Michael Moline – Page 2 – 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.
COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Dorothy Hukill, Kathleen Passidomo recognized for roles in insurance debate

Sens. Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo are the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida’s Legislative Champions for 2018.

The organization recognized the pair “for work on issues impacting Florida insurance consumers” during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“The consumer protections that did occur this year would not have been possible without the initiative of these lawmakers,” PIFF President Michael Carlson said in a written statement.

“Sen. Passidomo worked to protect a competitive auto market in Florida by thwarting attempts to throw all auto crash claims into courthouses,” he said.

“Sen. Hukill acted on behalf of consumers, working to protect them from paying higher rates driven by inflated property insurance claims involving water and roofing losses. We are grateful for their support in tackling problems taking place in the insurance market, and have seen the prevention of further harm with their leadership.”

The PIFF Policy Group, comprising representatives of Allstate Insurance Cos., Farmers Insurance, the Progressive Group of Insurance Cos., and State Farm Insurance Co., voted to bestow the honor.

PIFF cited Hukill, a Republican from Port Orange, for supporting the priorities of the Consumer Protection Coalition — a Florida Chamber of Commerce-led business coalition in which PIFF participates, including assignment of benefits reform.

“Although her bill, SB 62, was never heard in committee, it served as a vehicle for real ‘silver bullet’ solutions to stop the rampant AOB abuse in Florida. While a solution is still needed, no further harm was done this year,” the federation said.

“I am honored to be recognized for consumer-focused efforts, and consider it my duty to advocate for policies that protect Floridians,” Hukill said. “I will continue to work toward a solution that ensures when families are in an auto or home crisis they are protected, and the AOB process is transparent and held accountable.”

Passidomo, a Naples Republican, sponsored amendments the federation credited with helping to sink legislation (SB 150) that would have repealed Florida’s personal injury protection auto-insurance mandate. Her proposals would have made it tougher to sue insurers for bad faith.

“I am humbled to be recognized with my good friend, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, for our shared concerns of constituents and consumers throughout the State of Florida,” Passidomo said.

PIFF identified eight legislators in 2017, the first year it recognized Legislative Champions.

Rick Scott refuses to be pinned down on school safety legislation

As the House debated the post-Parkland bill Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott refused to commit to signing it.

“As you know, the bill is still being debated. When the bill makes it to my desk, I’m going to do what they don’t seem to be doing in Washington. I’m going to review the bill line by line,” Scott told reporters following a Cabinet meeting.

“The group that I’m going to be talking to — the group that I care about the most because it has impacted them so much — is the families,” he said.

Would he sign the bill (SB 7026) as it now exists?

“They’re still debating it. I’m going to take my time and read the bill,” said Scott, a Naples Republican.

He did allow this much: “I’ve been clear. I don’t believe that we should be arming teachers.

“I think we ought to be increasing our law enforcement presence. I want a law enforcement presence at all of our schools, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. What the Senate did two days ago was a step in the right direction. But, again, I’m going to read the bill.”

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House defeated a series of amendments, including one on a “guardian program” that would train and arm school staff, excluding full-time classroom teachers. The chamber took up the measure on final passage Wednesday.

The legislation is in response to the deaths of 17 teenagers and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County.

Earlier, during the Cabinet meeting, Scott called upon the fathers of two teenagers killed at Parkland — Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter, Alaina, 14; and Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow, 18.

The men have been lobbying the Legislature this week.

“A lot of them were very receptive yesterday,” Pollack told reporters afterward, saying they’re willing to put politics aside.

“By looking today at the votes, you’re going to know which politicians have another agenda than taking care of their communities and our children,” he said.

“They’re not concerned about mental illness in the schools. They’re not concerned about giving the police the right to be able to Baker Act somebody and take away their weapons. They have other agendas. We’ll have to ask them what it is.”

Added Petty: “Our ask is that the Florida House come together as the families have, and pass this legislation.”

Senate subcommittee puts PIP repeal legislation on life support

A budget subcommittee voted Wednesday to kill the Senate’s no-fault insurance repeal bill. But the condition is not necessarily terminal.

The panel’s chairwoman voted no even though she favored the measure and then moved to pass it temporarily. That would allow her to call for additional hearings on the bill later on, when perhaps it might find more support.

That said, SB 150, by Republican Tom Lee, attracted a single yes vote.

“I voted against the bill to ensure that, procedurally, I would be on the prevailing side. So that we could keep the issue around,” Miami Republican Anitere Flores, chair of the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, said.

“It was fairly obvious that the bill did not have votes in its current format to pass,” she said.

So the bill is dead, a reporter suggested.

“It’s not. Nothing is dead until day 60,” Flores said.

The at least temporary outcome followed a string of somewhat confusing votes on a series of amendments, including one by Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo that would have dropped a requirement that motorists buy mandatory medical coverage.

It failed on a voice vote — appearing to suggest support for the underlying measure.

The committee even approved an amendment by St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson to raise the “med pay” mandate to $15,000 before voting to tank the measure.

That mandate was among the business community’s principal objections to the bill. The amendment also contained language intended to discourage lawsuits alleging bad faith by insurance companies.

But it retains higher coverage levels against bodily injury liability than a House version of the legislation proposes. The House bill lacks a “med pay” mandate.

Senate amendment would drop ‘med pay’ mandate, as attack on PIP repeal bill widens

An advertising onslaught against the Senate version of no-fault auto insurance repeal broadened Wednesday, even as a committee prepared to take up an amendment dropping a requirement that motorists buy mandatory medical coverage.

That mandate was among the business community’s principal objections to the bill. The amendment also contains language intended to discourage lawsuits alleging bad faith by insurance companies.

But it retains higher coverage levels against bodily injury liability than a proposed House version. The House bill lacks a “med pay” mandate.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services was to take up the new language Wednesday afternoon. The committee’s chairwoman, Miami Republican Anitere Flores, has expressed reluctance to drop med pay.

Meanwhile, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America launched a video campaign encouraging Floridians to lean on their lawmakers to oppose the Senate legislation (SB 150). The move came two days after the Florida Chamber of Commerce began airing similar sentiments.

The PCI ad blames fraud and distracted driving for pushing up premiums for personal injury protection, or PIP, insurance.

“We must protect our policyholders, and SB 150 does nothing to fix these real underlying problems, and instead could end up costing you even more,” it says. The ad urges viewers to contact their legislators in support of “a better solution to protect Florida policyholders.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager for PCI, said in a written statement that SB 150 “could actually wipe away years of cost-saving reforms and further increase the cost of auto insurance for Florida consumers.”

Also on Wednesday, Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, welcomed a possible move toward the House position.

“However, we have no expectation that Senate leadership will permit such language to remain in the bill even if it is adopted today,” Carson said via email.

“It’s time to slow down the PIP repeal train and take a thoughtful look at the auto reparations system,” he said. “PIP has been on the books since 1972; another year of consideration of this issue won’t disrupt the market in the same way that a wholesale repeal and replace law would.”

Prospects for PIP repeal dive as Senate panel disdains the legislation

PIP repeal is not officially dead, but it wasn’t looking at all well Wednesday after a key Senate committee adjourned its last meeting of Session without taking up the matter.

“It is referenced to this committee, but was not on this agenda. In theory, it makes the prospects of that policy change happening obviously very hard between now and Session ending,” said Miami Republican Anitere Flores, chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

“But anything is possible,” she said.

Earlier, Flores voted in the Banking and Insurance Committee in favor of the Senate version of legislation to end Florida’s no-fault insurance system, which requires motorists to buy personal injury protection coverage and takes accident claims out of the court system. She also chairs that panel.

But she saw diminishing prospects for an agreement with the House over whether to require medical payments coverage. The Senate is holding out for a $5,000 per year “med pay” mandate. The House is resisting.

“The House bill is so different,” Flores said. “In my opinion, the House product would not be good for Floridians. There has been some concern with some of the comments made by the House on their willingness to compromise.”

She fears hospitals would be harmed without a guarantee they’d be paid for their services — particularly in light of reductions to state payments to hospitals during the past few years. Critics of the med pay mandate argue that most people are already covered by medical insurance.

“But not everybody does,” Flores said. “That’s the challenge. Those who don’t, this is their first line of defense. Those are the ones oftentimes we leave behind.”

What will it take to move the legislation in the Senate?

“We’ll just have to see how things come together over the next two weeks. We’ve got a lot of things that still need to be done.”

The subcommittee was the second of three references for the legislation — it also was earmarked for a hearing before the full Appropriations Committee.

The House bill (HB 19) by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, which cleared the House on a vote of 88-19 on Jan. 12, would require $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury (BI) liability coverage, plus $10,000 for property damage liability, beginning next year.

Senate language (SB 150) by Brandon Republican Tom Lee would require $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence in bodily injury coverage and mandatory medical payments coverage of $5,000. Those coverage levels ratchet up to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per incident after three years.

Mary McLeod Bethune statue proposal heading to House floor

A bill OK’d Wednesday would clear the way for a likeness of Florida educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace one of a Confederate general representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously cleared the measure (HB 139), making it available for the floor. The Senate version (SB 472) also cleared the floor unanimously on Jan. 31.

None of the Confederacy nostalgists who in the past have opposed the statue switch appeared during Wednesday’s hearing.

The panel also approved an amendment authorizing the state to claim the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith in the spot Bethune’s would occupy, and to make it available for public display.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

Legislation to remove Smith and decide who should replace him passed during the 2016 Session. The options included George Washington Jenkins Jr., founder of the Publix supermarket chain, and author and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

In 1904, Bethune founded the school that eventually became what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

Daytona Beach Democrat Patrick Henry, who co-sponsored the measure with Republican Tom Leek, also from that area, said the time was right.

“A lot has happened in this country, with the things that went on in Charlottesville,” Henry said. “The state realized the time has come to move forward, and for the state of Florida to show the rest of the country that we’ll take the lead and be the first state to put an African American in Statuary Hall as our representative.”

The estimated cost of making the switch is $388,000. Bethune-Cookman University has offered to pick up the bill pending a fundraising effort. Each state can select two representatives to honor in the hall.

It’s not clear where Smith will land. “That’s above my pay grade,” Henry said. He is the only graduate of Bethune-Cookman University serving in the House, he said.

Bethune also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, was an appointee of President Herbert Hoover to the White House Conference on Child Health, and was an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

Insurance retroactive denial ban clears another House committee, despite qualms

Legislation to bar health insurers from retroactively denying claims passed the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday, after the sponsor promised to keep massaging language allowing insurers to tip off providers that a patient might not be covered.

The committee had been poised to vote on updated language allowing insurers to inform doctors that a patient’s policy was under a grace period — generally, a period of up to 30 days when a policy is in effect pending receipt of the premium.

But bill sponsor Bill Hager saw soft support for his amendment’s language, if not necessarily for its spirit.

“I know how to count,” Hager said following the 20-6 vote to send the underlying bill (CS/HB 271) to the Health & Human Services Committee. “The count I had indicated the amendment would not pass, but I was confident I could get the underlying bill through committee.”

The Boca Raton Republican plans to work on fresh language clarifying that insurers may inform providers that a patient’s policy is under a grace period. The Office of Insurance Regulation believes insurers lack that ability under existing law. That means a doctor can secure approval to provide services, only to face a demand to pay back an insurer later.

“I don’t see any statutory prohibition on it, but I’d prefer to clean it up and get this issue dealt with,” Hager said.

The idea is to let providers know that approval for a non-emergency procedure or test might be revoked unless the patient pays his or her premium by the end of the grace period.

“If we could just address that, I don’t know that we need all the other stuff,” committee member Richard Stark, a Democrat from Weston, said following the hearing. “It’s really a better idea to allow the discussion between the insurer and the physician, and let the physician make a decision.”

It would be easy enough to postpone nonemergency care until a premium gets paid, he said.

Lobbyists for providers spoke in favor of the bill, which has already cleared the Health Innovation Subcommittee. But insurance and business lobbyists warned it would enshrine a similar provision of the Affordable Care Act into state law. The bill would apply to non-ACA-subsidized individual and group plans.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur voted in favor of bill despite reservations that it might make insurance for state workers more expensive.

“What we’re really concerned about is this gaming of the system,” he said. Better to let patients and doctors figure out what to do if insurers rescind approvals for nonpayment.

“I don’t want to shift the risk to folks who don’t have any control over the situation. I would rather put the risk on those who do. And, in that transaction, that’s the physician and the patient.”

Flood insurance ‘warning’ clears second committee

Policyholders would see a bold 18-point type warning when their hurricane coverage won’t pay for flood damage under legislation that cleared a Senate panel Tuesday.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee OK’d the bill (SB 1282) 6-0.

Taddeo

The idea is to spare policyholders any nasty shocks following a hurricane or other natural disaster, said the sponsor, Miami Democrat Annette Taddeo.

“What we want to make sure is that homeowners, when they’re buying hurricane insurance, know that that does not include flood insurance,” Taddeo said.

“It will save a lot of trouble for homeowners,” she said. “After Hurricane Irma, a lot of homeowners were calling our office saying, ‘My insurance is not covering this.’ ”

The bill, which has one final stop at the Rules Committee, requires policy documents to contain the following warning:

“Flood insurance: you may also need to consider the purchase of flood insurance. Your homeowner’s insurance policy does not include coverage for damage resulting from flood, even if hurricane winds and rain caused the flood to occur. Without separate flood insurance coverage, you may have uncovered losses caused by flood. Please discuss the need to purchase separate flood insurance coverage with your insurance agent.”

Taddeo said following the vote that she’d taken steps to ensure the bill wouldn’t overly burden insurers.

“It’s a big problem,” she said following the vote. “It happened again with Irma — ‘What do you mean, it doesn’t cover it?’”

She noted that the Florida Wildlife Federation has endorsed the bill in light of rising sea levels caused by global warming.

“With sea level rise, it’s going to get worse. I’m concerned that homeowners need to cover themselves,” Taddeo said.

“My area’s not even on the beach — I’m on the west side. But I’m telling you, the flooding’s going to get worse on the west side, and that’s something people don’t realize.”

Tort reformer William Large keeps plugging away for PIP bad-faith revamp

One argument in the debate over repeal of Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system isn’t finding much love in the Legislature — that the real key to lower premiums is reform of the legal rules governing coverage disputes that do land in court.

People injured by covered motorists can resort to the tort system if carriers treat them in bad faith — say, by refusing legitimate claims or dallying in replying to demands. Carriers and other advocates argue plaintiffs’ attorneys abuse the system to win recoveries above stated policy limits.

Neither HB 19 by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall  nor SB 150 by Brandon Republican Tom Lee would do that. This story summarizes the legislation.

We sat down with William Large, president of the Justice Reform Institute, which advocates for tort reform, to discuss the situation. The remarks below have been edited for length and clarity.

FP: PIP reform — good idea? Bad idea?

Large: It’s a bad idea in its current form. You cannot reform PIP without doing something essential. And that is reforming our third-party bad-faith litigation regime. Since both the House bill and the Senate bill don’t have third-party bad faith reforms, it’s currently a bad idea. In addition, the Senate version has a medical pay provision, which is basically PIP 2.0. So when you combine those two factors, you have really bad idea.

FP: Define PIP 2.0.

Large: PIP was developed back in the 1970s here in Florida. It was a no-fault system, whereby, if there were an accident, there would be coverage provided to those individuals. The founder of the PIP system later realized there was a mistake, because you saw litigation over low-dollar amounts while an attorney was making a fee fighting over these low-dollar amounts. It was akin to the problems you see with workers’ compensation litigation.

If we were to remove PIP completely and replace it with a mandatory medical payment system, it’s going to be very similar to the old PIP regime. You’ll see litigation over low-dollar amounts, and you’ll see high attorney fee awards fighting over those low-dollar amounts.

In Florida, there’s been a plethora of third-party bad-faith cases. There are two types of attorneys in these cases. There are the attorneys who handle PIP cases, and they fight over the PIP policy, usually in county court. They’re making an hourly rate. And there are many practitioners who practice in circuit court who look down on county court practitioners. Even though the PIP practitioners do very well litigating those cases.

FP: They’re in county court because of the dollar amounts?

Large: Yes, the jurisdictional limits. There’s a rift in the Florida Justice Association — the trial lawyers — between the traditional PIP attorneys and those attorneys who want to go to mandatory bodily injury coverage. They really want to bring third-party bad-faith cases. And that’s exactly what they’ll do if this law passes without third-party bad-faith reform. What they have done is thrown the PIP county court practitioners under the bus.

FP: Are you concerned about the medical coverage mandate?

Large: Yes, because med pay brings both bad things together. It’s basically PIP all over again, without the 30-some-odd years’ case law. It’s going to be fighting over low-dollar amounts on an hourly rate. You’ll have PIP 2.0, no bad-faith reform, and you’ll see a plethora of lawsuits. Any reform can’t have med pay in it, and you need to have third-party bad-faith reform to be successful.

FP: The one-way fee provision (under which insurers are obliged to pay policyholders’ costs of litigating coverage disputes) applies in this instance?

Large: Right.

FP: So what does third-party bad-faith reform look like?

Large: One is an objective measure of time, such as 45 days, before a insurer can be held in bad faith. Two, a mandate that the third-party plaintiffs and their attorneys act in good faith in handling the claim. And No. 3 is interpleader reform (clarifying apportionment of payments between, say, four people, with diverging injuries and medical costs, hurt by a covered driver). Any PIP repeal bill has to have those three elements, and can’t include a med pay provision.

FP: What are you hearing about the likelihood that the reforms you’re talking about are going to happen?

Large: It’s a difficult road ahead of us. We’ve made our position known at every committee stop and we’ve asked the sponsors to include that. As of this date, that hasn’t happened.

FP: What’s the reluctance?

Large: Seemingly that the trial bar does not want third-party bad-faith reform, and they have advocated against it. It’s a powerful stakeholder group.

FP: What’s next?

Large: What’s next is continuing to advocate. I think it’s also important to point out that the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out with a study that shows if you go to a mandatory bodily injury system, it’s going to be a cost driver for a lot of individuals. (Details of that study here.)

FP: Do you consider that report credible?

Large: I consider it very credible. It’s well documented, the analysis is solid, and a lot of time was spent analyzing the issues concerned with both PIP and third-party bad-faith language. There would be a 5.3 percent or $67 dollar increase for the average driver who purchases many but not all of the available auto insurance coverage, a 7.2 percent or $105 dollar increase to drivers who purchase all coverages, and a 50.1 percent or $230 increase to drivers who purchase minimum mandatory limits post HB 19. For a working family of four trying to get by, this is going to be a cost driver.

FP: Did the report have much effect on what the Legislature seems likely to do?

Large: The report just came out. I hope it does cause the policymakers in the Legislative branch to see that this will be a cost driver for insurance premiums for all Floridians — and in particular for Floridians who buy the minimum coverage requirements.

I’ve spoken to Rep. Grall and Sen. Lee about this subject. Their thinking is that these are two separate and distinct concepts that are unrelated. They think third-party bad-faith reform is a separate subject that they want to leave for another day.

FP: That would be a mistake?

Large: Yes. They are completely interrelated. If you’re going to get rid of PIP, you need third-party bad-faith reform and you can’t include a medical payments provision.

Senators lash out at insurance industry during hearing on AOB reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday stripped assignment of benefits legislation of an attorney-fee provision despised by the insurance industry. But that didn’t satisfy industry objections to the overall bill.

And that really annoyed a couple of key senators.

An amendment to CS/SB 1168 by Judiciary Committee chairman Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, eliminated language barring carriers from factoring any attorney fee awards they pay into their premium structures.

“That seemed to be the most controversial, most antagonist piece of the bill,” Steube said. “Working with the stakeholders and working with both sides, it seemed that there was some agreement to take that part out.”

Nevertheless, a stream of insurance and big-business lobbyists said the amended bill wouldn’t solve the main problem, which they saw as abuse by contractors using assignment of benefits, or AOB, agreements to extract legal fees from carriers.

Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute requires carriers to cover policyholders’ litigation costs, as a way of easing the burden on consumers.

Steube said none of the critics could explain why his language wouldn’t help solve the problem, and pointed to a provision allowing carriers to collect attorney fees from plaintiffs if the latter refuse a good faith offer of settlement and then lose in court.

“Also, I’ve asked everyone who has come to meet with me, on the insurance side of the argument, if you have a recommendation as to how we can fix the one-way attorney fee without doing away with it … I’m happy and more than willing to look at that. No one from that side of the argument has come to me with any recommendation,” Steube said.

The committee voted, 7-3, to send the bill on to the Rules Committee.

Later, Steube let off some steam with reporters.

“We’ve gotten the ball to where they want the ball to be with the exception of the one-way attorney fees,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an appetite in this Senate to do away with the one-way attorney fees.”

Miami Republican Anitere Flores, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and chairs the Banking & Insurance Committee, shared that sentiment. She cited industry reluctance to commit to lower rates, plus what she viewed as an overall intransigent attitude.

“It’s SB 62 or the highway,” Flores said of legislation, by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, which essentially would eliminate attorney fees awards to contractors with AOBs. It has gone nowhere in the legislative process. “They don’t even like the House bill.”

Legislation (HB 7015) that has cleared the House also would eliminate one-way fees.

Industry spokesmen insisted it would be difficult to predict premium levels resulting from any legislation.

Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto put the question to Personal Insurance Federation of Florida lobbyist Michael Carlson: Would he stipulate that rates would go down if the Legislature does what the industry wants?

“If we’re going to do the hard work, we should make sure that the folks back home see the benefit,” she said.

There are too many variables to make an accurate prediction, Carlson insisted.

“Except, with all due respect, whenever there are pieces of legislation that the industry does not like, rates will go up by certain percentages,” Benacquisto replies. “But when it is, in our estimation, to benefit the folks we serve, that math is not possible.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons