Legislative committee meetings of Feb. 18-22 into start of session
The Florida House and Senate held their last of six “committee weeks” from February 18-22 to hear proposed legislation making its way through the process. With the formal 2019 legislative session beginning tomorrow, the full House and Senate will begin meeting in their respective chambers in “floor session” for final consideration of bills throughout the 60-day session, while committee meetings continue.
With the deadline having passed for filing new bills, the total bill count is 3,244, of which almost half (1,609) are appropriations bills, a much higher number than we’ve seen in recent years.
Below is the master list of bills that we are following so far this session, which has grown since the last edition and may grow a bit more as other bills gain attention. We’ll present these each week in their entirety in Bill Watch, with updates noted in red font. Also, to make it easier right up front to note what’s new or has changed in any given week, we are adding a section here at the top noting which bills saw movement in the past week along with a handy “return to top of page” link after each updated section, so you can easily find and go to the next updated issue, instead of reading the entire Bill Watch.
- The main Assignment of Benefits (AOB) reform bill has been revised in hopes of breaking an impasse.
- The insurance omnibus bill is moving ahead and will be heard Wednesday.
- A bill providing a dedicated tax source for Hurricane Michael recovery funding will be heard this week.
- Communications While Driving has now become Driving While Distracted and includes applying makeup!
- Glitch bills pertaining to flood insurance notices in homeowners policies are swimming along.
Assignment of Benefits (AOB) – The 2019 session marks the seventh legislative session that AOB reform has been considered. The main AOB bill, Sen. Broxson’s SB 122, was originally crafted to simply remove 3rd parties from standing in the shoes of policyholders for lawsuit purposes by removing the incentive of one-way attorney fees for anyone other than the named insured or named beneficiary on the policy. At the February 11 meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee that Sen. Broxson chairs, Sen. Tom Lee filed an amendment that would take away that fix and instead provide some limited requirements for 3rd parties to comply with the “Duties After a Loss” in property insurance policy provisions. SB 122 was temporarily postponed as a result.
On March 1 a substitute bill was submitted, following reported meetings between Senator Broxson and Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. David Simmons (R-Longwood) to resolve the stalemate. Among other provisions, the revised bill proposes what a post-loss AOB can contain from the current unregulated format. Then it puts in some additional requirements, such as notifying the insurance company within three days of the execution of an AOB; lets the consumer rescind the AOB within 14 days or within 30 days if no work is started, without penalty or financial consequences; and allows communication between the policyholder and the insurance company – something current agreements do not allow.
The revised bill also addresses attorney fees, by allowing attorney fees to the prevailing party, defined in the bill as the “party that prevails on significant issues of the case” as so determined by the court. It holds the consumer harmless in signing an AOB and requires the vendor waive any and all claims against the consumer. The revised bill defines the legislative intent of this legislation as addressing the dramatic increase in assignment of benefits litigation by nonparties to property and auto insurance. The intent was included as future guidance to a court of law that may have to rule on its use.
The bill will be heard this afternoon at 3:30pm before the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee.
The one-way attorney fee law requires insurance companies to pay the attorney fees of policyholders who sue their company and prevail – even if the award or settlement is just one-dollar more than a previous payment or offer. It was meant to protect policyholders’ legal rights but has been used and abused by third-party contractors and attorneys to sue carriers with or without a policyholder’s permission.
This bill is changing and could do so again significantly throughout the session depending on stakeholder input/feedback, testimony during committee hearings, and other negotiations. We will keep you posted.
Another AOB bill, 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 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.
We are following all of these AOB bills and will report on developments as they occur.
Many believe a solution to AOB abuse must also involve reform of Florida’s Bad Faith law. We’ve covered this on The Florida Insurance Roundup podcast episode on Bad Faith (and listening to former OIR General Counsel Belinda Miller’s comment beginning at 11:42 into the program is instructive about the market being “out of balance.”)
(For a recap of last year’s failed reform efforts, read LMA Backgrounder: Assignment of Benefits (AOB) 2018. For the complete picture of AOB Abuse in Florida and what we’re doing about it, visit our AOB webpage.) (Return to top of page)
Omnibus Insurance Bill – This session’s “catch-all” bill for everything else insurance is HB 301 filed by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) and includes some of the elements of Senator Broxson’s SB 122 one-way attorney fee bill. The bill is scheduled to be heard this Wednesday before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, its second stop. Some items in the bill 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 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. That dispute continues with expected debate in this Wednesday’s hearing. 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. A similar bill in the Senate SB 714, by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas), has not been heard. (Return to top of page)
Citizens Property Insurance – Lowering Citizens rates in Monroe County and other counties deemed by the Office of Insurance Regulation as lacking a reasonable degree of competition and designated as an area of critical state concern is likewise what SB 1476 by Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is all about. The bill caps annual rate increases in those counties to 5%. 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. An identical bill in the House (HB 1145) has been filed by Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo).
Insurance Proceeds Held by Mortgagees – 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.
Fair Settlement Act – 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 is 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.
Bodily Injury Liability – SB 896 by Senator Jeff Brandes is titled, “Responsible Roadways Act,” and eliminates Personal Injury Protection coverage after a certain date. 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. (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.) SB 896 has not been heard.
Hurricane Michael Reimbursement – Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) whose district includes some of the worst hit areas of the storm, 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 is scheduled before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee tomorrow.
In the House, Rep. Brad Drake (R-DeFuniak Springs) has filed HB 191, to 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 is $100 million. 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. HB 191 has not been heard.
Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) last week filed his 44th bill 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. Kudos to Rep. Trumbull for his leadership in this area. (Return to top of page)
Property Insurance Coverage for Explosions – 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.
Tiny Homes – 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.
Courts – SB 328 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) seeks to shift court cases that are now heard in county court to be heard in the circuit 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 the delay. The bill was unanimously passed by the Judiciary Committee in February and awaits a hearing in the Infrastructure and Security Committee. HB 337 by Rep. Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) is similar, with both bills looking to shift the docket makeup of county and circuit courts with the aim to redistribute caseload to purportedly make the court system more efficient. This bill has not been heard in committee.
Autonomous Vehicles – 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. SB 660 in the Senate by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) is comparable. Neither bill has been heard in a committee.
Red Tide – 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. An identical bill (HB 1135) has been filed in the House by Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte).
Driving While Distracted (formerly Communications While Driving) – Where efforts failed last year to make texting while driving a primary offense (from the current secondary offense, where you can be ticketed during a traffic stop made for another reason), this year’s efforts so far are concentrated on the much broader distracted driving created by any wireless communications device.
SB 76 by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and HB 107 by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), essentially bar any hand-held devices while driving. SB 76, creates the “Florida Ban on Wireless Communications Devices While Driving Law”; prohibiting a person from operating a motor vehicle while listening or talking on a wireless communications device for the purpose of voice interpersonal communication. It also makes it a primary offense. So instead of just prohibiting texting, it would include listening or talking on such a device for voice as well as non-voice communication.
In the original bill, physically touching and holding the phone would be against the law. The new bill takes out that specificity, making it a noncriminal violation for “Driving While Distracted” – defined as the inattentive operation of a motor vehicle. Inattentive or distracted driving includes reading, writing, performing personal grooming, applying a beauty aid or similar products, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using a personal wireless communications device, or engaging in any other activity, conduct, task, or matter that is considered distracting the driver’s attention from the road.
SB 76 passed unanimously in the Infrastructure and Security Committee on February 19; HB 107 has yet to be heard. (Return to top of page)
Concealed Weapons Licenses – 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.
Property-Assessed Clean Environment – HB 63 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers), would allow the use of Property-Assessed Clean Environment (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 – 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.
Attorney Fees in Injunctions – 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 is awaiting its first hearing.
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 will a pending House companion bill. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on February 19. The House companion, HB 617 is scheduled to be heard Thursday before the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee. (Return to top of page)
Disclosure of Sinkhole Activity – 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.
Red Light Cameras – 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 and is awaiting a hearing in the Appropriations Committee. There’s a similar bill (SB 622) in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Brandes, that is awaiting its first hearing. 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.
Possession of Firearms on School Property – 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 has not had a hearing.
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 has not had a hearing.
Pet Leasing – 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 3-4-19