Recap of Week 9 & End of Session
We started the 2019 legislation session nine weeks ago believing that this was the year – the year that consumers could finally get off defense and flex their offensive momentum using the power of the legislature. The legislature responded with new rules to beat back “bad actors” who prey on the unsuspecting public with an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) contract in tow during the first repair or renovation visit. While innocent-sounding enough by having the homeowner “simply sign over insurance benefits” it’s been anything but innocent too much of the time.
The signed AOB has proven to be a license to steal and the countless stories of those policyholders from across the state who have been victimized finally resonated with lawmakers. The legislature responded by passing an AOB reform package that awaits the Governor’s signature and is explained in detail below in the AOB section of this Bill Watch. There was a late-added amendment this past week designed to hasten enforcement that you’ll want to read about.
The legislature worked well past midnight late last Tuesday night to come to a conference agreement on a budget that totals $91.9 billion dollars. That’s $1.8 billion more than this current year’s spending. The constitutionally-required three day “cooling off” period that followed is meant to allow time to read the budget bill, deliberate its parts during open floor sessions of both houses, and pass other bills.
A total of 196 bills passed this year, out of 1,800 filed. Just before midnight Friday night, the Legislature passed a $121.5 million tax cut package that includes a scaled-back Business Rent Tax cut (from 5.7% to 5.5%), hurricane supplies and back-to-school sales tax holidays, hurricane tax relief for agriculture, plus several other measures. At 1:30pm Saturday, the legislature voted on the budget, held the traditional “Sine Die” dropping of the handkerchiefs, and adjourned for the year.
Here are the final status of bills we’ve been following “Passed” or “Failed”, organized by “In Play” and “Not In Play”. Bill updates, as always, are noted in red font.
Assignment of Benefits (AOB) – Passed. House Bill (HB) 7065 is a 16-page bill that will make a huge dent in the scam that has paralyzed many with unrepaired homes and pending litigation, often times without the knowledge of the homeowner. This bill is an attempt to level the playing field for consumers so they can have a fighting chance to get out from an AOB’s tyranny and that of the actors using it as a weapon to extract attorney fees during insurance company claims disputes.
The effective date of the bill is July 1 and no sooner was its passage imminent week before last that we see a YouTube video (since removed) from one of the law firms, decrying passage of this reform bill and encouraging adjusters and repair vendors and other folks to file their AOB lawsuits as fast as they can before the bill’s effective date of July 1! However, several legislators saw that video and an amendment was placed on another bill on the last day of session (HB 337 in the “Courts” section below) that makes AOB reform effective upon the Governor’s signature instead of July 1.
We hope the Governor will sign HB 7065 before he leaves on his trip to Israel on May 24 and stop the lawsuit factory. Nevertheless, the court system will experience an exponential increase in these AOB lawsuits up and until the reforms are put into law.
While this legislation won’t solve all of consumers problems in the AOB journey, we are hopeful that in the coming months, the litigation incentive won’t be there based on the new law’s teeth and consumers can avoid being pressured and duped into joining the AOB racket!
What the bill does: HB 7065 by Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Naples) addresses the explosion of property insurance AOB lawsuits over the past decade – up 900% from 2008-2018 and up 8,000% when you include automobile glass AOB suits. It, and the Senate version SB 122 by Senator Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) that was set aside, seek to reduce the incentives fueling litigation and the “racket” as Governor DeSantis described it, that AOBs have become among contractors and trial lawyers.
The bill revises the current one-way attorney fee system which incentivizes lawsuits and institutes a new formula, based on the disputed amount: the difference between the assignee’s presuit settlement demand and the insurer’s pre-suit settlement offer. If the prevailing judgment is:
- Less than 25% of the disputed amount, then the insurer is entitled to reasonable attorney fees;
- At least 25% but less than 50% of the disputed amount, no party is entitled to an award of fees;
- At least 50% of the disputed amount, the assignee vendor is entitled to reasonable attorney fees.
If the insurance company fails either to inspect the property or to provide written or verbal authorization for repairs within seven calendar days after the first notice of loss, the insurer waives its right to an award of attorney fees, except for circumstances beyond its control.
The formula does not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders, who would still enjoy the protections of the one-way attorney fees under 627.428 F.S.
Under the passed bill, an AOB must also provide the following:
- Policyholder can rescind the AOB within 14 days for any reason without penalty but must pay for work performed;
- Policyholder can rescind the AOB within 30 days if work has not commenced within 30 days of stated start date;
- Clear notice of consumer rights and policyholder responsibilities involved in signing an AOB;
- Policyholder held harmless where the vendor is prohibited from charging any “fees”, excepting policy deductible;
- Within 3 business days of the AOB execution, the vendor must provide the AOB to the insurance company;
- Contain a written, itemized, per-unit cost estimate of services;
- Work performed must conform with current industry standards;
- Vendor must “stand in the shoes” of the policyholder, including filing proof of loss, producing records, and submitting to examinations under oath prior to filing suit;;
- Insurer must respond to the vendor’s notice within 10 days; and
- Emergency services would be limited to $3,000 or 1% of the Coverage A policy limit.
The bill also allows an insurer to offer a policy prohibiting assignment in an effort to lower policy premiums. It also requires state-run Citizens Property Insurance rates for 2019 to reflect projected savings from this bill.
Under the bill, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) is required to conduct a data call with insurers to report specified data on claims paid in the prior year under AOBs by January 30, 2022, and each year afterward.
Despite some insurance industry efforts to keep the automobile windshield AOB provision in the bill, it was taken out several weeks ago.
More than half of insurance litigation in Florida today involves an AOB. Rep. Rommel repeated last week that the bill targets “bad actors” that are taking advantage of consumers and insurance companies and driving up the cost of homeowners premiums around the state as a result. HB 7065 is the culmination of a seven year effort to pass AOB reform in the Florida Legislature.
For reactions to the passage, see Governor to Sign AOB Reform Bill from the April 29 LMA Newsletter.
A separate automobile AOB bill, SB 754 by Senator Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) failed to be scheduled for its third and final committee in March and was withdrawn from consideration this past Friday, May 3. It would prohibit motor vehicle repair shops or their employees from offering anything of value to a customer in exchange for making an insurance claim for motor vehicle glass replacement or repair, including offers made through certain persons. An identical bill in the House HB 323 by Rep. Richard Stark (D-Weston) passed just one committee..
For the complete picture of AOB Abuse in Florida and what we’re doing about it, visit our AOB webpage.
Tort Damages – Failed. HB 17 originally limited jury awards to $1 million for “pain and suffering” in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits but has gone through significant changes. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach), had also dealt with product liability and how medical damages are calculated. It had also specified that an individual contract between a healthcare provider and an insurance company or HMO is not subject to discovery or disclosure in certain actions. All of those provisions, except for the medical damages calculation, have been stripped from the bill. The bill has passed all of its committees but was never scheduled before the full House. It was withdrawn from consideration this past Friday, May 3. A similar Senate bill (SB 1320) by Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) was never heard.
During a previous hearing, Rep. Leek noted that Florida has the highest tort system costs among U.S. states, as a percentage of state gross domestic product, at 3.6% vs. the 2.3% U.S. average. But the real nugget? The total paid in costs and compensation amounted to $4,442 per Florida household in 2016.
Omnibus Insurance Bill – Passed. This session’s “catch-all” bill for everything else insurance is HB 301 filed by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona). The bill passed the full House the week of April 8 and the Senate version SB 714, by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) was set-aside last week, with the Senate passing the House bill, which is now on its way to the Governor for his consideration.
The bill would raise the loss adjustment expense (LAE) that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund reimburses to insurers from 5% to 10%. This is an issue the private reinsurance market has been abuzz, with threats for significant reinsurance rate increases from Bermuda and London. Fortunately, there is agreement that the Cat Fund needs to step up and absorb more of this LAE coverage and the provisions in the bills would apply to this year’s cat fund contracts.
Other items in the bill also have major policy implications, like lowering the threshold for surplus lines insurers to continue their push into admitted markets, capping Citizens Property Insurance rates in Monroe County to 5% versus the current 10%, and provisions on Personal Injury Protection (PIP) deductibles. There was much discussion among the trial lawyer groups this session about their disagreement with the bill’s provision providing for the appraisal process to serve as an alternative dispute resolution platform, triggered when a civil remedy notice is filed. The insurance industry has argued that the Civil Remedy process has become an indicator of litigation, not of consumer dissatisfaction, pointing to Insurance Commissioner Altmaier’s discussion of the low complaint ratios post Hurricanes Irma and Michael.
Citizens Property Insurance – Failed. Lowering Citizens rates in Monroe County is likewise what SB 1476 by Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is all about. The bill caps annual rate increases in Monroe County only to 5%. The cap would be in effect for two years while the Office of Insurance Regulation takes another look at the disparate models to decide if risk on the Keys is exaggerated and deserves a lower rate. It also extends the 10% cap on rate increases for the rest of Citizens’ policies from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2024, except for sinkhole coverage. The bill passed the full Senate on April 26 but was never taken up by the House. An identical bill in the House (HB 1145) was filed by Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) but was never heard.
Construction Bonds – Passed. SB 1200 by Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) & HB 1247 by Rep. Daniel Perez (R-Miami) attempt to improve prime or general contractor – subcontractor disputes by providing more transparency to a subcontractor’s complaint of nonpayment by the prime or general contractor. The bills require a notice of nonpayment to be verified and to contain certain statements; require a claimant to attach certain documents to a notice of nonpayment; and specifies that a claimant who serves a fraudulent notice of nonpayment forfeits his or her rights under a bond.
SB 1200 was laid on the table last week with the Senate taking up and passing the House bill instead, which had been passed by the House the week before. The bill is now on its way to the Governor for his consideration.
As with many bills this year, these bills are attempting to take away the gaming of the one-way attorney fee statute that is in play with these disputes.
Blockchain Technology – Passed. This measure would create a state working group to provide recommendations about the expansion of the blockchain-technology industry in Florida. HB 735 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) and Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont) was set aside last week, with the House instead taking up and passing the similar Senate version, SB 1024 by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) which had passed the Senate the week before. This fascinating distributed ledger software technology and its application to insurance lines and Florida consumers was the subject of a recent Florida Insurance Roundup podcast Driving Blockchain Home.
Hurricane Michael Reimbursement – Passed (to a lessor degree). The Legislature approved $220 million in targeted Hurricane Michael recovery money to effected Panhandle communities, with most of it ($115 million) going to affordable housing programs. While the total amount of money appropriated is less than the bills below requested, the affordable housing components of SB 1610 below and some projects within HB 1101 were funded. There was great budget uncertainty these last three weeks of session between the two chambers on just how much money would be made available to truly devote to recovery efforts.
About $35 million of the $220 million will go to repairing roads and another $14 million to school districts that suffered enrollment declines when families moved out of the area. The Bay County student population is down 14% and hasn’t been receiving the same per student funding from the state as a result. The rest of the legislature’s spending package will go to individual infrastructure repair and rebuilding projects from buildings to roads to sewers.
SB 1610, co-sponsored by Panhandle Senators Bill Montford, George Gainer, and Doug Broxson, initially provided $300 million in loans to local governments for debris cleanup and infrastructure rebuilding and $15 million in loans to the area’s devastated timber industry. It would also establish a Hurricane Housing Recovery Program to provide incentive funding to local governments to create partnerships to preserve and build affordable housing. Similar to the state’s existing State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP), the program targets very low, low, and moderate income families with much needed single and multifamily housing.
SB 1610 would also establish a task force under the direction of the state Division of Emergency Management to report back by December 15 with additional recommendations on long-term recovery needs.
The bill was amended by Senator Montford in mid-April to remove the $315 million allocation, leaving the amount to be determined pending the outcome of House and Senate budget negotiations. The bill was withdrawn from consideration this past Friday, May 3.
SB 1162 by Senator George Gainer (R-Panama City) would create the Northwest Florida Rural Inland Affected Counties Recovery Fund. The fund would provide grants in the inland counties of Calhoun, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty and Washington counties using 5% of the $2 billion BP Oil Spill Deep Horizon settlement, which would be $5.3 million annually. The bill got a boost in January from Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, who expressed willingness to consider a broader use of oil spill funding. It too, made it through several committees but was withdrawn from consideration this past Friday, May 3. A similar bill in the House, HB 191 by Rep. Brad Drake (R-DeFuniak Springs) was never heard.
Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) filed his 44th bill in late February relating to Hurricane Michael recovery. HB 1101 requires that certain sales & use taxes be transferred to a trust fund devoted to recovery efforts. In all, Trumbull’s bills provide more than $280 million in relief. The bill was never scheduled for a hearing but a few of these projects have been included in the final budget.
Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) whose district includes some of the worst hit areas of the storm, previously filed SB 376 that would allot up to $50 million a year from the state Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the 14 counties that suffered damage. The trust is funded by doc stamp taxes for land and water conservation and last year brought in $870 million. The bill was passed unanimously on March 5 by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee but was never scheduled before another committee and was withdrawn from consideration this past Friday, May 3. A similar bill in the House (HB 555) was never scheduled for a hearing.
Non-admitted Insurance Markets – Failed. One of the concerns of the admitted market is surplus lines encroachment. For the past 4 years, there has been a steady drumbeat of surplus lines companies in the commercial residential market and now the residential market. Various legislative and regulatory attempts have been successful in eroding the firewall between the two markets, with the latest being State Farm successfully lobbying for the ability to write $700,000 “easier” in surplus lines.
In an all-out attempt to continue to erode consumer protections provided by the admitted market, the surplus lines industry filed House (HB 387) and Senate (SB 538) bills to provide incentives and advantages to increase their market share where, ironically, there are strong regulated, admitted markets. The very fundamental principle of a well-functioning insurance market is that consumers are offered admitted coverage first, then surplus lines if the first option isn’t available, and then residual markets (markets of last resort) if neither options 1 or 2 will work.
It is stunning to see the surplus lines industry continue its encroachment on a vibrant Florida property insurance market under the heading of increased competition! I’m not buying it and never will. And as such, our team fought very hard to stop these bills from passage and partially succeeded. We fought a strong push by members of the House of Representatives who frankly should have known better, but for whatever reason, refused to listen to reason and the facts about what happens when a surplus lines carrier changes its mind – changing policy form language at will and worse, increasing rates as well.
One of their arguments for their laser focus on poaching the admitted market is that surplus lines insurers can decrease their rates too. While that is true, so can the admitted market but not instantaneously. So when Senator Jeff Brandes tried to level the playing field between admitted and surplus lines this session, all kinds of falsehoods started flying and he was not successful. Suffice to say that we were able to stop the proposed elimination of the affidavit that surplus lines agents complete, so that we can have some assurances that the admitted market is preserved. We are grateful for that and plan to review this process over the summer with legislators who have taken an interest in learning more. We will keep you apprised.
Public Construction – Failed. SB 246 sponsored by several committees and Senator Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor), relates to public construction and revises the requirements for the Department of Management Services rules governing certain contracts. It also revises the amount of funds that certain public entities, especially banks and contractors, may withhold from progress payments for any construction services contract. Complaints have abounded that banks are slow to release authorized funds in order to take advantage of interest on the money. SB 246 was on the fast track having already passed two of its three committees but was never scheduled for its final stop before the Appropriations Committee. A similar bill in the House, HB 101, sponsored by a subcommittee and Reps. Andrade, McClure, and Sabatini, passed the full House on April 11 but was never taken up by the Senate.
Genetic Information Used for Insurance Purposes – Failed. As interest in commercially available genetic testing kits continues to rise, the legislature has been considering a proposal that would ban genetic test results from being used to deny or limit someone’s life, disability or long-term care insurance coverage. The full House on April 11 passed HB 879 by Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Pace), by a 88-26 vote despite opposition by some in the insurance industry. The bill has faced opposition by some lawmakers and insurance lobbyists industry, who say the potential ban would hurt the industry’s ability to anticipate and calculate future risk. Supporters say the bill protects people’s privacy and falls in line with the federal government’s ban on health insurers using that information to make a decision about someone’s health coverage. A bill in the Senate, SB 258 by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) would protect the information from being sold, but would allow some genetic information contained in medical records to be taken into consideration, as a compromise with life insurance companies. After much debate, it passed the Senate Health Policy Committee earlier in April and was awaiting scheduling before the Rules Committee. On April 23, the Rules Committee heard the passed House bill instead, with Senator Bean asking the committee to simply take up the House bill. It did and passed it. The bill was never scheduled before the full Senate and thus died.
Courts – Passed. HB 337 by Rep. Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) (and its companion SB 328 by Senator Jeff Brandes) is on its way to the Governor. Rep. Leek was successful in shifting court cases that are now heard in circuit court to be heard in the county court. Reactions are mixed with some saying that circuit court dockets are more jammed than county court dockets so it will take longer to get cases resolved; others say it will force more settlements because of delays. The legislation’s focus is to change the docket makeup of county and circuit courts with the aim to redistribute caseload to purportedly make the court system more efficient. Among other things, the bill will force the vast majority of insurance litigation to county court versus circuit court. Problem is that 31 of Florida’s 67 counties only have ONE county court judge and an additional 7 counties have only two such judges. The unintended consequence of this bill is, for example, of the 150,000 Hurricane Michael claims, the estimate is that between 30,000 and 50,000 of those cases will wind up in court with lawyers who are advertising at record levels to sue insurance companies. Imagine 50,000 cases in the 9 Hurricane Michael counties with 1 judge per county court!
Autonomous Vehicles – Passed. HB 311 represents the on-going quest to balance proper regulation with encouraging Florida’s developing autonomous vehicle (AV) market. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville), himself an engineer, covers a lot of ground. It allows fully AVs to operate regardless of the presence of a human operator; provides that the automated driving system is deemed the operator when the system is engaged; authorizes the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to fund & operate test facilities; provides requirements for on-demand AV networks to operate; and revises registration requirements for AVs. The bill also stipulates that Florida residents will be allowed to hire self-driving cars through digital phone apps (such as Uber and Lyft). The bill unanimously passed the full House the week before last and the Senate passed it last week, also by unanimous vote. It’s now on its way to the Governor for his consideration. SB 660 in the Senate by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) is comparable but has not been heard.
Red Tide – Passed. Taking on Red Tide in Florida in a more organized and dedicated fashion is the purpose behind SB 1552 by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota). The bill establishes the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative. The House passed the Senate bill last week after the Senate approved it the week before. An identical bill (HB 1135) in the House by Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) was temporarily postponed from being heard by the full House two weeks ago.
Driving While Distracted (formerly Communications While Driving) – Passed. Texting while driving will become a primary offense on January 1 that you can be pulled over for, as well as having a device in your hands when driving through a school or construction zone, pending the Governor’s signature.
Where efforts failed last year to make texting while driving a primary offense (from the current secondary offense, where you can be ticketed only during a traffic stop made for another reason), this year’s efforts are concentrated on the much broader distracted driving problem beyond just smart phones.
SB 76 by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and HB 107 by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), now make texting while driving a primary offense that a police officer can pull you over for. Both bills originally proposed to bar any hand-held devices while driving. Then they took it out of the bills. Then Senator Simpson put that provision back in his bill, so motorists would once again have to use only hands-free devices while driving.
The Governor weighed-in, preferring the House bill, so two weeks ago, the Senate adopted the House bill, but with a provision prohibiting handling a wireless device while driving through school zones or construction zones. The House agreed and passed the bill last Tuesday and sent it to the Governor for his consideration.
The bill provides for verbal warnings for violators during the last three months of 2019, with citations issued to violators beginning January 1, 2020.
Attorney Fees in Injunctions – Failed. HB 297 by Rep. Chuck Brannan III (R-Lake City) would prohibit attorney fee awards in certain protective injunction proceedings, including domestic violence cases. It was never scheduled in the Judiciary Committee, its final stop before the full House. Its Senate companion, SB 768 by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) likewise never made it to its last committee stop.
Homeowners Insurance Policies – SB 380 by Senator Brandes is a “glitch bill” that fixes an oversight in last year’s HB 1011 which said that property insurance policies must prominently display that they don’t provide flood or other coverages. HB 1011, however, didn’t contemplate “endorsement” of coverages onto property insurance policies, so SB 380 fixes this, as does its House companion bill, HB 617 by Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg). HB 617 has passed the full House two weeks ago and was passed by the Senate last week.
Red Light Cameras – Failed. Efforts resume in the Florida legislature this year to ban the use of red-light cameras by local law enforcement in Florida’s 67 counties and 435 municipalities. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year, clarifying the right of municipalities to use third-party contractors to assist in the traffic infraction process. The Court found that local governments have the right “to contract with a private third-party vendor to review and sort information from red light cameras… before sending that information to a trained traffic enforcement officer, who determines whether probable cause exists and a citation should be issued.”
HB 6003 by Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont) would do away with the equipment and the trained officers currently allowed under the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program. The bill was passed on January 23 by the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee but went no further. A similar bill (SB 622) in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Brandes, was temporarily postponed twice and never rescheduled. Last July, a federal judge sided with more than 70 cities and counties in dismissing a class action seeking refunds for motorists who had been ticketed after the cameras photographed those running red lights.
Animal Welfare – Passed. Everyone knows LMA’s love of animals and this session, it looks like the House and Senate are taking note as well. Several proposals to protect animals are moving, with provisions that allow veterinarians to report suspicious pet owner behavior to authorities, making it a misdemeanor to leave an animal unattended during a manmade or natural disaster, and another provision requiring horse acquisition contracts to spell out continuing care for a horse. We envision that some type of animal welfare language will pass this session.
HB 7125 (260 pages) and SB 642 (360 pages) are massive criminal justice bills that both contain animal cruelty language. The House and Senate agreed to pass HB 7125 which is now on the way to the Governor for his consideration. As animal lovers and supporters, LMA is supporting punishment to those who intentionally harm domestic animals.
Another AOB bill, Failed. HB 357 by Rep. Brett Hage (R-The Villages) reduces the time period from 90 to 30 days within which a contractor must begin to perform certain work on residential real property after receiving initial payment; it also reduces from 60 to 30 days the time period for the contractor to perform substantial work on such property – work equal or greater to the amount already paid. It also removes an exemption from permitting requirements for certain solicitors, salespersons, and agents using sample catalogs or brochures. It has a similar bill in the Senate (SB 420) by Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake). Neither bill has seen action.
Also filed as AOB Failed. is HB 359 by Rep. Javier Fernández (D-Coral Gables) which has a lot in common with some of the AOB consumer safeguard bills of the 2018 session. The bill requires the third-party who was assigned the AOB to send a copy of the AOB to the insurance company within 3 days after being executed “by all named insureds”; maintain records of services provided; cooperate with the insurance company in its investigation of the claim, including providing copies of records within 7 days; and provide a written, itemized, per-unit cost statement of services actually performed. Prior to filing a lawsuit, the third-party must participate in an appraisal or other alternative dispute resolution method in the policy and submit to carrier examinations under oath. They must also agree to hold all named insureds harmless for payment beyond the policy deductible, regardless of whether the AOB is later deemed invalid. The bill also shifts the burden onto the party seeking relief to demonstrate the insurer wasn’t prejudiced in handling the claim. The bill has seen no action.
Motor Vehicle Insurance – Failed. HB 733 by Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) and the comparable SB 1052 by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) would, in essence, do away with Personal Injury Protection coverage (PIP) and ramp up bodily injury (BI) liability coverage.
SB 1052 repeals PIP insurance under the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, eliminates limits on damages for pain and suffering, and requires insurers to offer motorists “minimum security requirements” for BI liability and property damage. Insurers would also have to offer $5,000 coverage for medical expenses and a minimum $5,000 death benefit. The bill also allows private passenger motor vehicle policies to exclude certain identified individuals from specified coverages under certain circumstances. It also revises the minimum net worth requirements to qualify as a self-insurer. The bill does not address Bad Faith accusations against insurers, a non-starter for some legislators, but could be included in the bill at a later time.
SB 1052 passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on April 1 and still awaits scheduling before the Appropriations Committee, its last stop before heading to the full House. HB 733 hasn’t had a hearing. Like AOB reform, PIP repeal has been introduced each year but has failed to pass. The Senate seems to have some appetite for this idea but since the House bill hasn’t moved, it doesn’t look like the House wants to weigh in. (See LMA Backgrounder: Personal Injury Protection for more details on the history of PIP reform and the failed 2018 bills, the latest data, and past committee and stakeholder discussions.)
Property Insurance Coverage for Explosions – Failed. Insurance companies writing or renewing property insurance policies in Florida would have to provide explosion coverage under SB 1288 by Senator Oscar Braynon (D-Miami). The bill defines the term “explosion” for purposes of the Florida Insurance Code, including “an intense ground vibration caused by drilling or blasting for mining or quarrying. The bill also provides options for exclusions of coverage. The bill has not been heard.
Bodily Injury Liability – Failed. SB 896 by Senator Jeff Brandes is titled, “Responsible Roadways Act,” and eliminates Personal Injury Protection coverage after a certain date. It includes a provision “providing that, under certain third-party claims, a motor vehicle liability insurer is not liable beyond available policy limits if it meets certain conditions.
Bills to repeal PIP passed the Florida House over the past two years only to die in the Senate. A recent study shows Florida drivers pay the third-highest auto insurance premiums in the country. Repealing PIP would save Florida drivers about $81 annually. Florida remains one of two states that do not require bodily injury coverage, under our current nearly 50 year-old “no-fault” auto insurance system. SB 896 has not been heard.
Fair Settlement Act – Failed. This act, incorporated in SB 1464 by Senator Jeff Brandes would revise the circumstances under which an insurance company and the Department of Financial Services are notified prior to filing litigation. It requires policyholders, claimants, or anyone acting on their behalf to notify the insurance company in writing before filing a Bad Faith action. It also limits an insurance company’s liability to third-party claimants under certain circumstances, if it files an interpleader action within a certain time period. The bill was scheduled to be heard on March 18 before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee but was not considered.
Insurance Proceeds Held by Mortgagees – Failed. SB 1392 by Senator George Gainer (R-Panama City) would limit the amount of time that banks can hold insurance company proceeds in order to take advantage of float in accruing interest. The bill also provides that the policyholder or borrower is entitled to any accrued interest. The bill has not been heard.
Concealed Weapons Licenses – Failed. SB 108 by Senator Lauren Book (R-Plantation) transfers the concealed weapons licensing program of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The bill has not had a hearing and has no House companion bill.
Property-Assessed Clean Energy – Failed. HB 63 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers), would allow the use of Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funds to get folks off septic tanks and connected to municipal sanitary sewer systems or to retrofit to an advanced onsite treatment system. An identical bill, SB 282, has been sponsored in the Senate by Senators Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) and Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota). Neither bill has had a hearing.
Smoking on Beaches – Failed. Smoking on public beaches would be prohibited under SB 218 by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) who hails from an area consistently on the Top 10 list of beaches in the country. Doing so would be a civil infraction with a maximum penalty of $25 or 10 hours of community service. The bill has not had a hearing.
Disclosure of Sinkhole Activity – Failed. Landlords would have to disclose sinkhole activity to renters under SB 392 by Senator Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale). This includes suspected, known, or reported activity. The bill has not had a hearing.
Licenses to Carry Concealed Weapons or Firearms – Failed. Rep. Sabatini is also sponsoring HB 6007 which would remove the current prohibition against those with concealed carry permits from taking their gun to school. The bill would allow such licensed college and university students to carry guns into the classroom. Sabatini has been quoted as saying “it’s a natural corollary to begin allowing good people to arm themselves on college campuses to prevent the next mass shooter,” following the state’s effort to allow trained teachers to carry guns in the classroom in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The bill is opposed by some parents, administrators, and the union representing faculty, which has fought efforts to repeal the campus gun-free zone law. The bill has not had a hearing and there is no Senate companion bill. Senate President Bill Galvano was quoted in early March as saying “I’m not sure that it will make it through” the Senate.
Possession of Firearms on School Property – Failed. People, presumably including students, would be allowed to carry a gun in a vehicle on school property under HB 6005 by Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach) and Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont). This includes any preschool, elementary, middle, junior high, secondary school, career center, or postsecondary school, whether public or nonpublic. The bill passed the House Criminal Justice Committee on March 12 but has not been scheduled for its next stop. An identical bill in the Senate, SB 996 by Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), hasn’t had a hearing.
Tiny Homes – Failed. The Florida Building Commission would have to adopt certain regulations and standards for Florida’s newest craze of homes under SB 1268 by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation). The bill provides for the incorporation of certain codes into the Florida Building Code as well. The bill has not been heard nor has its identical bill in the House, HB 801.
Pet Leasing – Failed. Calling it a predatory and deceptive practice, Senator Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) last week filed SB 316 which would regulate the contracts for the sale or lease of pets. Just as with expensive cars, a lease-to-own practice allows people to make payments on pets, usually expensive pure breeds, until they own them. The ASPCA says all but six of the roughly 65 puppy-selling stores in Florida offering leasing options. The bill has not had a hearing.
LMA Newsletter of 5-6-19