) are being pushed by outgoing CFO Atwater as providing needed tools to help DFS stay ahead of criminals who seek to defraud Floridians. The measures would create a dedicated Insurance Fraud Prosecutor grant funding program, require insurers to adopt an anti-fraud plan and designate primary anti-fraud employees, and require that those plans and statistics be submitted to DFS annually. SB 1014 and HB 1009 are significant as currently when a consumer or insurance company sends information to the Department of Financial Services insurance fraud authorities, that information is a public record. This bill removes that provision from the law which addresses the concerns of those who report insurance fraud practices from being a target of retaliation from parties interested in “getting back at” the person or entity who made the effort to report the fraud or abuse. These bills are moving through the process and are expected to pass.
Insurance Premium Tax – SB 378 (Flores) repeals the insurance premium tax credit of up to 15% on the salaries that insurers pay to their Florida-based full-time employees. This is a long-standing priority of the Senate President who has stated the credit was a good jobs incentive when enacted 30 years ago but is unnecessary now. The $297 million in resulting savings was originally going to go to pay for a 2% reduction in the Communications Services Tax but instead would now go to reducing the Business Rent Tax on building leases by 1% (from 6% to 5%). While there was no action on the bill this week, another bill (SB 484) that would reduce the Business Rent Tax but doesn’t affect the premium tax credit passed the Senate Community Affairs Committee. There was no movement with either bill last week.
Medical Marijuana – SB 406 by Sen. Rob Bradley passed its last committee stop in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee last week and HB 1397 by Sen. Rodrigues passed the full House of Representatives. Rep Rodrigues stood on the House floor for over an hour where he was asked everything from “Why doesn’t this bill allow smoking” to “Who wrote the bill, Drug Free America advocates or Florida for Care advocates who put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.” Most Democrats were opponents rather than supporters, filing almost 40 amendments to the measure but in the end, each of the amendments were voluntarily withdrawn and the bill passed the House, now awaiting Senate negotiations. HB 1397 bans smokeable marijuana, allows patients to obtain 30-week supplies of marijuana products, and adds only one license later this year, with it going to a black farmer because the sponsor said they were at a disadvantage during the first round of applications. The Senate bill (SB 406) would require five new licenses by November, including one for a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, and increase the number of licenses as the number of patients increases. The success of a medical marijuana bill’s passage will now be dependent on negotiations. We will stay close to the debate.
The Senate Bill has more flexible provisions that:
– Would create a coalition for medical marijuana research through Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Center and Research Institute and another would allow a 90-day supply versus 45 days in an earlier version of the bill;
– Would allow Florida nonresidents to access the drug as long as the prescription originates in their home state;
– Would require a seed-to-sale tracking system overseen by the Department of Health who would also oversee independent labs to test the drug before distribution; and
– Would allow for more licensees in addition to the 7 already doing business in the state.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP), also called No Fault Insurance — Florida has been a no-fault (PIP) state since 1972, yet despite significant reforms in 2001, 2003, and most recently under 2012’s HB 119 intended to reduce fraud, rates keep rising – up 25% in 2015. HB 1063 (Grall) repeals the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law & eliminates the requirements for PIP coverage, along with a series of other provisions. Rep. Grall’s bill passed the entire House and as the saying goes, the House “sent” its bill to the Senate but no movement there last week. So, in essence the PIP repeal issue will now rest with the Senate to see if the House and Senate can agree on what PIP repeal would look like. The House bill that passed its chamber requires at least $25,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more people. Many critics claimed jobs will be lost and other concerns that Rep. Grall said underscore the problems with PIP. She said it is not Florida’s responsibility for PIP coverage to provide jobs but those who claim it is a job creator are the very reason PIP needs repealing. The House Bill is different from the Senate version SB 1766 (Lee), which requires drivers to have $5,000 in medical payments coverage (just like with PIP) and $20,000 in personal bodily-injury coverage and $40,000 for multi-person bodily-injury coverage. The minimums would grow two years later to $25,000 and $50,000 and to $30,000 and $60,000 in 2022. The MAJOR difference between the House and Senate bills is the medical payment provision. The House sponsor called the Senate’s idea of $5,000 in medical payment nothing more than PIP renamed and refused to include this provision in her bill. SB 1766, after having passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee in mid-April, has not moved since but commentary from Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala included that he felt repealing PIP would likely favor trial lawyers at the expense of others.
Workers’ Compensation – By far one of the most contentious – and by court rulings, most immediate – issues facing the legislature after the state Supreme Court last year ruled our workers’ comp system unconstitutional. Two weeks ago, the full Florida House approved changes to the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system with the passage of HB 7085 (Burgess). There are major differences between the House and Senate bills including what to pay attorneys who represent injured workers. The House wants fees capped at $150 an hour, while the Senate wants a cap of $250 an hour. During the House floor debate, several House Democrats offered amendments that would change the attorney fee cap and allow injured workers to choose their physician but all the amendments offered by the Democrats failed. In the end, the bill’s discussion was divided with the Democrats saying the bill doesn’t do enough to enhance injured worker benefits and Republicans saying insurance costs must be held down, which is what HB 7085 is designed to do. The Senate Rules Committee has heard Sen. Rob Bradley’s version of the worker’s comp reform bill (SB 1582) and while most speakers opposed the bill in committee testimony, no significant changes were made to the measure. There was no movement with either the House or Senate Bills last week but SB 1582 will debated today (May 1, 2017) in the Senate.
Once the Senate passes its version of the bill, then both chambers will need to work out their differences before the regular legislative session ends May 5. We are at this point because two 2016 Florida Supreme Court decisions ruled parts of the current work comp law invalid causing an almost 15% rate increase because parts of the law simply “went away,” as one observer noted. “Poof – in two court opinions, the worker’s comp system was turned on its head,” according to a former regulator. Both bills address the Court’s attorney fee cap issue by keeping the current fee schedule but allowing a judge to decrease or increase attorney fees to a maximum hourly rate. The bills also increase temporary total disability benefits and temporary partial disability benefits from two years to five years, the Court’s other point of contention. The senate version converts Florida to a loss cost state to encourage greater competition among carriers and the house bill does not with the house sponsor saying the market is already competitive. The hourly attorney fee maximum caused angst during the committee meetings with one group saying that the rate should be dynamic to reflect the geography of the attorney. Workers’ Comp, like so many other public policy issues, will need to be hammered out and unless there’s House and Senate agreement, there will be no bill.
General Insurance Bills – SB 454 (Brandes)/HB 359 (Santiago) are insurance “catchall” bills, also called “omnibus” bills. They provide insurers a $15 insufficient funds fee when a customer’s electronic payments bounce with some exceptions and add electronic checks and drafts to the list of allowable e-premium payments; allow medical malpractice insurers flexibility on their annual rate filings and a permanent exemption from having to pay assessments into the Florida Hurricane Cat Fund; and specifies procedures for insurance companies to send documents electronically to policyholders. Senate Bill 454 was scheduled to be heard last week in Senate Rules but the Committee did not take it up for hearing. The House Bill passed out of the House and is sitting in the Senate awaiting consideration.
Bills We’re Monitoring But Have Had No Action – SB 1746 (Flores) Comprehensive reform of insurance regulation and practices; HB 1271 (Trumbull) “Right to Repair” construction defect claims law; SB 614 (Brandes), SB 1388 (Artiles), and SB 1472 (Galvano) all medical marijuana regulation; HB 191 (Beshears) and related SB 208 (Passidomo/Mayfield) on diligent effort; HB 469 (Harrison)/SB 334 (Steube) Insurance Litigation/Prejudgment Interest.
Legislative Tidbits and Tales
We have received an overwhelming number of emails from you asking what legislators are doing and the notes weren’t just about insurance. Much of the discussion has been about real life issues that affect every day people. So while we have one more week of session, below are some tidbits and tales of some legislation that will most likely pass or have already and are headed to the Governor for signature.
Need a drink?
The legislature last week voted to send to Governor Scott a measure that would remove a Depression-era “wall” separating the sale of liquor and groceries. As most of you know, when you buy groceries, you must go outside the store to the grocery-store affiliated liquor store on “the other side of the wall” with a separate entrance to buy spirits. In a controversial vote in the House of Representatives (58-57), there were two hours of debate on this bill dubbed the “Whiskey and Wheaties” legislation, with opponents saying that thousands of jobs and small liquor store businesses will be lost with supporters saying it’s a consumer convenience and free market approach to retail liquor sales. The Governor has not said they are reviewing the legislation and has not committed as to whether it will be signed into law or not.
Need your medications timely?
At LMA, we always wonder why a bill gets filed. In the case of the medication synchronization bill, the House sponsor, Rep. Janet Cruz from Tampa, didn’t waiver. She started her description of the bill about her migraine headaches and when she went to her drugstore to purchase her prescription, she attempted to secure another prescription and was unable to do so because it wasn’t “time” for the 2nd one to get renewed. And with that? The House and Senate are most likely going to pass their respective bills (HB 1191/SB 800) that would require alignment of refill dates for prescribed drugs at least once a year through network pharmacies. It allows partial refills for some drugs to align them, but does not allow partial refills of controlled substances and other drugs whose packaging prevents partial doses from being filled. No one opposed the bill!
Need a ride? UBER and LYFT
For our Uber and Lyft rider readers, free enterprise is at an all-time high. The Governor tweeted last week that he will sign the transportation network company (TNC) bill that establishes statewide rules for TNC companies like Uber and Lyft. One of the fiercest opponents of the bill is Orlando’s Mears Transportation. So that you get a feel for how this ground-breaking bill effects everyday lives of Floridians, one elected official said that now she will have the choice to hop in an Uber of Lyft at a much less expensive rate than a “certain transportation company’s black car that shows up in front of an Orlando hotel” because Uber wasn’t formerly “allowed” to pick her up and take her to her destination. The bill prevents local governments from imposing regulations on the TNC’s with the TNC’s saying they can’t possibly comply with all the different restrictions all city and counties would impose for the TNC’s to operate. The traditional cab companies argue they are at a disadvantage with this legislation.
Need a tax break?
Today (5-1-17), the Senate Appropriations committee will review the House tax-cut package (HB 7109) of about $2 billion that includes a temporary 1.5% reduction in the state’s 6% sales tax on commercial real-estate leases. The popular sales-tax “holidays” for shoppers, including the back-to-school, hurricane supplies, and energy-saving devices tax holidays, are included in the bill as well. The rest of the proposed House cuts would come through a constitutional amendment (HJR 7105) that would go before voters in November 2018 and expand by $25,000 the homestead exemption on non-school property taxes. The House bill has tax-cuts aggregated in one bill while the Senate has individual bills that would enact tax cuts. It will take a “marriage” of the two chambers bills to land one bill that may make it to the Governor’s desk.
Readers of the LMA Newsletter from small businesses and large companies alike should note several additional tax cut measures before the legislature that would impact their enterprises. These include:
- A proposed constitutional amendment extending the existing 10% cap on annual non-homesteaded property tax increases beyond its current 2019 expiration has been approved by both houses – this will now go to voters on the 2018 ballot.
- A fee cut on all delinquent renewals of professional licenses; both houses have approved a flat $25 fee on such renewals (current fees are as high as $260).
- A fee cut on the Florida Building Code surcharge on building permits from 1.5% to 1% has been approved by both houses.
- A property tax exemption for renewable energy devices to implement Amendment 4, which was approved by voters last fall. The Senate and House bills expand the current property tax exemption for renewable energy devices from residential-only to all property and also exempt these devices from tangible personal property taxes. But the bill versions differ and must be reconciled in this last week of session.
Bad Faith Impacting Florida Insurance Costs and Rates
The Florida Legislature is once again trying to decide what to do with the state’s 45 year-old No-Fault Automobile Insurance coverage law – more specifically, how to handle the persistent fraud that keeps increasing and with it, automobile insurance rates. But one component that’s rarely talked about is the Bad Faith doctrine – and the third-party vendors some say who are manipulating it to win bigger legal settlements from insurance companies.
David Bronstein and JD Underwood – two noted South Florida insurance attorneys on opposite sides of the issue – argued the merits of Bad Faith as it relates to consumer rights and insurance company profits when they joined me last week on the latest episode of The Florida Insurance Roundup podcast here. They reveal in this program how just the threat of a Bad Faith case and its related costs are driving up premiums for all Florida insurance consumers. They share their insider perspective on how those looking to make a bigger buck rather than a reasonable claims settlement are hurting the availability and affordability of automobile, as well as homeowners insurance in Florida.
As the legislature considers bills replacing No-Fault PIP (Personal Injury Protection) insurance with mandatory Bodily Injury insurance (BI) – where Bad Faith claims are more prevalent than PIP claims and can result in large verdicts beyond the policy coverage limits – insurance companies want added provisions to require mandatory civil remedy notice by third-party claimants to level the playing field.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode
+ David Bronstein, Managing Partner with Bronstein & Carmona in Ft. Lauderdale www.bronstein-carmona.com
+ JD Underwood, Attorney with Florida Advocates in Dania Beach www.FLadvocates.com
+ Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, Tallahassee. www.floir.com
+ Florida Insurance Code Civil Remedy – Florida Statute 624.155
+ Making and Use of Rates for Automobile Insurance – Florida Statute 627.0651 (see section 12)
+ Florida Office of Insurance Regulation – Pinnacle Report on Review of Personal Injury Protection Legislation
The Florida Insurance Roundup from Lisa Miller & Associates, was created to bring Florida residents and seasoned insurance professionals alike the latest developments in Property & Casualty, Healthcare, Workers’ Compensation, and Surplus Lines insurance from around the Sunshine State. We want this podcast to be another vehicle for conversation with our clients, colleagues, policymakers, and friends on these important topics. Subscribe to The Florida Insurance Roundup podcast here.
If you cannot listen now, plan to click the above podcast link on the afternoon drive home today or over morning coffee tomorrow or on your commute to the office. Your questions, comments, and suggestions for future topics and guests are always welcome and we certainly look forward to hearing from you!
Combating Sober Home Fraud
The legislature is trying again this session to crack down on fraudulent practices of so-called “Sober Homes” and other drug abuse treatment facilities at the same time that the federal government has announced Florida and other states are getting more money to fight opioid and other prescription drug abuse. HB 807 (Hager/Harrell) and its companion SB 788 (Clemens) would regulate marketing practices of treatment services, require background checks of key personnel, and authorize the statewide prosecutor to investigate and prosecute patient brokering. Similar efforts failed last year in the legislature.
Just last week, three people in South Florida were sentenced to federal prison for what prosecutors called a massive multimillion-dollar health care fraud scheme involving patients at drug and alcohol treatment centers in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Two of the defendants – Francesca Davis and Michael Bonds – owned sober homes and a third was a salesman for a medical laboratory testing company.
The mastermind of the plot, Kenneth Chatman of Boynton Beach has pled guilty to related charges and is awaiting sentencing along with several others involved. Chatman has admitted billing insurance companies for expensive and unnecessary testing and treatment and even allowed some residents to continue to use drugs so long as they stayed in treatment and took drug tests – all billed to the insurance companies. Chatman also pled guilty to recruiting patients to work as prostitutes. Some residents received bribes and kickbacks to participate in the scheme. And because Chatman was a convicted felon barred from owning these sober homes, Davis fronted them with bogus paperwork.
Meanwhile, efforts to reduce drug abuse in the first place continue, with the federal government announcing that Florida will receive $27 million of the $485 million being given to states to combat the growing opioid epidemic, which includes heroin. The money is in the form of grants for training healthcare professionals, technology, and support for prescription drug monitoring programs. The goal is to prevent abuse and identify patients who need help, because nearly half of the 33,000 fatal overdoses in 2015 were from prescription opioids. HHS Secretary Tom Price says part of the training needs to be for doctors who have misunderstood the risk involved in routinely prescribing opioids, even if it wasn’t necessary.
Florida’s Small Businesses Worry about Business Climate
If you have ever sat around a dinner table with other insurance industry executives, you have no doubt heard many lament that the industry is losing its talent as many seasoned insurance professionals are retiring. In fact, at a recent event, one said, “Millennials don’t wake up one day and think that they WANT to be an underwriter or claims adjuster.” The Florida Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index survey underscored the looming challenge facing the insurance industry with workforce quality being at the top of the list of concerns facing Florida businesses.
The Florida Chamber’s Small Business Index survey results reflect the following issues that make small businesses worry:
- Workforce quality (22 percent)
- Government regulations (16 percent)
- Healthcare costs (13 percent)
- Economic uncertainty (10 percent – tie)
- Access to capital (10 percent – tie)
- Lawsuit abuse (6 percent)
The survey report said that small businesses are expressing a lack of confidence that Florida’s business climate is headed in the right direction with the percentage of businesses sharing this sentiment doubling in the past 2 years. Conversely, 70 percent of those responding think their business will grow.
The Florida Chamber’s Small Business Index Survey was conducted electronically March 29 through April 14, 2017. Thirty-seven percent of respondents employ less than five employees, while 42 percent employ five to 49 employees.
Watching the Mortgage Rate Roller Coaster
As the old saying goes, as goes the mortgage and home sales, so goes the property insurance market. Each is dependent on the other. So when mortgage rates dropped below 4% a couple weeks ago for the first time since November, optimism soared just as the crucial spring selling season gets under way. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 3.97% from 4.08%. The drop could encourage buyers to get in the groove to buy before the summer attempting to beat a feared rise again in rates. U.S. home prices rose 5.9% in the 12 months ended in January 2017, the fastest rate since mid-2014, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices. The impact of a decline in mortgage rates of about a third of a percentage point would be relatively small in many areas of the United States, but it would be much more pronounced in high-cost markets.
Under the lower rates, monthly mortgage payments would decline by about $90 for buyers purchasing homes worth about $600,000. Or, conversely, buyers could qualify for as much as $25,000 more in buying power, according to Black Knight Financial Services, a mortgage and real-estate technology and data provider.
Economists caution that there may be a lag to the impact of past mortgage rate increases and particularly their effect on home prices. In an analysis – pulling data from past 100-basis point increases in mortgage rates – economists found that the median home price often drops 3-4% as a natural response to rate increases.
There’s another force at play though: Buyer demand is much stronger than supply at the moment, the economy and job growth are continuing to support the housing market, and high rents make homeownership attractive, according to MarketWatch reports.
Many economists are skeptical whether mortgage rates will actually rise much more than they did earlier this year. A survey conducted by MarketWatch in December 2016 showed an average for rates of 4.5% throughout 2017, or a half point higher than last week’s low that averaged 3.97%.
Source: “Here’s How Home Prices May Respond to Rising Mortgage Rates,” MarketWatch (March 7, 2017)
Hispanic Homeownership on the Rise – Good News for Property Insurers
If you can think of one thing about Florida that isn’t beaches and white sands, it’s the state’s diversity. And with its diverse population comes an increase in homeownership while national homeownership rates are decreasing. The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate’s 2016 State of Hispanic Homeownership Report shows the increase trend, up almost a full percentage point over two years ago, to 46%.
When asked how they view homeownership, the majority of Hispanic respondents said they view homeownership as a way to build wealth and improve their family and children’s quality of life. The study also indicated that Hispanics face challenges when seeking financing, with mortgage application rejection about 9% higher than non-Hispanic Caucasians.
“Hispanics tend to reside in a multigenerational household of a typical nuclear family and include additional family members like grandparents or other adult relatives, all of whom contribute to household expenses,” the Hispanic Real Estate Professionals report notes. “These influencing factors are interconnected with their culture and affect how they bank … Access to culturally competent real estate and mortgage professionals who speak Spanish and can recommend appropriate solutions to meet their needs creates a level playing field.”
Source: “Hispanic Homeownership Rate Rises for Second Straight Year,” RISMedia (March 28, 2017)
Company Must Pay $500 Per Junk Fax
For those annoyed by those robocalls at all hours of the day and evening comes just dessert for its equally exasperating cousin – robo-faxes. A Miami federal judge has approved a $1.55 million nationwide class action settlement filed by 14,000 school districts and 90,000 individual schools and companies who had enough of these so-called “junk faxes.” Each class member will get $500 for every copy of a qualifying fax and up to $325 for a claim submitted without a copy. Attorneys will receive $517,000 in fees.
The cases involved the American Chemicals & Equipment Company, maker of the Gorilla Glides, which are felt pads that stick underneath table and chair legs to protect floors. The suits alleged the company sent unsolicited faxes about every two weeks for more than a year, a huge nuisance according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Doing so, they claimed, violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which also protects consumers from robocalls and spam text messages. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the number of TCPA lawsuits has gone up dramatically over the past few years – from 44 in 2009 to 4,860 last year. Penalties can be up to $500 per fax, which is exactly what happened in these cases.
Defense attorneys argued those receiving the faxes didn’t suffer any actual injury, but plaintiffs’ attorneys countered that it costs time and in the case of paper faxes, the cost of paper, plus aggravation in trying to determine if the fax is business-related. The settlement included an injunction prohibiting further unsolicited faxes. According to the Journal article, the Federal Communications Commission has received more than 10,000 consumer complaints about junk faxes since late 2014.
As we approach this final week of the legislative session, it had to have been divine intervention which brought harmony back to the legislative process. I laughed when I heard one legislator chuckle as she was asked if she would support Senate President Negron’s proposal for Lake Okeechobee. Periodically, there are moments that make you wonder if the doings in the Capitol are under divine watch. There was one such moment the other day when the legislature debated the Senate’s water cleanup improvement plan. “So if I vote for this, the drought will stop?” was the question posed. As we walked outside, the heavens opened and the rains came. Scary!
Talk to you soon!