Here’s your final FJA Legislative Update
The handkerchiefs finally dropped Monday to mark the official end of the 2017 Florida legislative session. The consideration of substantive bills ended Friday evening. Reviewing the results of the session, it’s clear that thanks to the tireless work of the Florida Justice Association (FJA) leaders, staff and allies, big insurance and Florida’s corporate CEOs did not accomplish their goals on tort reform.
We entered the 2017 session with a proactive agenda to address important challenges facing Florida regarding implementing responsibility-based auto insurance, reforming workers’ compensation so it protects workers, protecting homeowners’ rights and promoting court system efficiency.
Although we are disappointed that the proactive legislation did not pass, we are happy to report that all the major “tort reform” type legislation also did not pass. Most of the anti-civil justice legislation died during the early part of Session. We did have a last-minute scare when an amendment to cap attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases appeared in the last week of Session.
We now begin work to push again for proactive victories in 2018. Since the 2018 Session will be in January, we expect pre-Session committee meetings to start in less than six months.
2017: Failure for Big Insurance and Corporate Florida
Unfamiliar with being on defense, the insurance and corporate lobby engaged in “scorched earth” tactics where they engaged in scare tactics and even attacked lawmakers who didn’t fall in line with their views.
Their guiding principle for 2017 was a golden oldie: Attack lawyers with a vengeance.
Enacting caps on attorneys’ fees and eroding consumer protections offered under s. 627.428. F.S. were at the heart of just about every proposal from Florida’s business and insurance interests.
This one-note approach stood in sharp contrast to the well-reasoned, comprehensive and policy-oriented approach we took on issues that matter to every day Floridians.
From Assignment of Benefits to workers’ compensation and numerous issues in between, on behalf of consumers, the FJA raised its voice to empower hard-working Floridians and their families and protect their right to hold big insurance and deep-pocket corporations accountable when they make bad decisions that cause harm.
More Work to Do
On auto insurance reform, there was a time when the idea of accomplishing requirements of mandatory bodily injury liability auto insurance was a distant dream. This issue was still in play late on Friday and we worked until the final hour to pass legislation to have Florida join the 48 other states that require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance. We are encouraged by the overwhelming support of the House for this critical reform measure. We are poised to make this dream a reality in the 2018 session.
We also will move forward on stalled issues, such as legislation to strengthen laws to curb human trafficking, the repeal of tobacco’s sweetheart bond deal, and to allow for prejudgment interest on noneconomic damages in civil cases.
Lawmakers will be back in September to prepare for the 2018 session. We have hard battles ahead of us. We need every civil justice advocate in Florida engaged as we fully expect the insurance and business-led attacks on attorneys to continue.
So please, join us in this campaign to protect civil justice in Florida. Your active involvement in the coming months is critical as we lay the groundwork for more success in 2018.
The Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of former Senator Frank Artiles will be filled through a special election this summer. The Primary will be held on July 25, and the General will be held September 26. Rumored to be running in the seat will be Republicans Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz in the Republican Primary. Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez has also announced, and there are rumors of other local Democrats looking at running. The seat is Democratic-leaning (54.5% Obama performance in 2012), though Republicans won the seat in 2016 and also have a strong track record in special elections. Currently the Senate’s membership consists of 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats.
There are will also be special elections in Miami held for the House members leaving the House to run for this Senate seat, just as there will also be a special election for the seat vacated by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle due to his appointment to Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Eisnaugle seat is based in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando and is a Republican-performing seat.
Key FJA Achievements for 2017
Mandatory Bodily Injury: The Florida House of Representatives passed FJA-endorsed legislation by Rep. Erin Grall to repeal PIP and replace it with a requirement for Florida drivers to carry $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident in bodily injury liability insurance. While legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee unfortunately stalled in the Senate, the issue is well positioned for favorable consideration in 2018.
Ridesharing Liability: The legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott (HB 221) includes FJA’s proposed liability coverage that requires ridesharing companies to have up to $1 million in commercial auto liability insurance between the time a driver has accepted a rider and dropping off the rider. At other times, ridesharing companies must have liability insurance coverage for their drivers of at least $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage while the driver has the app on and is waiting for a customer.
Workers’ Compensation: Fought to the wire to defeat repeated attempts by insurance and corporate lobbyists to limit injured workers’ access to courts. In a strong alliance with Florida Workers Advocates and the AFL-CIO, FJA provided consistent support for increasing benefits for injured workers, promoting injured workers with choice in choosing physicians, and championing ratemaking reform to provide true relief for employers. We will continue to stand up for injured workers as we work toward renewed legislative action on this issue.
Assignment of Benefits: Protected a key property right by stopping the insurance industry’s attempts to restrict the ability of homeowners to engage emergency remediation services through assignment of benefits agreements.
Construction Defects: Stood up for struggling homeowners by pushing to defeat a late industry attempt to shorten the statute of limitations or repose period.
Limitations in Medical Payments: Defended patients’ rights by preventing legislation to change how damages are calculated in personal injury or wrongful death actions.
Elder Abuse Teams: Stood up for vulnerable senior citizens and the public’s “right to know” by defeating an attempt to promote secrecy around activities of proposed elder abuse fatality review teams.