Recap of Week 3 & Preview of Week 4 of Session
This past week saw an offensive by opponents to two bills that together, seek to cure the most serious ailments and abuses in Florida’s homeowners property insurance market. Look for more fireworks at tomorrow’s House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee meeting and Thursday’s Senate Rules Committee meeting (see Residential Property Insurance below). Meanwhile, legislators are considering what regulators may be shy to do: eliminate the Citizens Property Insurance 10% rate hike cap for new customers.
The big news this week could end up being a bill on the desk of Governor DeSantis by week’s end, as legislative leaders late last week announced they’ve reached agreement on COVID-19 civil liability protections for businesses, healthcare facilities, and their workers (more in Civil Liability for COVID-19 Damages below).
The other big news from last week was the Governor announcing how he’d like to see Florida spend recently released federal stimulus money meant to ease the economic costs of the pandemic. The Governor sent a letter to Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Chris Sprowls outlining his recommendations to spend about half of the expected $8 billion on four areas: providing assistance to Floridians, promoting economic development and recovery, investing in infrastructure and resiliency, and workforce training and research.
Here is a master list of the legislative bills we’re following so far in the 60-day session (you can click the bill link to go directly to its details farther below). “New” and “Updated” bills are so noted. Updates within each bill are now noted in blue font:
Contingency Risk Multipliers
Residential Property Insurance Updated
Offers of Judgment
Litigation Financing Consumer Protection Updated
Consumer Protection Updated
Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Updated
Credit for Reinsurance Updated
Civil Liability for COVID-19 Damages Updated
Motor Vehicle Insurance (PIP)
Demand Letters for PIP
Motor Vehicle Insurance Coverage Exclusions
Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program
Resilient Florida Grant Program Updated
Climate and Resiliency Task Force
Tourist and Convention Development Taxes Updated
Telehealth Practice Standards Updated
Florida Building Code
Contingency Risk Multipliers – SB 212 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) is a renewed attempt to put the brakes on a growing abuse of attorney fee awards. The bill provides that for certain attorney fees awarded for claims arising under property insurance policies, a strong presumption is created that a lodestar fee (billable hours x reasonable hourly rate) is sufficient and reasonable; and providing that such presumption may be rebutted only under certain circumstances, specifically “in a rare and exceptional circumstance with evidence that competent counsel could not be retained in a reasonable manner.” The bill passed the House last session but got hung up in the Senate. The bill still awaits its first hearing. There is no identical bill in the House. (Return to Top of Page)
Residential Property Insurance – This week saw an offensive by opponents to two bills that together, seek to cure the most serious ailments and abuses in Florida’s homeowners property insurance market. SB 76 (comparable in some aspects to SB 212) focuses on attorney fees and roof replacements. Sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, Senator Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), the bill would require a notice of intent 60 days before initiating a lawsuit. It creates a “strong presumption” for a lodestar fee (billable hours x reasonable hourly rate) but awards attorney fees based on the relationship between the plaintiff demand and final judgment. If the claimant recovers at least 80%, full attorney fees would be awarded; less than 20%, then there would be no attorney fees. Judgments between 20% and 80% would merit the same proportional attorney fee. The bill also attempts to thwart neighborhood roofing canvassers trying to use insurance policies to cover normal wear-and-tear. It would require insurance companies to provide full replacement for roofs under 10 years old and establish a reimbursement schedule for older roofs based on age and type of roof to pay actual cash value. A claim would have to be filed within two years (instead of the current three) and insurance companies would have the right to request inspection and photographs prior to work commencing.
Senator Boyd last Wednesday filed a strike-all amendment that among other things, removed language related to unlicensed activity and claims adjusting because the provisions applied across various lines of insurance and this bill is an act related to “property insurance” only. Along the way, another provision that was previously added was also removed that clarified that only an attorney or public adjuster may prepare, complete or file an insurance claim for a policyholder or third-party claimant or negotiate on their behalf in a damages claim. That provision also gave the Department of Financial Services new powers to pursue administration action and impose fines on those bad actors. An effort to reinstate this section of the bill was filed too late to be considered when SB 76 went before the Senate Rules Committee this past Thursday, its last stop before going to the Senate floor.
The Rules Committee meeting was long and lively, with nearly two hours of debate including a lot of public testimony. These included attorneys, consumer advocates, contractors, and homeowners. The trial bar made familiar arguments that the bill is a solution in search of a problem and would take away needed policyholder protections. Senator Boyd countered, saying “We are not eliminating the ability for constituents to take this to court,” arguing that the bill gives judges the discretion to award attorney fees for policyholders.
A series of amendments offered by Democrats who oppose the bill failed to pass. Due to the volume of testimony, the Rules Committee ran out of time to vote on the bill and is expected to take it up again at its meeting this Thursday. But in the waning minutes, Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) began the formal debate on the bill, delivering a powerful close to the meeting. “What I find so fascinating is that rates are going up 30% to 40% every year and will double in two to three years if we do nothing. Yet the opposition to this bill has offered zero amendments to lower our constituents’ rates. Every single amendment they offered today will raise rates or keep the status quo, which is going to cripple Florida. We have to lower rates,” Brandes said. Calling it the “Achilles Heel” of the Florida insurance market, Brandes warned that failure to act will cause Citizens Property Insurance to balloon again in polices and associated risk, impacting the bond ratings of the state of Florida.
Meanwhile the House of Representatives released its version of property insurance reform this past week, but to call it “reform” is an oxymoron. The proposed committee substitute to HB 305 by Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Collier) replaces the original bill’s strong provisions that would turn the market around. We were anticipating some changes to this bill but nothing like what is in this amendment. The House Insurance and Banking Committee discussed the amendment at its Wednesday morning meeting with Representative Rommel closing his remarks saying that the market is in “crisis” and insurance companies are going broke. The discussion will continue with a likely vote at tomorrow’s 9:30 am Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meeting.
The 18-page amendment does not restore the property insurance market but focuses instead on unrelated issues. These include:
- Greater regulatory oversight of insurance companies’ managing general agencies;
- Scrutiny of staff salaries at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation;
- Continued claims data submission requirements for companies, despite current data that clearly depicts the present-day crisis;
- An inadequate Citizens Property Insurance 1% rate increase per year over 5 years to augment the current 10% rate hike cap. This still does not cure the unbalanced issue that the government’s insurance company is continually cheaper than the rest of the private market and all Floridians get to pay and subsidize those who enjoy the incredibly inexpensive Citizens policy. A Citizens study show that 90% of the time Citizens policies were cheaper than the private sector over a certain time frame late last year. In a phrase …that’s just wrong.
- A veiled litigation reform/pre-suit negotiation framework that excludes any suits brought by roofers and water damage restoration companies, which are about 80% of all lawsuits; and
- The bill does reduce the time limit to file claims from three years to two years, one of the few things this bill still has in common to the Senate’s version, SB 76.
The House bill would require only a 10-day notice of intent before filing a lawsuit. It does not include the Senate bill’s roof reimbursement schedule nor the additional restrictions on plaintiff attorney fees.
The House and Senate have to agree on a bill for it to pass. At this juncture, the Senate Bill (SB 76) is the best hope at stemming the red ink that is in the Florida Domestic Property Insurers Summary of 2020 Year-End Financial Results spreadsheet. The new HB 305 is the complete opposite of SB 76. Unless there is tremendous pressure on House Speaker Chris Sprowls to come to the table and agree with SB 76, insurers will be left no choice but to slash their books of business, buy less reinsurance, and send their customers to Citizens, the state-backed insurer of last resort. Such a move would put all of Florida’s insurance consumers at much greater risk of assessments to cover Citizens Insurance losses in a future catastrophic hurricane or series of hurricanes. Reinsurance companies are noting this development, too, as it will lead to significantly less private reinsurance in the market, in lieu of greater taxpayer risk.
The Office of Insurance Regulation made a presentation in January showing that homeowners insurance companies will likely double their losses from 2019 to 2020. The combined ratios are above 100 for the third year in a row, with net underwriting losses in each of the past five years. You can read about other past pertinent testimony on this bill from the February 2 Banking and Insurance Committee meeting and the March 9 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. (Return to Top of Page)
Offers of Judgment – SB 686 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) would allow parties in a lawsuit to make an exclusive offer of judgment identifying the total amount of indemnity or damages and stipulating attorney fees and costs would be determined at a later date by the parties or the court. A party serving the offer would not be required to stipulate an amount offered for attorney fees and costs; the other party would have 30 days to challenge the validity of the offer. The bill had its first hearing on February 15 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Senator Brandes chairs. There was lengthy debate on an amendment to clarify language, but the bill ultimately passed on a 6-4 vote. The bill passed 8-3 in the Banking and Insurance Committee on March 10 and now goes to the Rules Committee, its final stop before the full Senate. Committee staff prepared this updated bill analysis afterward. A similar bill in the House, HB 1533 by Rep. Fiona McFarland (R-Sarasota), differs in requiring arbitration in addition to a fee award hearing. The bill awaits its first hearing. (Return to Top of Page)
Litigation Financing Consumer Protection – SB 1750 is a second attempt by Senator Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) to create a regulatory framework for litigation financiers who provide capital to firms who take cases on contingency, similar to a “factoring” company that buys receivables and pays an upfront, discounted fee for the right to assume the receivable at full value. The bill will have its first hearing this Wednesday at 8:30 am before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee where Sen. Broxson is Vice-Chairman. A similar House bill, HB 1293 by Rep. Toby Overdorf (R-Stuart) awaits its first hearing. Senator Broxson’s bill last year never got a hearing; its counterpart in the House passed all three of its committees but was never heard by the full House and the Senate. (Return to Top of Page)
Consumer Protection – HB 717 by Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Dixie & Gilchrist) attempts to go to the heart of insurance fraud in Florida – unlicensed and unregulated contractors. The bill prohibits unlicensed activity by an adjusting firm; prohibits a person from providing claims adjusting services unless the person meets specified requirements; and prohibits licensed contractors & subcontractors from engaging in certain activities unless licensed & compliant as public adjusters. The bill also provides disclosure requirements that insurance coverage must meet before being eligible for export under Surplus Lines Law; prohibits foreign venue clauses in property insurance policies; and provides penalties for a licensed bail bond agent or a temporary bail bond agent who knowingly engages in certain activities.
The bill also address life & health insurance lines. It authorizes regulators to disapprove use of insurance agency names containing words “Medicare” or “Medicaid” and prohibits life insurers from writing new policies of industrial life insurance beginning on a certain date. The bill has received unanimous support to date and awaits its last hearing before the House Commerce Committee.
While not identical, a similar bill SB 1598 by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), unanimously passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee last Tuesday and will be heard this Wednesday at 4:30pm before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. The bill now includes important language clarifying that only an attorney or public adjuster may prepare, complete or file an insurance claim for a policyholder or third-party claimant or negotiate on their behalf in a damages claim. It also gives the Department of Financial Services new powers to pursue administration action and impose fines on those bad actors. These are the same provisions that had been in the Residential Property Insurance bill SB 76 (see above in this Bill Watch) but were removed from that bill last week.
An early March report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), which is Florida’s version of the federal GAO, looks at homeowners and automobile insurance fraud and unlicensed activity. The report shows that homeowners insurance fraud referrals to the Department of Financial Services (DFS) more than doubled over a five year period of 2015-2020. Yet few resulted in full investigation and even fewer in prosecution. The DFS Division of Investigative and Forensic Services reported that staffing issues affect its ability to investigate complex cases like insurance fraud. One in five investigator positions are vacant statewide with higher vacancies in metro areas that have higher number of fraud referrals. OPPAGA made a presentation to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 1, which you can read more about here. (Return to Top of Page)
Citizens Property Insurance Corporation – SB 1574 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) seeks to bring a more market-oriented approach to the state’s taxpayer-backed insurer of last resort in the face of reverse migration of policies back into Citizens over the past two years. The bill would revise the method for determining potential surcharges levied against policyholders, limit agent commission rates, and allow eligible surplus lines insurers to participate in Citizens depopulation, take-out, or keep-out programs in the same manner and on the same terms as an authorized insurer. It would also authorize information from underwriting files and confidential claims files to be released by the corporation to specified entities considering writing or underwriting risks insured by the corporation under certain circumstances. The bill had its first hearing this past Tuesday before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. Significant changes were made to it under a series of amendments by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) and it passed on an 11-1 vote. Among the changes:
- Elimination of the 10% “glide path” annual rate increase cap for new Citizens customers after July 1 as well as owners of non-homesteaded property, such as second homes. Existing customers in homesteaded property would keep the cap.
- Non-homesteaded (meaning not owner-occupied) property is not eligible for coverage unless the premium for comparable coverage from an authorized insurance company is more than 15% greater than the Citizens premium.
- Deficits in any of Citizens’ three accounts would subject a Citizens’ policyholder to a special annual premium surcharge, based on Citizens current policy count. (15% premium surcharge for less than one million policyholders; 20% for one-million to 1.5 million policyholders; and 25% for 1.5 million or more.)
- Any deficit in its legal expenses would subject all policyholders to an additional annual premium surcharge.
- Agent commissions would be based on the market average commission rate paid by the top 20 admitted insurers in Florida.
- Enhanced requirements to qualify as an eligible surplus lines insurer for depopulation, take-out, and keep-out programs (see pages 38-42 in the bill).
In presenting his successful amendments before the committee, Senator Brandes said the goal is to “right the ship” of Citizens, noting “We are seeing radical growth that is exposing the state of Florida to untold liability.” Indeed, when Citizens grows, so does every Floridians’ risk of paying for that growth through state-mandated assessments, should there be a catastrophe (a single big hurricane or smaller multiple hurricanes). A healthy and competitive insurance market means Citizens shrinks. When Citizens offers cheaper rates than most of the rest of the private market (under the legislatively-created 10% annual “glide path” cap on rate increases) rather than actuarially sound rates, policies flock to Citizens, as they have been doing over the past almost two years.
Since March 2020, Citizens’ policy count has grown from 443,444 to 551,613 by February 28, 2021, an increase of 26.4%. Citizens is now receiving more than 3,000 new customers per week and expects to add a total of nearly 150,000 policies this year. During a rate hearing last week, Citizens asked insurance regulators for the same rate cap flexibility contained in this bill (see Citizens Pushing Higher Rates in this newsletter). This bill would do what the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation may choose not to do on its own.
You can read more in this updated bill analysis prepared by Committee staff afterward, particularly on pages 7-8. The bill now moves to its second committee stop before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. There is yet no identical House bill.
And speaking of market dynamics, the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund in a recent Advisory Council meeting announced it expects to pay out $7.3B and to date, has already paid $5.2B. The current Irma expected payout is $800M higher than the last report to the Council. For Hurricane Michael, $1.45B is the expected payout and $1.0B has been paid. We will continue to monitor this developing financial trend. (Return to Top of Page)
Insurance Policies – SB 742 is an omnibus bill that seeks to fix a number of issues in insurance law and regulation. The bill, sponsored by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) would redefine “covered policy” under the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund in relation to certain collateral protection insurance policies; specify when service of process is valid and binding upon insurers; specify the entities that must receive requests for loss run statements; limit loss run statement requests with respect to group health insurance policies to group policyholders; and authorize, rather than require, rate filings for certain residential property insurance to include certain rate factors.
The bill also touches on mitigation and flood insurance. It authorizes insurers to file rating plans based on windstorm mitigation construction standards and authorizes them to require policyholders provide evidence of compliance with mitigation standards under certain conditions. It authorizes residential property insurers to file rating plans that provide certain windstorm mitigation premium discounts, credits and rate differentials; authorizes surplus lines agents to export flood coverage contracts or endorsements to surplus lines insurers without making certain diligent efforts; and redefines the term “assignment agreement” to include scopes of service & property inspection.
It has an identical bill in the House, HB 815 by Rep. Tommy Gregory (R-Bradenton). During the week of March 8, both bills were amended with the resulting Committee Substitutes. SB 742 awaits a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, its second of three stops. HB 815 awaits a hearing before the State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, its second of three stops.
On the property insurance side, the bills clarify that only laws and ordinances enacted on or before the date of a loss are applicable to a particular loss. The trial bar objected to this provision, but a legacy carrier argued it was necessary to make sure any changes in building codes after a hurricane weren’t applied retroactively, forcing insurance companies to pay more for a claim.
Other property insurance changes include:
- Allowing an insurance agent to export a flood insurance policy or endorsement to a surplus lines insurer without first making a diligent effort to seek coverage from three or more authorized insurance companies
- Providing that s. 627.7152 F.S. governing assignment agreements, applies to instruments that assign or transfer post-loss benefits to a service provider that provides scopes of service or inspection services. It also clarifies fees charged by a public adjuster are not included.
- Eliminating mandatory use of the Building Code Effectiveness Scale in residential rate filings
- Authorizing an insurance company to use IBHS or other windstorm construction standards developed by an independent nonprofit scientific research organization when filing premium discounts, credits, and other rate reductions.
- Authorizing an insurance company to require a policyholder who is building or retrofitting a structure to show compliance with windstorm mitigation standards before receiving premium discounts, credits, or rate reductions
- Allowing a rate filing to include a modeling indication that is either a weighted or straight average of two or more models
- Requiring the Florida CAT Fund to reimburse for losses under collateral protection insurance that are equal to the amount of coverage under a lapsed homeowners policy (Return to Top of Page)
Medical Expenses – SB 846 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) is another legal reform bill that would require evidence of medical expenses in personal injury claims be based on the usual and customary charges for such treatment or the amount covered by the claimant’s health insurance and their share of expenses under insurance. Supporters say it will reduce the practice of inflating medical expenses in an attempt to obtain multi-million-dollar payouts for plaintiff attorneys. The bill awaits a hearing in the Health Policy Committee, its second of three stops. A similar bill, HB 561 by Rep. Randy Maggard (R-Pasco) is awaiting its first hearing before the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee. (Return to Top of Page)
Credit for Reinsurance – SB 728 by Senator Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) and the identical bill HB 733 by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R-DeLand) adopt provisions of the NAIC Credit for Reinsurance Model Law, which is based on negotiations between U.S, EU, and UK regulators. It eliminates additional collateral requirements for reinsurers if the reinsurer is domiciled in a “reciprocal jurisdiction.” Capital and surplus requirements and solvency or capital ratio requirements would be determined by administrative rule. The bill requires the assuming insurer to notify the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) if it falls below minimum requirements and agree to be bound by the jurisdiction of Florida courts and pay all final judgments. There are also OIR reporting requirements. You can read the bill analysis here. The House bill has been fast-tracked and unanimously passed the Commerce Committee last Tuesday, its last stop before going to the House floor. The Senate bill was on the calendar of last Thursday’s Rules Committee but was not considered and will be rescheduled. It’s the last stop before going to the Senate floor. (Return to Top of Page)
Civil Liability for COVID-19 Damages ̶ Legislative leaders last week announced a comprehensive agreement on liability protection for businesses, organizations, health care facilities and their workers. House Speaker Chris Sprowls told reporters that the House would accept SB 72 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) which was amended and passed last Thursday by the Senate. Sprowls said it could be sent along to Governor DeSantis for his expected signature into law as soon as later this week.
The bill, which was a successful combination with Brandes’ other bill SB 74 the week before, outlines requirements for a civil action based on a COVID-19-related claim; provides that the plaintiff has the burden of proof in such action; and provides a statute of limitations, severability, and retroactive applicability. The bill also requires a finding of gross negligence and applies a tougher clear and convincing evidence standard.
The bill requires a plaintiff – for other than medical malpractice claims against healthcare providers – have a signed affidavit from a physician attesting COVID transmission came from the defendant before filing suit. Medical malpractice or nursing home-related claims would not require those affidavits. The bill has a good faith provision allowing judges to make the call whether defendants tried to substantially comply with government-issued health safety standards.
Before passing the bill last Thursday, the Senate approved an amendment by Senator Brandes deleting a part of the bill that would have allowed businesses to claim immunity if “supplies, materials, equipment, or personnel necessary to comply with the applicable government-issued health standards or guidance at issue were not readily available or were not available at a reasonable cost.” The bill also has a sunset provision one year and a day after becoming effective and so only impacts lawsuits filed during that time period.
Various amendments offered by Democrats failed, including one that would have changed workers’ compensation insurance laws to include a presumption for healthcare workers who test positive; another would have limited protection for nursing homes with a history of recent state or federal sanctions. The Senate passed SB 72 in a 24-15 vote, with only one Democrat voting with the majority.
The House has still been working to pass its bills related to COVID-19 liability protections. The House passed HB 7 by Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) on March 5 on a bipartisan 83-31 vote. That bill focused exclusively on protections for businesses and organizations. HB 7005, which focused on healthcare workers and facilities, passed the House Judiciary Committee March 10 and was being teed-up for presentation before the full House.
An early March poll by Mason-Dixon and Florida TaxWatch found that 74% of those surveyed say healthcare providers that act in good faith during the pandemic should have lawsuit protection (18% opposed) and 72% agreed that same protection should apply to regular businesses and organizations (20% opposed). (Return to Top of Page)
Motor Vehicle Insurance (PIP) ̶ This is a perennial effort to do away with Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage under Florida’s No-Fault insurance law and replace it with bodily injury (BI) liability coverage. Similar bills failed the last several sessions. SB 54 by Senator Danny Burgess (R- Zephyrhills) would replace the current $10,000 in PIP which covers anyone’s medical bills in an accident and replace it with BI coverage for those other than the driver, with a minimum amount of $25,000 for one injury/death and $50,000 for two or more injuries/deaths. It passed the Banking and Insurance Committee on January 26 where a bad faith amendment was added that would establish standards for third-party claimants. A dispute between the Senate and House about such bad faith provisions sank last year’s effort.
SB 54 went before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 15 which passed the bill with the following changes:
- Low-income motorists and students would be offered reduced coverage of $15,000 for one injury/death and $30,000 for two injuries/deaths.
- Insurance companies would be allowed to offer policies with deductibles up to $200 for windshield repairs, as a disincentive to some auto-glass businesses that offer free gift cards to motorists who agree to questionable repairs and replacements.
The Senate Rules Committee passed the measure on a 12-3 vote on March 11, sending it to the full Senate, where it awaits consideration.
This year’s House bill HB 719 by Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) is similar to SB 54 but like last year’s bill, it has no bad faith provision. It has a bunch of other measures, including revising garage liability insurance requirements, requirements on transportation network companies such as Uber and their drivers and vehicle owners, as well as financial responsibility requirements for owners or lessees of for-hire passenger transportation vehicles. The bill passed the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee on March 11 with an amendment that requires that medical payments coverage must be offered with no deductible. The bill awaits a hearing before the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, its second of three stops. Critics contend that without bad faith reform, repealing PIP could lead to higher costs for consumers and increased litigation.
In late February, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation issued a report at the request of the Commerce Committee, noting that auto premiums continue to increase across all coverages in Florida. The report includes additional information on the potential impact that changes to PIP could have on premiums. (Return to Top of Page)
Demand Letters for PIP ̶ HB 237 by Rep. Keith Truenow (R-Tavares) requires written notice of intent to initiate litigation for relief related to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. It also revises requirements for demand letter for PIP benefits and prohibits actions by & prosecutions on behalf of claimants unless certain requirements are met. The bill awaits its first hearing. There is no identical Senate bill. (Return to Top of Page)
Motor Vehicle Insurance Coverage Exclusions ̶ HB 273 by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) creates a named driver exclusion. It provides private passenger motor vehicle policies may exclude identified individuals from specified coverages and provides exceptions. The bill is awaiting a hearing before the House Commerce Committee, its second and last stop. It has an identical Senate companion in SB 420 by Senator Hooper, which awaits a final stop in the Rules Committee. (Return to Top of Page)
Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program – SB 168 by Senator Ed Hooper (R- Pinellas) continues a controversial program that while on its face appears to “harden” mobile homes from the threat of hurricanes, it has been questioned by many mitigation experts who have said the effectiveness of the $2 million annual program is doubtful. We will keep a close eye on this bill in hopes the legislature will ask for concrete data to show the results of this appropriation post Hurricane Irma. The bill has unanimously passed previous committees and awaits its last stop before the Appropriations Committee. A similar bill, HB 423, by Rep. Kaylee Tuck (R-Sebring) is awaiting a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee, its third of four committee stops. (Return to Top of Page)
Resiliency ̶ SB 514 by Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Lee) establishes the Statewide Office of Resiliency within the Governor’s Office. It also creates the Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force within the resiliency office and authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection to contract for specified services, upon request of the task force. It also requires the Environmental Regulation Commission to take certain action on the task force’s recommendations. This bill contains an appropriation of $500,000. A similar proposal passed the Senate in 2020 but failed to get through House committees. The bill passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously on February 15 and awaits its second stop before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. An identical House companion in HB 315 is awaiting its first hearing. (Return to Top of Page)
Resilient Florida Grant Program – HB 7019 and HB 7021 are at the heart of House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ commitment to combat sea-level rise that spans several legislative bills he’s named the “Always Ready” plan. The bills are sponsored by the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee and Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Miami). The bills unanimously passed their sponsoring subcommittee on March 8 and likewise the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on March 11 and await their final stop in the State Affairs Committee.
The plan follows the Governor’s previous announcement that he’d like to spend $1 billion over the next four years on resiliency projects. The bills recognize that Florida “is particularly vulnerable to adverse impacts from flooding resulting from increases in frequency and duration of rainfall events, storm surge, and sea level rise…that pose economic, social, environmental, and public health and safety challenges to the state.”
HB 7019 would establish the Resilient Florida Grant Program within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and set-aside up to $100 million a year by 2022-2023 for local governments to mitigate effects of rising sea levels through community resilience planning. It also requires the DEP to:
- Complete a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise data set and assessment;
- Develop a three-year Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan and annually submit the plan to the Governor and Legislature;
- Require water management districts to annually submit proposed projects and their requirements to DEP for inclusion in the plan; and
- Require DEP to implement a scoring system for assessing those projects.
The bill also requires the Legislature to review and approve funding for projects, subject to appropriation; authorizes local governments to create regional resilience coalitions to be funded by DEP; and establishes the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. The hub would be required to submit an annual report to the Governor and Legislature. The Office of Economic and Demographic Research would also be required to include specified information relating to inland and coastal flood control in certain assessments & analysis it performs.
HB 7021 establishes the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within DEP to fund the Resilient Florida Grant Program and the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan and all of the parts above.
“We are a low-lying state surrounded by water on three sides, and that water is flowing into places it shouldn’t. Flooding is a real threat to people’s homes, businesses and livelihoods,” said Speaker Sprowls in a news release following passage of the two bills. “The success of our state is inextricably connected to the proper management of water.”
Rep. Cabrera explained to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee that “The effects of flooding are felt all across the state in both coastal and inland communities, and we must address these threats using a coordinated statewide approach, and these bills do just that.” Rep. Cabrera said she’d work with subcommittee members who expressed concern about smaller, budget-constrained communities that may not be able to match the funding bill’s required 50% cost-share threshold.
Governor DeSantis has suggested that some of the new federal stimulus plan money going to Florida could be used to fund these resiliency proposals. Florida is reportedly set to receive about $8 billion in stimulus money.
On the Senate side, a similar bill, SB 1954 by Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Ft. Myers) passed unanimously in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee last Monday. It’s now awaiting a hearing in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, the second of three committee stops. Both Rodrigues and Speaker Sprowls have said they hope to have a bipartisan bill in front of the governor to sign by the end of March. (Return to Top of Page)
Climate and Resiliency Task Force – HB 1623 by Rep. Ben Diamond (D-Pinellas) establishes a Climate & Resiliency Task Force to be headed by the Florida Insurance Commissioner to consider the impact of climate change on the state’s insurance market. This is an exciting development in furtherance of much-needed flood protection and expanded insurance coverage. The Task Force would identify protection gaps in the state’s insurance market and assess and recommend risk-transfer mechanisms and other approaches for reducing, managing, and mitigating climate-related risk. Per the bill, the Task Force “shall consider mechanisms that improve access to affordable property and flood insurance for all residents of the state; apply technology and innovation to the mitigation of climate-related risks; encourage investment in natural infrastructure to reduce climate-related risks to communities; mitigate the effects of extreme heat on agriculture and other businesses throughout the state; and provide coverage for additional living expenses relating to flood damage.” The Task Force would produce a report every two years to the Governor, Cabinet, & Legislature. The bill was filed March 2 and awaits its first hearing in the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee. A similar Senate bill, SB 1872 by Senator Darryl Rouson (D-Hillsborough & Pinellas), was filed two days later and awaits its first hearing before the Banking and Insurance Committee. (Return to Top of Page)
Tourist and Convention Development Taxes – SB 2008 by Senator Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) would make it easier for local governments to fund flood mitigation projects. It authorizes a county to impose both a tourist development tax and convention development tax to finance flood mitigation projects or improvements, and specifies that certain taxing authority expires 5 years after the date the authority was approved in an election. The bill also expands funding capacity by deleting a provision requiring an extraordinary vote of a governing board for a county or sub-county special taxing district to increase its tourist development taxes. It awaits its first hearing in the Community Affairs Committee. A similar bill in the House, HB 1429 by Rep. Bryan Avila (R-Miami Springs), unanimously passed the Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee last Monday and will be heard today at 12:30 pm before the Ways & Means Committee, its second of three committee stops. (Return to Top of Page)
Telehealth Practice Standards – HB 247 by Rep. Tom Fabricio (R-Hialeah) and Rep. Mike Giallombardo (R-Cape Coral) revises the definition of “telehealth” and would allow providers to prescribe controlled substances during telehealth visits. This past Friday, the House bill was amended as a proposed committee substitute that would allow telehealth visits to be audio only and also allow providers to prescribe controlled substances only for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, or receiving hospice care, or for treatment of a psychiatric disorder. The bill will be heard tomorrow at 12:45 pm before the House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee. An identical Senate bill, SB 660 by Senator Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) is awaiting its first hearing. (Return to Top of Page)
Telehealth – SB 700 by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) would require the Agency for Health Care Administration to reimburse the use of telehealth services under certain circumstances and with certain limitations; authorize telehealth providers to prescribe specified controlled substances under certain circumstances; authorize out-of-state physician telehealth providers to engage in formal supervisory relationships with certain non-physician health care practitioners in this state; authorize registered pharmacy technicians to compound and dispense medicinal drugs under certain circumstances; and exempt certain registered pharmacy technicians from specified prohibitions. The bill passed unanimously on February 17 in the Senate Health Policy Committee. It now awaits a hearing in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, its second of three stops. House bill HB 247 (above) is considered comparable for requiring similar AHCA reimbursement. (Return to Top of Page)
Construction Defects – SB 270 by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) revises and expands the mandatory procedures governing how construction defects disputes are resolved. The bill would define the term “material violation” in a warranty and require that a person submit a construction defect claim to the warranty provider before bringing a cause of action; require that a claimant submit a construction defect claim to the warranty provider before serving a notice of claim; authorize a person served with a copy of a notice of claim to perform a reasonable inspection of the property subject to the claim; require, instead of authorize, a person served with a notice to serve a copy of the notice to specified persons under certain circumstances, among other changes. You can read the bill analysis here. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 15 on a 9-1 vote and awaits a hearing in the Community Affairs Committee, it’s second of three stops.
In the House, a similar bill, HB 21 by Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) would also require a claimant to notify a mortgagee or assignee within a specified timeframe after settlement. You can read the bill analysis here. It has narrowly passed its previous committees and is awaiting a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, its last stop before going to the full House. (Return to Top of Page)
Florida Building Code – HB 401 by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R-DeLand) exempts assisted living facilities from compliance with rules relating to lifeguard standards; authorizes substantially affected person to file petition with the Florida Building Commission to review local government regulations and provides requirements for such petition; provides requirements for the commission when considering petition; requires the commission to issue nonbinding advisory opinion within a specified timeframe; authorizes the commission to issue errata to code; prohibits local government from requiring certain contracts for issuance of building permit; and requires evaluation entities that meet certain criteria to comply with certain standards. The bill was passed unanimously on March 2 by the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee and awaits its next hearing before the Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. An identical Senate Bill SB 1146 by Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) is awaiting its first committee hearing. (Return to Top of Page)
LMA Newsletter of 3-22-21