Thanksgiving Grace 

As we get ready to get into the kitchen and enjoy time with family on Thanksgiving this Thursday, I wanted to open this edition with one word – Grateful. This year marks LMA’s 9th anniversary and we have grown to be one of the leading public policy, communications and business development firms in the state.  I have so many of you to thank who were with me in 2008 when I opened and got help from those of you who wrote my first website narrative to loaning me desks and chairs for the team.

I am staying home with family for Thanksgiving, but so many Americans will be hitting the road and many of them will come to Florida. In fact, AAA released a study last week showing almost 51 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home for the holiday, an increase of 1.6 million from last year and the busiest Thanksgiving for travel since 2005.

I know many of our fellow Americans will be headed to spend time with family and friends and some will be coming to my place.  How about you? Please share some of your plans this week and in that vein, we are providing an abbreviated version of our newsletter so we can get into the kitchen!  My best and Happy Thanksgiving!

Bill Watch

Governor Scott last week released his final proposed state budget as Governor: $87.4 billion for the fiscal year beginning next July.  It’s nearly $2.5 billion more than the current budget with part of the increase going to pay for Hurricane Irma costs and rising Medicaid costs.  The Governor’s budget also provides a $770 million increase (3%) in K-12 public education funding, which is about $200 more per pupil.  Much of that would be paid for by raising local property tax revenue through the state’s Required Local Effort on school districts.  His proposal includes $53 million to fight Florida’s opioid epidemic, $50 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program, $50 million for beach renourishment to Irma’s erosion, another $50 million in general renourishment, $50 million for converting septic tanks to sewer and for storm water treatment projects, and $30 million to boost law enforcement salaries. The Governor also proposes $180 million in tax and fee cuts.

Meanwhile, Florida legislators – who will develop and pass a budget of their own this winter – were busy last week in committees putting key issues such as Assignment of Benefits and Workers’ Compensation insurance reform on fast-tracks to passage.  There is one interim committee week left (Dec 4) with the full Legislature convening January 9.  Here’s the complete wrap-up in this week’s 2018 Bill Watch, with this past week’s updates in bold print in individual bills:

Assignment of Benefits (AOB) – The House Judiciary Committee passed PCB JDC 18-01 by a 13-5 vote, addressing AOB abuses and enhancing consumer/policyholder protections.  It’s a replica of last session’s HB 1421, which had passed the House but was never heard in the Senate.  The bill allows AOBs to exist under certain conditions, and requires that they be in writing, contain an estimate of services, notice the insurer, and allow the policyholder 7 days to rescind the AOB.  It prohibits specified fees as part of an AOB as well as any policy changes related to a managed repair program.  It requires a 10-business day notice prior to filing suit against an insurer, an assignee’s pre-suit settlement demand and insurer’s pre-suit settlement offer, and puts parameters around attorney fees.  There would be consumer disclosure language so the consumer is fully aware of the consequences when executing an AOB and would limit an assignee from recovering certain costs directly from the policyholder.   Beginning in 2020, insurers would be required to report to OIR their data on claims paid via AOBs.

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. Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said consumers would be held harmless regardless of who wins the lawsuit and described the bill as a balance between discouraging abusive vendor claims while still allowing contractors to go after insurers who low-ball claims and settlement offers.  Here’s how (from the bill):

 “If the parties fail to settle and litigation results in a judgment, the PCB provides the exclusive means for either party to recover attorney fees. The PCB defines the difference between the insurer’s pre-suit settlement offer and the assignor’s pre-suit settlement demand as “the disputed amount.” The award of fees are as follows:

  • If the difference between the judgment and the settlement offer is less than 25 percent of the disputed amount, then the insurer is entitled to attorney fees.
  • If the difference between the judgment and the settlement offer is at least 25 percent but less than 50 percent of the disputed amount, neither party is entitled to fees.
  • If the difference between the judgment and the settlement offer is at least 50 percent of the disputed amount, the assignee is entitled to attorney fees.”

Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) who is leading the AOB reform effort in the House, said the bill does protect consumers, pointing out that the number of residential water loss claims jumped 46% from 2010 to 2016, “and it’s not because it was raining harder.”  An amendment to limit to one the number of under-oath examinations and statements an insurer might demand of a vendor failed to pass.  The bill can now go to the full House floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, in the Florida Senate, Banking & Insurance Committee Chair Anitere Flores (R-Miami) has taken testimony from various sides over several weeks to try to broker an AOB reform compromise bill.  Existing bills, such as SB 62 by Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) are stalled.  The bill prohibits certain attorney fees and requires those vendors that execute the AOB to comply with certain requirements prior to filing suit.   

Likewise, SB 256 by Senator Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale) is still awaiting a hearing.  It 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.    

AOB abuse is now increasing occurring in the auto insurance lines, as insurance companies note an increase in customers being solicited out of the blue for a “free windshield” with accompanying exorbitant claims costs. Senator Hukill has a bill for that, too, in SB 396, which would allow auto insurers to require an inspection of the damaged windshield of a covered motor vehicle before the windshield repair or replacement is authorized.  The bill has been referred to the Banking and Insurance, Commerce and Tourism, and Rules committees.

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, in early November filed a catch-all insurance bill (HB 465), known as an “omnibus” bill to change several provisions of the insurance code.  The bill covers several insurance topics such as property, auto, surplus lines and some general regulatory provisions.  One of the most interesting is that it excludes 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 thinking is that there is an incentive by third party vendors to dispute the claim to delay it, which drives up the cost of the claim.  The bill also makes a priority the use of the Department of Financial Services mediation program for property insurance claims disputes involving an assignment of benefits.

Workers’ Compensation – Like AOB reform, Worker’s Comp reform is another issue being fast-tracked by the Florida House.  Last week, the House Commerce Committee passed PCB COM 18-01 by a vote of 18-8.  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 last year ruled our workers’ comp system unconstitutional. 

Last year’s bill came on the heels of a 14.5% average increase in workers’ comp rates – adding to the urgency.  However, last week OIR approved decreased rates averaging 9.5%.  Bill sponsor Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) 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. 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.  Efforts to pass several worker-friendly amendments failed, including one allowing a worker to choose their own doctor for a second medical opinion.  

Rep. Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) noted this bill does not include a competitive rate making process that was in last year’s bill at one point.  Florida is one of seven states solely using a “Full Rate” or administered system that takes into account an insurer’s extraneous expenses and profit.  Thirty-eight states instead use a “Loss Cost” or competitive system which limits insurers to a rate necessary to cover losses and benefit costs and only expenses directly related to claims settlement. “Every dollar spent unnecessarily is another dollar not spent on workers care,” said Rep. Grant. “A competitive rate making process will go a long way to reducing rates.”

Workers’ Compensation for First RespondersSB 126 by Senator Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee) and HB 227 by Rep. Matt Willhite (D-Royal Palm Beach) removes the requirement that there be a physical injury in order to receive medical benefits for a “mental or nervous injury”, so long as the responder witnessed a specified traumatic event and begins treatment within 15 days.  Neither bill has been scheduled to be heard.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP), also called No Fault InsurancePIP reform is another bill that has been fast-tracked and is ready for a full House floor vote.  The House Commerce Committee passed HB 19 on November 7, which eliminates the state requirement that motorists carry $10,000 in PIP insurance and puts responsibility for vehicle accidents on the party at fault.  It 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, reminded the committee that despite a series of reforms every few years, including the latest in 2012, costs keep going up, driven partly by fraud.  On her side is OIR and committee staff analysis which show auto rates would go down (5.6% overall) if the bill passes and should encourage some driving illegally without proper insurance (22% of Florida drivers she said) to get coverage.  The bill also revises the uninsured and underinsured coverage legal damage thresholds.

Senator Tom Lee’s (R-Brandon) version of PIP repeal, SB 150, replaces PIP with mandatory $5,000 of Med Pay coverage and varying amounts of Bodily Injury liability limits which appears to give consumers choices:

  • 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.

SB 150 has yet to be scheduled before any of its three referenced committees.

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.  These requirements were originally established to help prevent fraud and include verification that actual services were rendered and weren’t solicited by the provider.  While we have not had a personal conversation with Rep. Gonzalez to understand the catalyst behind this bill, we surmise that as an orthopedic surgeon, lessening the insurance paperwork burden for medical providers has long been a goal of those in the profession.  This bill appears to be a step in that direction. The bill has been referred to the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

Hurricane Irma Damage The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met again last week and heard that the state is spending $2.4 million a week on Hurricane Irma debris cleanup on state waterways.  DEP Deputy Secretary David Clark said at this pace, the state could use up the entire $36 million allocated by early next year – before the cleanup is finished. DOT Secretary Mike Dew said debris cleanup costs on state roads amount so far to $15 million.  Going forward, he said he wants to see “more teeth” in state contracts with more penalties and liabilities if vendors don’t deliver what they promise.  He referenced one instance where the state was promised 25 “cut & toss crews” but only 15 showed-up.  Dew admitted emergency state contracts for debris removal post-Irma did significantly raise market rates for the service, the subject of criticism and lawsuit by some in the Keys.  The Committee also heard that the final bill for beach erosion created by Irma’s storm surge could reach $350 million through needed beach renourishment.  Florida’s share of the tab would be $50 million with the federal government picking up the rest.  Hardest hit: beaches in Northeast Florida. 

Meanwhile, Florida’s agriculture losses from Irma, estimated a month ago at $2.5 billion are likely too low.  The Department of Ag testified that there are problems getting produce to market, with September shipments down 76% than the average of the previous four years.  Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula), himself a citrus grower, said Irma’s Ag costs will continue to increase because storm damaged fruit continues to drop from the trees.

Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) said she expects storm-related legislation to come out of the committee in mid-December.  The state expects to receive at least 75% reimbursement for Irma expenses from FEMA.

Florida Building CommissionThe 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.  HB 299 would leave the Commission comprised mostly of contractors. The bill passed the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week and is on its way to its last stop at the Commerce Committee.

Trade Secrets in Public Records HB 459/HB 461 by Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) were filed in October following House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s 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.”  HB 459 repeals over 75 public records exemption references in current law, including the trade secret process used in the insurance code, Section 624.4213, Florida Statute.  Interestingly, a “sister” bill to HB 459, HB 461 appears to re-enact a new trade secret process that is not unlike current law regulating insurance entities use of trade secrets now.  So in essence, HB 459 repeals the current insurance entity trade secret practice and HB 461 restores it.  Much of this is procedural and we will follow this closely.

Insurance Rates 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 256 has been referred to the Committees on Banking and Insurance, Appropriations, and Rules but has not been scheduled to be heard.

Direct Primary Care SB 80 by Senator Lee, allows doctors to enter into monthly fee for service arrangements directly with individuals or employers, essentially bypassing health insurance organizations.  Informally dubbed “concierge medicine for the masses”, the bill 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.  SB 80 has a companion bill in the House (HB 37) by Rep. Burgess which last week passed the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously and now awaits to be taken up by the full House when it convenes in January.

Health Insurer Authorization SB 98 by Senator Steube and HB 199 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa) would prohibit prior authorization forms from requiring information not necessary to determine the medical necessity or coverage for a treatment or prescription.  The bills would also require health insurers and their pharmacy benefits managers 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. SB 98 passed unanimously out of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee last in early November but amid public question whether the House will take this up.  Senator Steube is also sponsoring SB 162 that would prohibit health insurers and HMOs from retroactively denying insurance claims under certain circumstances. The bill has been referred to the Banking and Insurance, Rules, and Health Policy Committees and has not had its first hearing.

Flood Insurance and Mitigation 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. We are closely following this 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 bill has been assigned committees.  

Florida Hurricane Cat FundHB 97 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) adds an additional 10% charge to an insurer’s reimbursement premium with the money going to the Division of Emergency Management to fund a wind and flood mitigation program for residential structures. The charge would increase to 15% and remain there until the fund reaches $10 billion.  It also contemplates OIR levying an emergency assessment to cure certain deficits in the fund. The bill also revises reimbursements the SBA must make to insurers to add a 25% and 60% level of insurer’s losses from each covered event in excess of the insurer’s retention and the overall contract year obligation.  The bill has been referred to the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meeting.

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.

TelehealthSB 280 by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) is 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 has spent the past year executing 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.  The bill has been referred to the Banking and Insurance; Health Policy; and Appropriations Committee, as well as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, but no hearing has yet been scheduled.

Texting While DrivingSB 90 by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) would move 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.  The Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee approved the measure in October, along with an amendment requiring the officer notify the driver of the constitutional right not to have their cellphone examined by authorities.  The bill moves on to the Transportation Committee.  A similar bill in the House (HB 121) goes a step further by doubling fines for violations in school zones.

Controlled Substances – Often when committees meet they don’t talk about specific bills but rather specific trends or critical issues facing our state. One of those was the crisis discussed in the Senate Health Policy Committee last week with the huge increase in accidental drug overdose deaths in Florida.  A report by the FDLE’s Medical Examiners Commission found the total number of drug-related deaths rose 22% from 2015 to 2016.  The number of opioid deaths were up 35%, where opioids were either the cause of death or present in the decedents.  But the whopping statistic the Committee members heard: deaths from the especially dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl rose 97%.  In fact, the report showed death from almost all kinds of drugs, prescription, street drugs, and alcohol – were all up.  Deaths by cocaine jumped 83%.

Proclaiming that opioids are “ravaging families and communities” in Florida, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) has filed SB 8 which would restrict 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 comes on the heels of President Trump’s declaration of a national health emergency over opioid abuse.  One of our readers sent us this research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that states with any kind of medical marijuana law had a 25 percent lower rate of death from opioid overdoses than other states.

Autonomous VehiclesHB 353 by Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) authorizes the use of vehicles in autonomous mode. 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.  The bill unanimously passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee in November and now moves to the Appropriations Committee.

Helpful Links:

2018 Legislative Session Interim Committee Meeting Schedule

House Calendar for the week of December 4

Senate Calendar for the week of December 4

Keep updated on changes in the legislature’s schedules here House Calendar and here Senate Calendar

National Flood Insurance Lifeline Ticking Down
Compromise bill heading to the U.S. Senate

With less than three weeks before the current authorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) expires, Congress is still debating exactly how to keep the beleaguered program alive and plot a financially sustainable course for its future.  At stake here at home in Florida are 1.8 million NFIP policyholders, 35% of NFIP’s 5.1 million policies – the largest share in the nation.  The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) which is a package of seven bills that would extend the NFIP for another five years under a series of reforms.  The bill moved to the U.S. Senate, which is working on its own legislation.

The House bill includes premium increases but caps premiums at $10,000 for homeowners; continues grandfathering and coverage for new construction, and removes barriers to a private flood insurance marketplace, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP.  It’s estimated 77% of Florida properties would see lower premiums with private market policies.  Readers of this newsletter know that Florida has led the nation with its own model legislation, championed by Senator Jeff Brandes, that has resulted in more than 16 companies to date offering private flood insurance to Florida homeowners.

The House bill also addresses repetitive loss properties, which although are only 2% of policies amount to 25% of claims, and authorizes $1 billion to elevate, buyout, or mitigate high-risk properties.  It doesn’t address better mapping and modeling techniques increasingly being used by the private market nor broader mitigation measures. The bill passed by a vote of 237-189, with bi-partisan dissent, including the entire South Florida delegation.

Insurance agents also oppose the bill because it reduces the Write Your Own (WYO) policy reimbursement rate to 27.9% from its current 31% and some companies have now threatened to stop writing NFIP-backed policies in the future.  But the bill also eliminates the non-compete clause to allow the WYO companies to sell private flood insurance outside of the NFIP – a very big step toward encouraging a private market complement.  The National Association of Realtors® supports the bill, in part, because it would allow flood insurance – mandatory for the purchase of some homes – to continue to be offered beyond the NFIP’s current December 8th expiration.

Some in Congress want to eliminate the NFIP altogether, believing the program is hopelessly upside down and outdated in its original 1960’s concept, data, and bureaucratic procedures.  The program was already $24.6 billion in debt prior to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  Estimates are the claims from those storms could amount to $16 billion – much more than the $3.5 billion in premiums NFIP will earn this fiscal year.  Congress recently infused the program with $16 billion to cover those hurricane claims.  We will follow developments on this very closely for our readers.

Growth of Women-Owned Businesses in Florida Strong
Personal income of Floridians up, too, while unemployment drops

This is a sign of the times story – for the better!  Women are on the move in Florida, with a new study showing Florida ranked #2 in growth of women-owned businesses over the past 20 years.  The number of such firms grew from 338,000 in 1997 to a bit over 1 million in 2017, according to a study by American Express Open, which extrapolated U.S. Census Bureau data.

Nationally, the number of women-owned businesses more than doubled in the past 20 years, growing 114%, 2.5 times faster than the average of all businesses. Those owned by women of color grew even faster by 467% over the past 20 years.  While revenue growth for women-owned firms is also up (103%), employment grew only 27% over the period and was nearly flat in the past year.

The largest growth occurred in the construction (15%), arts/entertainment/recreation (12%), and other services (12%) sectors.  A majority of women-owned businesses can be found in three industries:

  • Other services (e.g., hair and nail salons and pet care businesses): 23% of all women-owned firms (2.8 million firms)
  • Health care and social assistance (including child day care and home health care services): 15% of all women-owned firms (1.8 million firms)
  • Professional/scientific//technical services (including lawyers, accountants, architects, public relations firms and management consultants): 12% of all women-owned firms (1.5 million firms)

In related economic news, new data was released last week on income levels nationally and here in Florida.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. average personal income in 2016 rose 1.6% to $49,246.  Florida’s average personal income rose 1.1% to $45,953 for the same period.  And more good news: Florida’s unemployment rate dropped last month to 3.6%, from 3.8% in September, while the national unemployment rate is 4.1%.  Professional and business services has led job growth in Florida over the last year with 38,900 new jobs, followed by the trade, transportation and utilities sector with 38,300 new jobs and construction with 35,600 new jobs.

New Programs Proposed for Florida’s Veterans
More funding for facilities and services included

Here at Lisa Miller & Associates, we respect and love our veterans for their past service to this great country.  Florida is home to nearly 1.7 million veterans, who make up about 11% of our civilian population, the third largest in the great U.S.A.  Increasingly, our vets face challenges with employment, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).  Some struggle getting the benefits and consideration they deserve for their past service.    Governor Rick Scott announced last week he’ll propose $178 million in spending as part of next year’s state budget to support Florida’s active duty military, veterans, and their families.

Scott, himself a proud Navy vet (you remember his blue Navy cap he always wore on television during Hurricane Irma briefings) said he wants “to help make sure Florida continues to be the most military and veteran-friendly state in the nation for years to come,” according to a press release from his office.  The Governor’s plan includes:

  • $200,000 for search and rescue vessels and protective equipment for our National Guardsmen to use during deployment;
  • Nearly $8 million to begin operations at the Lake Baldwin State Veteran Nursing Home, which will allow this facility to serve more than 110 veterans in the coming year;
  • $2 million for Building Homes for Heroes to build and modify homes for veterans who were severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • $2 million for the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which helps support our military and defense communities and the many families who rely on them; and
  • $2.7 million to support veterans looking to obtain employment, start their own businesses and make Florida their home, including $1 million for Veterans Florida to continue their mission of helping veterans find great jobs at Florida businesses.

The Governor also announced his support for a proposed state constitutional amendment being considered for the 2018 ballot by the independent Constitutional Revision Commission that would provide free tuition at state schools to the families of fallen first responders, state law enforcement, and military members who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty.

The state legislature is also proposing a slate of veteran-related bills for its 2018 session that starts in January.  Bills filed just this past week include exemptions for local business taxes and fees for vets; an annual sales tax holiday for veterans’ purchases; and funding for behavioral health care in Pasco, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties.  If you’d like to support these efforts you can contact the Florida Defense Support Task Force through its Executive Director Terry McCaffrey at tmccaffrey@enterpriseflorida.com  or by phone at 850-878-4578.

Don’t Forget About the Dogs

Thanks for reading this edition. We do all we can to share items we think will give you pearls of wisdom and of course we really enjoy just sharing a smile with each of you as often as we can.  Our team is preparing for our annual Christmas gala and charity benefit for Last Hope (Dog) Rescue.  We will host about 200 animal lovers on December 16. There’s always room for more so let us know if you would like to come celebrate with us!  Pictured here is Lola, a 30-pound Staffordshire bull terrier from LHR who was adopted by a loving human, five years ago and is still going strong.  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Our best to you,