Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

House panel votes to raise the bar for proposed constitutional amendments

A lively debate on governing principles broke out Thursday as a House committee voted unanimously to ask the voters to raise the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution.

HJR 321 would require approval by 66 2/3 percent of the voters to change the state’s foundational document. At present, that requires 60 percent approval.

Sponsor Rick Roth, a freshman Republican from Loxahatchee, acknowledge his proposal would make it harder to change Florida’s basic law.

“I watch politics very closely, and have for 30 years, and it seems like it’s becoming, more and more, who has the money to put something on the ballot,” he said following the 14-0 vote by the Oversight, Transparency, & Administration Subcommittee.

“This is a great opportunity for debate, actually,” Roth said.

As his proposal advances through the legislative and, potentially, electoral process, “people will become more informed, I hope, of what kind of government we have and how important the Constitution is,” he said.

The proposal advances to the Rules & Policy and full Government Accountability committees. There’s a Senate companion bill — SJR 866 by Dennis Baxley.

The change would go to the voters in 2018 if approved by three-fifth of the House and Senate. Of course, more than 60 percent of the voters would have to agree to raise the bar against themselves.

Critics argued the measure would weaken voters’ control over government.

“Why are we continuing to make it harder for our citizens to get something on the ballot in Florida?” wondered Kelly Quintero, of the Florida League of Women Voters.

“We have the most stringent citizens’ initiative in the United States,” said Gail Marie Perry, of the Communications Workers of America.

Medical marijuana activist Melissa Villar called the proposal “an affront to democracy.”

In fact, the medical marijuana initiative on last year’s ballot would have met the proposed threshold — it won 71 percent of the vote in November.

Republican Cary Pigman said there should be a high bar to changing the Constitution. Unlike the legislative process, which allows for changes as bills proceed through the committee process, proposed amendment language is fixed, he said.

“We are a republic of elected representatives,” Pigman said. “I stand for election every two years, and anyone can run against me. And I’m term-limited. That is where the people are heard.”

Blaise Ingoglia echoed the point. “The people’s will is electing representatives to come up here to represent them in our districts,” he said.

“Amending the Constitution should be hard, and it should not be taken lightly. I would submit that amending our Constitution right now is a little too easy.”

Katie Edwards, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, argued the Constitution has become cluttered with provisions the Legislature finds ways not to observe. “That is the real affront to our democracy,” she said.

Still, “after going back and reading this cluttered mess, I’ll support you today,” Edwards told Roth.

In other action, the panel voted, 14-0, for HB 397, creating an exemption in the Sunshine Law for information that would identify victims of sexual harassment in state government.

The subcommittee also voted to tighten internal auditing controls and oversight at local agencies; and to extend Sunshine Law exemptions for Department of Citrus research, peer review panels at two programs researching cancer and other serious ailments, and Social Security and other personal-identification information among unclaimed property administered by the Department of Financial Services.

Background on those bills is available here.

Higher education budget chair favors vocational training as voting begins

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d eight member requests for state funds Wednesday, including programs boosting technical training for people not headed to college and a veterinary lab at the University of Florida.

As did chairmen of other budget panels reviewing member projects (see here and here), Larry Ahern of the higher ed panel warned members that their votes merely rendered the projects eligible for inclusion in the House version of the appropriations act.

It did not guarantee them a place in that bill.

“Let me be clear that a vote for a project today does not mean that project will ultimately be funded at that level or even in the House bill. This is just the next step in the process of developing our budget,” the Seminole Republican said.

Which bills have the best chance of making the cut?

“A compelling state interest is one of the big ones. Is it something that’s already being done somewhere else?” he said. “Ultimately, is this even the right place in the budget for some of these projects?”

Ahern is particularly interested in vocational projects — apprenticeships, internships, other forms of nonacademic training.

“I find those very attractive because of their ability for those not going to college or a university to have a career path that pays a better-than-average wage,” Ahern said.

For example, the panel approved $200,000 for a partnership with car dealers to train young people for relatively high-paying jobs in auto shops. The bill is HB 2235.

(Here’s the background on the bills debated.)

“There is a demand for those jobs, but they’re not able to train enough young adults to fill these jobs,” Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said.

HB 2237 would provide $300,000 to buy a 3D printer for Daytona State College, to train young people for associate of science degrees in “additive manufacturing” — an emerging field.

HB 2273, meanwhile, contains $265,000 for IT and advanced manufacturing training in Baker County.

HB 2225 would authorize $375,000 to organize academic mentoring programs for African American high schoolers in the Big Bend area through Tallahassee Community College. Rep. Ramon Alexander said their graduation rate in the area is 68 percent.

Academic projects included HB 2131, $3 million to establish an Institute for Comparative Veterinary Diagnostics at the University of Florida — essentially, a diagnostic lab. At present there isn’t one in Florida, so tests have to be sent out of state.

HB 2019 would provide $1.5 million for a pediatric research and education program at UF. HB 2057 would allocate $2 million for a neurodegenerative disease program at UF, conducting research into Alzheimer’s disease and related maladies.

The committee approved $1.6 million to expand an honors program at Florida Gulf Coast University (HB 2211).

Ahern is not pre-selecting projects for votes by his subcommittee, as some other chairman are doing. He’s letting his members decide.

“That’s the beauty of this process,” he said.

“A lot of these (projects) previous to this were just put into the budget during a conference committee at the end of the session. There now is the transparency, that the public can view and see and hear” the process.

House won’t change nursing home reimbursement formula this year

The House won’t pursue a proposal to change the way the state reimburses nursing homes caring for Medicaid patients — at least, not this year.

They think the program is not quite cooked yet.

“Although we like the idea of a prospective payment system … perhaps the calculations that were done in that study don’t meet all the needs,” Jason Brodeur, chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, told members Wednesday.

He referred to a plan by Navigant Consulting Inc., under which the state would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

“One of the things I think we could probably do as a committee is maybe commit ourselves to a more intellectually disciplined approach,” Brodeur said. “I think the data exist to get us much tighter and a little bit better.”

Ranking committee Democrat David Richardson agreed.

“It needs more work,” he said.

Brodeur said following his committee’s meeting that the Navigant plan uses cost of living indices only for Broward and Miami-Dade counties and the entire rest of the state.

“Everybody who’s been to Naples and Liberty County knows they probably shouldn’t be in the same payment matrix,” he said.

Navigant proposed a two-year “glide path,” or transition to the new system.

“What you could potentially have is somebody losing millions of dollars and only having two years to absorb that. The committee would probably like more time to look at whether a five-year or six-year glide path would be more reasonable.”

LeadingAge Florida, representing some 400 senior communities, issued a written statement saying the move. The decision would “prevent unnecessary disruptions in nursing home care,” president and CEO Steve Bahmer said.

”High-quality care for Florida’s seniors was at stake, and the committee recognized the complexities of the system and the careful balance needed,” he said.

Bahmer looked forward to working with the Legislature, the state Agency for Health Care Administration and other players “to develop a fair and equitable reimbursement system focused on quality care.”

Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, which represents most state nursing homes, also issued a statement.

“We appreciate chairman Brodeur’s thoughtfulness on how best to move forward with a payment system for Florida’s nursing centers, and agree that any changes this significant require careful consideration of how resident care and center operations will be impacted,” Reed said.

“We still believe a prospective payment system makes sense for Florida’s nursing centers and the state of Florida and look forward to working with both chambers on the best way to proceed,” Reed said.

The subcommittee was one of several that began voting on member projects Wednesday. Among the measure it approved were:

HB 2021, providing around $250,000 for a jobs training center for disabled people serving Orange and Seminole counties.

HB 2067, worth more than $1 million, to provide alternative living arrangements to state mental hospitals for people in eight North Florida counties.

And HB 2075, authorizing $2.9 million for job training, after-school, mental health, and family services for people in six counties clustered around Palm Beach County.

Brodeur cautioned members that yes votes did not guarantee inclusion in the House budget.

“Really, what we did today is make their projects eligible to be in the budget,” he said. “We didn’t pass anything today, as much as make it eligible for future budget consideration.”

House Transportation and Tourism panel begins vetting member projects

The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee began voting on nearly $500 million in member project bills Wednesday, as its chairman warned that the panel’s approval does not guaratee a project will make it into the final House budget bill.

“Our point here is to try to vet these to the extent we can in the time that we have,”  Rep. Clay Ingram told committee members.

“As we pass or don’t pass them, it doesn’t mean they are going to be in the House bill, but it makes them eligible,” he said. “I think we’ve had in the neighborhood of 300 bills filed, and a whole lot more in the queue ready to be filed before session starts.”

Actually, House members had requested 319 projects worth $708 million by the House’s Feb. 7 deadline. The various appropriations subcommittees began culling the herd Wednesday.

Ingram said he had sidelined some projects that he knew just wouldn’t fly.

“My first paring down was looking at the bills. There are a whole lot that we just didn’t even consider to be brought up. The bills that were presented today are bills that I thought had merit and had already been vetted to some extent,” Ingram said.

He deep-sixed projects if he thought “the amounts were just absurdly too high, or it was not something I felt the House as a body would be comfortable funding,” he said.

“I tried to make it clear that this was one more step in vetting a project. It doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be in the House bill, but it’s one more step in the process.”

Among the bills that will move along are measures that would designate a portion of State Road 408 in Orange County the Arnold Palmer Expressway, for about $1,000 from the Department of Transportation budget; spend $2 million for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, bike lanes, and other road improvements in Venice; and spend $200,000 to erect solar lighting on a road in western Broward County to help prevent cars running into a canal.

Another $3 million would support “community catalyst” projects statewide to help neighborhoods recover from the foreclosure crisis. Some $3 million would finance repairs and restoration of the St. Marks Lighthouse, in Walkulla County. A restoration project at an historic school in Hernando, in Citrus County, would get $396,400.

Additionally, the Taylor House African American museum in Tallahassee’s Frenchtown neighborhood would get around $200,000.

Ingram said House leaders have not yet told him how much money he will have to spend.

“Those decisions are made by the presiding officers before they present the allotted amounts to each subcommittee,” he said.

 

Judicial term limits, death penalty bills clear final House committee votes

Bills that would require unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty, and ask voters whether to impose term limits on appellate judges, were headed to the House floor following their approval Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The death penalty bill attracted a single “no” vote, and that was from Democrat Joe Geller, who said he would never again support any proposal that would “keep the horror of a death penalty.”

The judicial term limits bill passed on a vote of 11-8. The only Republicans to vote against it were Jay Fant and George Moraitis Jr.

The committee also approved HB 65, which would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators and their enablers in state court; and HB 301, requiring the Florida Supreme Court to report each year to the the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders the number of cases still pending 180 days after oral argument.

HB 527, the death penalty bill, answers qualms by the Florida Supreme Court about putting people to death absent unanimous jury recommendations. In October, the court struck down a law allowing executions upon 10-2 jury votes.

Only Monday, the court said executions could proceed in cases where that wasn’t a factor.

“We’ve had paralysis in our death penalty cases until yesterday,” said sponsor Chris Sprowls, who chairs the committee.

The Palm Harbor Republican said that, when he was a prosecutor, uncertainty regarding the penalty for murder was painful to victims’ families.

In sending the bill to the floor, “we would do just our small role for these families, in ensuring we have a death penalth statute that is constitutional, legal, and that these cases can move forward.”

The committee voted after death penalty opponents — including a man exonerated after serving on death row, and the mother of a murder victim — argued for abolition of capital punishment.

HJR 1, the term limits bill by Eustis Republican Jennifer Sullivan, would need approval by three-fifths of the House and Senate to appear on the ballot, where it would become a constitutional amendment upon approval by 60 percent of the voters.

It would limit judges of the district courts of appeal and justices of the Florida Supreme Court to 12 years in office.

Representatives of an array of legal groups — including the Florida Bar, the Florida Board of Trial Advocates and the Florida Justice Reform Institute — warned it would discourage bright lawyers from seeking the bench and interfere with judicial independence.

The latter argument struck a cord with Tallahassee Democrat Ramon Alexander.

“There was a time when people who look like me weren’t allowed to vote,” he said. “Because of the independent judiciary, I am afforded the opportunity to sit here today.”

Yalaha Republican Larry Metz said judges should be subject to term limits, the same as governors and legislators.

“With respect to the judiciary, one might argue, well, they’re not policymakers,” he said.

“But I would say that appellate judges in Florida — not all of them, but many of them — act as policymakers; they actually legislate from the bench.”

Supporters including Sullivan argued the bill would promote accountability — and noted that the proposal would merely place the question before the voters.

“At the end of the day, leave it to the voters of Florida decision,” she said.

Flood insurance, HMO liability legislation clear Senate committee

A Senate committee approved bills Tuesday that would encourage Florida insurers to write flood insurance as an alternative to expensive federal coverage, and would allow patients to sue HMOs for declining to cover doctors’ treatment recommendations in bad faith.

“Why shouldn’t the HMOs be held liable for the decisions they make and the doctors aren’t making, and people are dying? I just don’t think that’s equitable,” said Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican behind SB 262, the HMO bill.

Existing law exempts HMOs from liability for treatment decisions by doctors with whom them contract to treat patients.

“What other businesses are prohibited by law from being sued from decisions they make that actually kill people?” Steube said following the committee’s 6-3 vote to approve his bill.

The measure would repeal legal protections for HMOs for vicarious liability for medical negligence unless the doctor is an employee. It also would create a cause of action for bad-faith refusal to provide a treatment recommended by a doctor.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat and a trial attorney from Broward County, said he entered the law after the mother of the best man at his wedding died after being denied a new treatment for the fatal side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I just do not believe a good-faith argument can be made that in a situation like that, an HMO cannot be held liable,” Farmer said.

Representatives of a number of medical professional organizations endorsed the bill, while insurance and business interests warned it would inflate coats for insurance companies and the state, through Medicaid and Medicare.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, expressed sympathy with those qualms.

“It’s going to increase costs to the state and policyholders,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Brandes sponsored the flood insurance bill — SB 420.

Existing law allows insurers to offer flood policies through 2019 without having to wait for the Office of Insurance Regulation to review their rates. Brandes’ bill would extend that until 2025.

Farmer said he agreed with Brandes in theory, but worried the measure would encourage growth of unregulated surplus lines insurance — designed for “sophisticated” customers to protect against unique risks — “Liberace’s fingers. Dan Marino’s knees. Things of that nature.”

“We want more admitted carriers to write,” Brandes said following the 7-1 vote in favor his his bill. He referred to policies requiring pre-approval by regulators.

“But we also understand that surplus line carriers are writing, as well.”

And the bill encourages regulated insurers to enter the market.

“We’re offering them more flexibility in rates and forms. We’re making sure they are well-capitalized companies. But we want to create the right ecosystem for them to thrive in Florida.”

 

State economists see tourism growth canceling out lagging housing starts

Nothing emerged during a numbers-crunching exercise by state economists Tuesday to change the economic picture the Legislature will confront this year — growth in tourism and slack housing starts will offset each other as overall growth produces about $31 billion in general revenues.

“Those are going to compensate for each other. So, overall, you end up about where you were, on the same path where we were heading,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Together with unspent money left over from the current fiscal year, legislators will have about $32.3 billion in general revenues to spend during the fiscal year that begins July 1. That doesn’t count taxes and fees that feed trust funds dedicated to specific programs.

“Florida has been moving in lock step in line with our forecasts for several years now. We have not really had any big surprises. I think that will continue to be the case,” Baker said.

“It’s positive, from the fact that we continue to see some strength. But it’s not going to change what they’re facing this year.”

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $83.5 billion state budget for next fiscal year, but House appropriations subcommittees are taking a more pessimistic view of state revenues and are looking for programs to trim.

Economists from Baker’s office, the Legislature and the governor’s office reviewed data suggesting growth of about 4.5 percent in the tourism sector, notwithstanding declines in overseas visitors, including Canadians. Yet a long-anticipated increase in housing starts has yet to materialize.

Multifamily housing starts ought to be growing faster than they are, Baker said — particularly given young people’s penchant to cluster in rental apartments in cities. The economists suspected a lag time to put together construction deals. Or perhaps builders were awaiting the results of the presidential election.

Overall, construction “is growing with population growth, because our population is growing. But the amount it grows per new person is pretty steady,” Baker said.

“Even with the ginormous growth rate we’ve had — we’ve had double-digit growth rates for three of the last four years — we’re still nowhere back to normal.”

The prospect is for weak private housing starts through next fiscal year. “But then we have really good growth rates next year. So you’re coming back to where we were” before the recession “and going slightly ahead” in years to come.

Zika virus has not seriously crimped tourism, but Baker hadn’t expected that it would yet. The economists last considered the Zika factor last fall — going into the winter, when mosquito activity declines.

“The question is, as we go back into a higher period of time for mosquito activity, will we start off with no Zika effect or will we get back pretty fast to where we were, with an increase,” she said.

“Because we think of it as a black swan” — a big surprise — “we’re not building a Zika problem into our forecast. But that would be a threat because it’s such a strong part of our forecast.”

Bill Nelson seems undaunted by prospect of primary challengers

Is Sen. Bill Nelson up for a contested Democratic primary in his re-election bid next year?

“You want to do a contest on pull-ups or push-ups?” Nelson replied to a reporter who asked that question during an informal news conference in Tallahassee Monday.

News reports have mentioned Tim Canova, who tried and failed to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Congress, former U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith, and state Sen. Randolph Bracy as primary challengers to Nelson, 74, widely seen as a moderate at a time when his party is enflamed by anti-Donald Trump fervor.

Nelson pointed to 2000, when Republicans lured state House Democratic leader Willie Logan into an independent race, hoping to divert enough African American votes to throw the election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack to their candidate.

“With about five candidates in the race, he got something like 1 percent of the vote,” Nelson said.

Nelson visited Tallahassee to speak to STEM students at Florida A&M University and deliver a pep talk to the Senate Democratic caucus.

“My message is going to be: It’s worth it to keep fighting for your values.”

He acknowledged re-election won’t be easy — particularly if Gov. Rick Scott gets in as expected and invests some of his personal fortune.

“We have to assume that the Democratic candidates for governor and in my race for the Senate will always be outspent,” Nelson said.

“In the federal races, you have so many of these unlimited, undisclosed PACs. It makes it harder for me to raise large sums of money. Until the Supreme Court changes that or Congress does, it will be an imbalance.”

Will Trump be a factor?

“You’re guess is as good as mine,” he said.

Democratic senators must defend 10 states that Trump won, including Florida. Nelson observed that many of those margins were quite close — 116,000 in Florida, 50,000 in Pennsylvania, 30,000 in Michigan, and 10,000 in Wisconsin.

And this — “You omitted the big factor. Charles Schumer. He’s a money-making machine,” Nelson said, referring to his Senate party leader.

He praised Stephen Bittel, the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising ability — not easy, he said, in a state where Republicans dominate government and the lobbying corps.

“Stephen, he’ll go around the lobbying corps,” Nelson said. “He’ll go to all his outside contacts.”

Nelson talked up legislation he and Marco Rubio have filed that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess and redistribute shares of the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola river system to be fair to Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

And he warned that turning Medicaid into a block grant program, as many Republicans in Washington and Tallahassee would like to do, would deal a “double whammy” on poor people in states like Florida, which didn’t expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Nursing homes fighting plan to eliminate certificate of need program

The top legislative priority for Florida’s nursing homes this year is to kill a proposal, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, to repeal a requirement that they demonstrate a demand for new beds before they can expand or build new facilities.

SB 676, by Rob Bradley, and CS/HB 7 by Alex Miller, and would eliminate the certificate of need program at the Agency for Health Care Administration for all health care facilities.

Eliminating the requirement for nursing homes “would be extremely disruptive,” Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Asztalos told reporters during a briefing Monday.

The association, which represents 82 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in Florida, fears competition from newer, shinier “Taj Mahal” facilities would drive down occupancy rates.

That’s what happened in Texas, where the occupancy rate hit 70 percent after the state scrapped its certificate of occupancy requirement, Asztalos said.

In Indiana, eliminating the requirement led to the construction of “so many buildings that they were looking at taxpayer money to buy buildings to take them off line,” he said.

“We don’t want to see Florida make the same mistakes,” Asztalos said.

Staffing levels would be “watered down,” said Rob Greene, CEO of Palm Garden Healthcare, which operates a network of facilities.

The association would like to see expansion limited to about 3,750 beds through July 2017, targeted to areas where they’re needed.

Free-market advocates, including Scott, argue an open marketplace would lower costs and increase quality.

“The government sets our rates. If there were a true free market, we would set our rates that the state would pay us for our care. But how do you have a free market where they set our rates?” Asztalos said.

The existing system is in the best interests of nursing homes, he conceded, but it also serves the state’s policy of placing patients in home- or community-based care.

“It’s not like nursing home A is going to steal beds from nursing home B. You’re going to look for people with high acuity who are in assisted living facilities, who are eligible for nursing home care or in home- or community-based care.”

“It’s really a bad idea,” said Emmett Reed, executive director of the association.

“I understand the free-market concept. But this is a public-private partnership. This is not a true free-market business we’re in.

He added: “I think that, philosophically, the governor wants to get it all on the table, to have the discussion. At the end of day, I think, he may have a reasonable ear for nursing homes when we discuss it with him.”

In other priorities, the association supports a proposed prospective payment reimbursement system — paying facilities on a per diem basis tied to factors including patient care and quality.

But it would like a three-year phase-in and more incentives to increase room size and build other improvements.

Additionally, representatives of the organization said, the state could save $68.2 million by exempting long-stay nursing home residents from Florida’s managed care system when it is demonstrated they can’t be moved to less intensive care settings.

Legislation introduced in Senate would tighten protections against AOBs

Legislation sought by regulators, insurance, and business interests to reform assignment of benefits agreements finally dropped Friday — and the first thing it would do is bar attorney fee awards to contractors who use those contracts to sue insurers.

“Nothwithstanding any other law, as to suits based on claims arising under property insurance policies, attorney fees may not be awarded … in favor of any person or entity seeking relief against the insurer pursuant to an assignment agreement,” the bill says.

The provision in SB 1038, by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, would deliver a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

They blame litigation arising from AOB agreements for rising property insurance premiums, alleging abuse by unscrupulous contractors.

The measure also contains provisions shielding policyholders from abuse. For example, they could rescind any such agreement within seven days and would be shielded from liens by contractors seeking the difference between what the insurer pays and the cost of repairs.

Officials at the insurance office did not reply to a request for comment.

“OIR is leading the effort on the AOB legislation,” said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. “We have been working closely with OIR and other stakeholders to put together a proposal we believe will meaningfully benefit consumers.”

Contractors have argued that they need AOBs to ensure they are paid.

And Jee Jacobson, vice chairman of the Florida Justice Association Property Insurance Committee, said in a written statement that the bill would burden policyholders.

“This irresponsible legislation picks insurance companies as winners and makes homeowners losers. It is the insurance industry’s wish list,” he said.

“Under this legislation, homeowners in desperate need of emergency repairs would have to either provide large amounts of cash up front, or face having liens placed on their property,” he said. “That is because contractors making emergency home repairs will no longer agree to deal directly with the homeowners’ insurance company for payment.”

The bill would require that policyholders be given a copy of any AOB agreement. It gives contractors three days to deliver copies to the insurance companies, and requires them to submit written, itemized cost estimates.

Contractors would be barred from charging cancellation fees or other administration fees.

Before a contractor could sue, he or she would have to submit to a deposition under oath about the work done, the costs, and the details of the AOB agreement. They could be forced into arbitration.

“Notwithstanding any other law, the acceptance by a person of any assignment agreement constitutes a waiver by the assignee or transferee … of any and all claims against all named insureds for payment arising from the specified loss,” the bill says.

“Except that all named insureds remain responsible for the payment of any deductible amount provided for by the terms of the insurance policy and for the cost of any betterment ordered by all named insureds.”

The provisions would not apply when a policyholder assigns insurance rights to someone who buys the property — or to management companies, family members, or guardians empowered to act on the policyholder’s behalf.

Trial attorneys support “efforts to curb problems with water mediation and other issues with first-party insurance,” but “taking away people’s property rights is not the answer to this problem,” Jacobson said.

“The solution is simple: Good contractors should be able to require Insurance companies to keep their word to their customers and stop denying and underpaying legitimate claims – and if they don’t, the homeowner shouldn’t have to be burdened with liens and lawsuits.”

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