Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 33

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.

Jack Latvala argues revised Lake Okeechobee project defangs its critics

If House leaders really oppose special interests they’ll support the Lake Okeechobee plan the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday, chairman Jack Latvala said following the vote.

“When you hear their stated objections that they’ve made publicly, it’s always had to do with losing jobs or the amount of bonding involved,” Latvala told reporters.

“We’ve pretty much removed those stated objections. Now it’s just going to have to come down to whether they’re going to follow the will of the special interests that are involved.”

He declined to name Big Sugar, which has been fighting the legislation, as a “stated obstacle.”

Even so, he continued, “They’re still there.”

Senate President Joe Negron’s signature $1.5 billion bill would begin planning to build reservoirs and water treatment facilities south of Lake Okeechobee in hopes of avoiding repeats of June’s disastrous algae bloom in South Florida waterways.

Speaking of jobs, “it’s probably been a good exercise in this to see that we’re paying prison laborers 50-cents an hour to grow sugar. When most people that I’ve talked to hear that, they just think there’s something wrong with that,” Latvala said.

Responding to reports that sugar interests fear the Senate bill would interfere with already scheduled federal projects, bill sponsor Rob Bradley said the schedule is flexible.

“What the Senate is saying that we now have the financial and political wherewithal and will to get southern storage done. The schedule should adapt to those realities, and that is the new reality,” Bradley said.

“Last night their main objection to me was that it still had eminent domain in it. How anyone could read the amendment that we produced and think there’s still eminent domain powers in there is beyond me,” Latvala said.

“It’s like whack-a-mole. It’s a new issue every day — a new complaint, new defense every day. They just really don’t want to do anything any different than they’ve always done it down there.”

Will it get through the House?

“We’ll see. We’ve got a House speaker who has made a big deal out of crushing special interests — reducing the influence of special interest in this process here. Now he’ll have a chance to deliver on his promises.”

The Senate is trying to work out differences with the House on the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund, which would steer $300 million of Florida’s $400 million share of the BP oil spill settlement proceeds to the eight worst-effected Panhandle counties.

Latvala couched the differences as minor — for example, how much say should county commission have in development projects?

“I’m sure there are some magic words that can be crafted that would help resolve that. We haven’t quite gotten there yet,” he said.

The Senate wants to double the House’s $50 million investment in beach restoration, Latvala said. The extra money would be specifically for hurricane repair.

The negotiations likely will begin as soon as the bills come off the floor, he said. The Senate will take up its budget bill Thursday.

He thinks the Senate has a stronger bargaining position on per pupil spending in the public schools. The House would boost it by $19.

“When we’re 10 times better than they are, it’s hard to imagine that they’d be able to go home with that like that,” Latvala said.

“Obviously, the answer to that is required local effort, and there is a middle ground on that. We ought to be able to resolve that.”

Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan clears Senate Appropriations Committee

Senate President Joe Negron’s ambitious water-quality plan survived a more-than-two-hour hearing before the Appropriations Committee Wednesday, clearing the panel against only two dissents.

The $1.5 billion bill would begin planning to build reservoirs and water treatment facilities south of Lake Okeechobee in hopes of avoiding repeats of June’s disastrous algae bloom in South Florida waterways.

The “No” votes came from Sens. Jeff Brandes and Denise Grimsley.

“I am very grateful for the input from my colleagues, constituents and fellow citizens across Florida as we work to advance this critical piece of legislation,” said Negron said in a written statement following the vote.

“After 20 years of talking about southern storage, the time to act is now. This legislation will make an important difference to families, communities, and the economy east and west of the Lake, as well as southern communities who have waited too long for investments in meaningful economic development to expand workforce training and job opportunities,” he’s said.

“Our goal was to explore all available options to deliver this much-needed and long-anticipated storage south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, who shepherded the bill through committee, with a late assist from budget chairman Jack Latvala.

“The legislation now advancing to the Senate floor provides a solution to the plague of harmful, polluted discharges and toxic blue-green algae that respects the interests of the agricultural community and the rights of private land owners, while achieving our goal to dramatically increase southern storage,” Bradley said.

Democratic leader Oscar Braynon, who cast the lone “No” against the bill in committee out of concern for farmworker jobs, said he appreciated the leadership’s outreach to the ‘Glades community — dozens of whom attended the hearing.

“This bill we’re voting on today is very different than the bill I voted on in committee,” Braynon said.

Sen. Audrey Gibson voted “Yes” even though she said she would welcome greater specificity regarding the bill’s job-training component.

“I think my family’s still waiting for that 40 acres,” she said.

As the debate dragged on, with a heavy agenda of additional bills awaiting, Sen. David Simmons tested Latvala’s patience with a lengthy argument in favor of focusing on repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, which he said has been awaiting those improvements for a quarter century.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowered the later level in the lake in 2008 for fear the dam would fail. Repairs would return about 564 acre-feet of capacity, Simmons said.

“Let’s go ahead and fix the damn dike,” Simmons said, to murmurs of approval by the Everglades group.

Having made his point, he then withdrew the amendment; they applauded.

SB 10 scales back the footprint of Negron’s original concept bur still would store between 100 billion and 120 billion gallons of water by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet.

The plan is designed to stop discharges of toxic, algae-laden “guacamole water” from the lake into other waterways, as happened in June, that can sicken both people and the tourism economy.

The bill would save money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state. It forbids use of eminent domain to acquire property.

The total cost would shrink from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, with $750 million the state’s share.

The plan would absorb Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to replace septic systems north of the Lake with sewage systems. Additional reservoir capacity would go in north of the lake.

First-year costs would be $64 million, with up to $100 million in Land Acquisition Trust Fund money raised in subsequent years through approval of up to $1.2 billion in bonding capacity.

The South Florida Water Management District would conduct scientific studies to design the project, including water treatment areas.

The bill includes jobs projects to employ displaced agricultural workers. They include construction and maintenance of the reservoirs, improvements to Clewiston’s airport and an inland port, and half-dozen infrastructure projects contained in separate legislation.

And it would end the practice of using inmate labor on agricultural land.

The bill calls for “substantial progress on plan approval” and initial land acquisition by Jan. 9, 2018, and plan approval by Oct. 1, 2018.

As for the jobs language, Latvala attempted to salve concern by noting he has supported jobs in the area for three years. The Senate budget, he continued, includes money for a new police station in Clewiston to create jobs.

“It’s not just starting today to think about the future,” Latvala said.

“I hear doubt in your voice about whether or not we are going to carry forth with this commitment. There shouldn’t be,” he said

Braynon hastened to reassure Latvala.

“I just wanted to make sure they knew there was no hoodwink,” he said, referring to the Okeechobee-area residents.

Committee OKs Senate budget that contains Aramis Ayala money shift, for now

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a proposed $83.2 billion state budget Wednesday after its chairman agreed to study a proposal to shift $1.3 million from Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s office.

Sen. Randolph Bracy withdrew his amendment to restore the money after Jack Latvala said he would work on a possible floor amendment.

“Let us work a little more on an approach here that’s a little bit more than all-or-nothing,” Latvia said.

“I look forward to working with you to see how we can address the 9th Circuit’s concerns,” Bracy replied.

The underlying budget would raise spending by 1 percent over existing levels, and leave $3.1 billion in reserves, Latvala said.

The House is looking at spending $81.2 billion.

The Senate committee spent the morning explaining its plans and working through more than 100 amendments, most of which members adopted without controversy. Many, Latvala said, were drafted to comply with a new House-Senate rule requiring a committee hearing for bills considered in conference committee.

Among the measures adopted were a prospective payment plan for reimbursing nursing homes for treating Medicaid patients that has divided the industry. The committee also approved a bill that would steer three-quarters of the state’s share of the BP oil spill settlement to the worst-affected counties in the Panhandle.

The draft budget would transfer money from Ayala’s 9th Circuit to the office of 5th Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Gov. Rick Scott has appointed King to handle death-penalty-eligible cases in the 9th Circuit after Ayala announced that she would never seek the death penalty.

Bracy’s amendment would have put the money back.

But the committee heard conflicting testimony about whether the governor’s move justified the budget hit to Ayala.

Bill Cervone, state attorney for the 8th Circuit, argued that King will have to bring a sizeable staff contingent to Orlando to handle Ayala’s 22 murder cases.

“It would be ethically improper for any employee of the 9th Circuit to work on these cases. A conflict exists, system-wide,” Cervone said.

Kamilah Perry, Ayala’s executive director and general counsel, disputed that, saying her boss has assigned two attorneys to work with King and is cooperating pending a decision on whether to challenge Scott in court.

The $3.1 million represents money the Legislature gave the circuit last year to launch an initiative against human trafficking and domestic violence — and, Bracy said later, to ease disproportionately low funding levels compared to other prosecutors’ offices.

“It would just dramatically impact their ability to prosecute cases,” Bracy said of the diversion.

Is Bracy confident he can work something out?

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “As testimony was given, the more we discussed it, I think he realized the impact it could have on the circuit’s ability to prosecute those cases,” and support the human trafficking and domestic violence divisions.

Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan undergoing another revision

The reservoir system that Senate President Joe Negron hopes to build south of Lake Okeechobee is about to get smaller but deeper.

Negron announced plans Tuesday to possibly scale back the project’s acreage while still storing between 100 billion and 120 billion gallons of water by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet.

“An amendment has been filed to sort of address where we are,” Negron told reporters.

SB 10, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, will be heard Wednesday at 2 p.m. before the Appropriations Committee, Negron said.

“The amendment is just a recognition, again, of what the No. 1 goal of this legislation is. And that is to have additional southern storage to reduce and, hopefully, one day eliminate the discharges,” he said. “That’s the indispensible component of this issue.”

By “discharges,” Negron meant what Bradley calls the toxic, algae-laden “guacamole water” that issued from the lake in June, sickening both people and the tourism economy along waterways.

Based on discussions with constituents, scientists, and local residents, Negron said, he proposed changes to his original plan.

He would save money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state.

The total cost would shrink from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, with $750 million the state’s share.

The plan would absorb Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to replace septic systems north of the Lake with sewage systems. Additional reservoir capacity would go in north of the lake.

First-year costs would be $64 million, with up to $100 million in Land Acquisition Trust Fund money raised in subsequent years through approval of up to $1.2 billion in bonding capacity.

Negron isn’t sure it’ll cost that much, but “we want to make sure we have sufficient bonding capacity to move forward.”

The local water management district will conduct scientific studies to design the project, including water treatment areas. If not needed, Negron is prepared to give up portions of the state’s options to purchase land now in sugar production.

Finally, Negron will push jobs projects to employ displaced agricultural workers. They include construction and maintenance of the reservoirs, improvements to Clewiston’s airport and an inland port, and a half-dozen infrastructure projects contained in separate legislation.

The amendment calls for “substantial progress on plan approval” and initial land acquisition by Jan. 9, 2018, and plan approval by Oct. 1, 2018.

Bradley said the Senate has consulted an array of experts, representing interest including environmentalists and agriculture.

“And they all agreed on one simple fact. And that is that southern storage is necessary. It’s a necessary component of the larger plan of making sure that no longer do we have a system that dumps guacamole water on our residents every time Lake Okeechobee rises to a certain level.”

Senate moves proposal to elect secretary of state closer to the ballot

The Senate voted tentatively Tuesday to ask the voters next year whether Florida’s secretary of state should once again be an elective position.

SJR 882, by Sen. Aaron Bean, would amend the state constitution to make the Secretary of State an elected member of the Cabinet beginning with the 2022 General Election.

Identical legislation is pending in the House. The Senate action set up the measure for a final vote.

Bean argued the state’s chief elections officer should be “accountable to the people.”

Now, secretaries of state are appointed by the governor. If approved by a supermajority on the House and 60 percent of the voters, the amendment would take effect on June 1. That would allow the next governor to appoint someone following the 2018 election cycle.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to SR 574, a resolution seeking repeal of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which denounces Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories as obstacles to a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

The Senate resolution declares that the 2016 U.N. document, which the Obama administration declined to block, “undermined the long-standing position of the United States to oppose and veto United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final-status issues or are one-sided and anti-Israel, reversing decades of bipartisan agreement.”

“It was written to incite and negatively sway opinions of the Israeli government,” said Sen. Frank Artilles, speaking for the absent sponsor, Kevin Rader.

The Senate pasted its own SB 954 into its House companion, CS/HB 105, and set the matter for a final vote. The measure would provide a way to count mail-in votes if elections officials think the signature on the ballot doesn’t match that on the voter registration form.

Voters could provide “cure affadavits” containing their signatures or other forms of ID to confirm their votes were legal.

The Senate approved legislation to bar people who publish police mug shot photos from charging a fee to remove any pictures. The vote was 34-0.

Under CS/CS/CS/SB 118, by Greg Steube, people never judged guilty of an offense could write demanding their pictures be removed. The publishers would have 10 days to comply, or be subject to lawsuits.

PSC approves $62 million rate compromise for Gulf Power Co.

The Public Service Commission bestowed its blessings Tuesday upon a rate settlement that will allow Gulf Power Co. to raise prices by nearly $62 million per year, but give the utility less of a return on investment than it wanted.

Gulf Power originally sought to charge its customers in Northwest Florida an additional $106.8 million.

“I do believe the settlement represents a very fair balance of interests,” Chairwoman Julie Imanuel Brown said.

“This settlement is rational and reasonable and, on balance, in the public interest,” Commissioner Donald Polmann agreed.

The vote was unanimous.

The deal guarantees the utility a return on investment to Gulf Power’s stockholders averaging 10.25 percent — more than the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the PSC, had argued was justified.

According to the company, the average monthly bill will climb from $144 to $151.

“This agreement is good for all involved, including Gulf Power’s customers,” Stan Connally, chairman, president and CEO of Gulf Power, said in a written statement.

“It supports our current infrastructure investment — which helps us continue to provide our customers in Northwest Florida with long-term, reliable power and a balanced energy mix,” he said.

Agreeing to the settlement were the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utilities rate cases, and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, representing large consumers.

Other parties, including the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and federal agencies did not sign on, but also didn’t oppose the agreement.

A representative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the sticking point for his company was that the return on investment allowed was too high.

Critics had contended the original base-rate hike sought was an attempt to shift onto Florida ratepayers costs associated with two coal-burning plants in Georgia, where long-term customer agreements were winding down.

It would have undermined Florida customer’s efforts to control their own costs through adoption of alternative energy sources including roof-top solar, they said.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkle said the deal allows Gulf Power to sell that power to its customers.

“Part of the compromise is that Gulf has to write down $32.5 million of their gross investment in those plants, which will be of benefit to customers over the next 30 years,” Rehwinkle said.

Senate panel OKs workers’ comp bill opposed by insurance industry

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-1 Monday to approve legislation that would require workers’ compensation carriers to compete on price rather than propose premium levels through a common ratings agency, and that would allow workers to pay attorneys hourly rates if they take insurers to court.

The ‘No” vote was by Sen. George Gainer, a Republican from Panama City. The next stop is the Appropriations Committee.

SB 1582, by Rob Bradley, would convert Florida into a “loss cost” state — meaning that individual insurers would propose their own rates to the Office of Insurance Regulation. Under existing laws, the National Council on Compensation Insurance proposes rates for most of the carriers in Florida.

The bill also would change the way compensation judges award attorney fees in litigation over claims. Attorneys could receive as much as $250 per billable hour. A $1,500 limit on fees involving medical-only claims would be scrapped.

The provision is a concession to a Florida Supreme Court ruling striking down Florida’s attorney fee caps in workers’ compensation cases as unconstitutional.

Bradley argued the measure would strike the best balance possible between workers and employers and insurers.

“The old system cannot work anymore because the (Florida Supreme) Court said it’s unconstitutional. So we have to find another system,” Bradley said.

“I just want you to know that I’m not trying to do a bill that helps one group or the other. I’m trying to find a middle ground, and I think that we’ve achieved it here.”

A rival bill, SB 1038by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, has languished — it has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. It would bar third parties holding assignment of benefits agreements from collecting attorney fees if they sue insurers. That’s a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

NCCI has taken no position on any legislation pending in the House or Senate, saying it could operate under either system. The company has estimated the Senate bill would decrease rates by no more than 3 percent, worth around $109 million.

The bill bows to a second Supreme Court ruling by extending eligibility for temporary complete disability payments from the existing 140 weeks to 260 weeks, if a worker hasn’t been declared totally disabled but remains unable to return to work.

The measure requires greater specificity on petitions for benefits. Insurers would have to approve or deny a claim within three business days.

Insurers and their business allies blame those and other Supreme Court rulings for a 14.5 percent average premium increase that began to take effect in December. The trial bar blames litigation on bad faith by insurance companies that don’t pay fairly and promptly on claims.

Regardless, the Supreme Court has established “some pretty clear guide rails” regarding the availability of fair attorney fees, Bradley said. Requiring workers to shoulder their own attorney fees, as the industry wants, would veer outside those limits, he added.

“Any bill that is produced out of the Senate is going to respect this guide rails.”

Following the vote, Richard Chait of the Florida Justice Association offered qualified praise.

“While this comprehensive legislation is a work in progress, it does include a number of the meaningful reforms important to Florida’s businesses and the hard-working men and women they employ,” Chait said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the bill sponsors and other stakeholders to ensure that this legislation addresses all the components critical to an efficient and effective workers’ compensation system.”

The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee has passed its own workers’ compensation reforms that would allow deviation from the attorney fee limits, depending on customary hourly fees in particular jurisdictions.

The House panel rejected, by a single vote, an amendment would require policyholders and insurers to pay their own attorney fees.

Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said following the vote that the bill would require additional staff to review the additional premium requests.

“We’ll need significantly more resources,” he said. “But, if that’s the policy decision of the state, we’ll certainly work to achieve that.”

Senate AOB reform bill bars insurers from charging litigation costs to customers

A Senate committee voted Monday to give the insurance industry more control over contractors operating under assignment of benefits agreements, but also to prevent them from factoring their litigation costs into the premiums they charge.

The vote was 6-2, with Republicans George Gainer of Panama City and Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne voting ‘No.”

HB 1218 would leave alone Florida’s one-way attorney fees, which requires insurance carriers to cover policyholders’ legal fees if the latter prevail in a legal challenge over a claim.

But the bill would tighten regulation of the agreements, also known as AOBs. They’d need to be committed to writing, accurately describe the scope or work, and limited to the actual work performed. Policyholders could back out before work begins, or if the work isn’t up to standard.

Banking and Insurance chairwoman Anitere Flores expressed disappointment that the bill’s many critics offered no amendments to make it better.

She said she no longer was willing to accept insurers’ guarantee that their approach would reduce rates.

“This is the issue du jour that property insurance companies have said is the rate driver. We went through sinkholes, we went through a variety of different issues. And as we have fixed those issues, the only people who  have been hurt have been consumers, and those who have benefitted are others,” Flores said.

The committee’s crowded agenda including bills to reform the workers’ compensation system and repeal personal injury protection mandate for auto insurance. The panel passed the workers’ comp bill, but ran out of time for PIP.

Under the AOB bill as passed, policyholders’ out-of-pocket expenses would be limited to their deductibles. They couldn’t be charged directly, except for extra work they’ve agreed to. Referral fees would be limited to $750.

The bill would regulate water remediation contractors, in an effort to drive fly-by-night operators out of business. And it would ban AOBs in some insurance lines, but not property insurance.

“Attorney fees paid pursuant to this section may not be included in the insurer’s rate base and may not be used to justify a rate or rate change,” the provision says.

The section referred to is 627.428 of Florida Statutes, the one-way attorney fee law, which requires to pay attorney fees for policyholders who prevail in challenges over claims decisions.

The provision sprang from the debate over workers’ compensation and AOB reform, but would apply to all insurance lines — property, casualty, motor vehicle, health, and more.

The Office of Insurance Regulation has warned that omitting litigation costs could result in rates insufficient to cover the costs of policies issued. Additionally, the office has warned, insurers might just stop contesting claims challenges, resulting in higher premiums.

Insurers and their business allies blame AOBs for escalating claims costs and premiums, particularly involving water damage claims in South Florida. According to the Office of Insurance Regulation, water losses alone would justify 10 percent annual premium increases.

They blame, in part, Florida’s attorney-fee statute for encouraging dodgy claims. The percentage of claims litigated Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has reported that its percentage of claims litigated involving AOBs increased from 9.6 percent in 2012 to 46.9 percent in 2015.

The company projects that premiums in Miam-Dade will increase from $2,926 now to $4,712 by 2020.

Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier — seconded by the insurers and business — has recommended restricting the one-way attorney fee statute to policyholders, plus notice requirements so that policyholders remain informed about any claims challenges.

He argued Monday that his office has reviewed claims data only and that litigation and attorney fees are clearly driving rates up.

“Without addressing one- way attorney fees, lawsuits will continue to go up,” Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement following the vote. “At the end of the day, that cost homeowners more and makes the cost of homeownership more expensive.”

Legislation pending in the House would link fees to pre-litigation offers of judgment — if the plaintiff wins more than the insurer offers, the insurer pays; if less, the insurer collects.

 

trauma centers

Safety net hospitals decry Medicaid spending cuts planned for Florida

Representatives of hospitals that invest heavily in physician training and care for the indigent held a news conference Monday to protest plans in the Legislature to slash Medicaid re-imbursement rates.

The cuts would undermine the state’s investments in training doctors, alliance members argued outside the Senate Office Building in Tallahassee.

Under the Graduate Medical Education Startup Bonus Program launched by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago, teaching hospitals draw $100,000 bonuses for every residency they add in key specialties. New residencies totaled 313 this year.

“We cannot train tomorrow’s physicians when every year our hospitals must re-evaluate their budgets,” said Lindy Kennedy, vice president for government relations for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance.

Steven Sonenreich, president and CEO of Mount Sinai Medical Center, cited a study showing that 80 percent of doctors remain in the state where they were trained.

“United States veterans wait 75 days on average to see a psychiatrist. There is a severe shortage in this state in many specialties, including the number of psychiatrists that we train,” Sonenreich said.

“Budget cuts to our institutions are felt when people are calling to make doctors appointments. It is that simple,” he said.

Training doctors without properly funding the hospitals where they would work “makes little fiscal sense,” said Leon Haley, dean of the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville.

“To do so is to effectively spend taxpayers’ money to educate other states’ doctors,” Haley said.

The pressure on hospital budgets is coming from all sides — Scott’s proposed budget would cut $929 million from in Medicaid re-imbursements, paying 58 cents for every dollar the hospitals spend, alliance members said.

The House would cut $672 million, paying 62 cents on the dollar, and the Senate would cut $309 million, paying 68 cents.

Hospitals would be forced to pass some of their losses along to privately insured patients, alliance president Tony Carvalho said. The “hidden tax” would cost $2.7 billion under the governor’s plan, $2.4 billion under the House’s, and $2.13 billion under the Senate’s.

“These costs do not evaporate … because the hospital is reimbursed less than the cost of providing that care,” Carvalho said.

Approximately 4.5 million Floridians will participate in Medicaid next year, and 2.5 million uninsured, he said.

“That’s 6.5 million people — or almost one-third of the population — that when they get sick and come to a hospital, we can expect to get paid less than cost or nothing at all,” he said.

Additionally, the state would forego $414 million in federal matching funds under the House bill, Carvalho said. The Senate would give back nearly $200 million. All while state officials complain the feds shortchange Florida in health care money.

“It seems a contradiction in terms … to be forfeiting hundreds of millions in federal money for a very small savings in the General Revenue Fund,” Carvalho said.

Finally, the cuts would disproportionately harm safety net hospitals that care for most poor and indigent patients, he said.

The alliance comprises 14 public, teaching, and children’s hospitals that provide most of the bonus residencies and almost half the state’s Medicaid and indigent care.

Assignment of benefits fight finally coming to a Senate committee vote

Legislation addressing assignment of benefits abuse comes up in the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee Monday — and it’s not the version insurance and business interests like.

The panel will hear SB 1218 by Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial lawyer from Broward County. A rival bill, SB 1038, by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, has yet to be favored with a committee hearing.

The Hukill-Passidomo bill would bar third parties holding assignment of benefits agreements from collecting attorney fees if they sue insurers. That’s a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

Farmer spoke with Florida Politics last week about his approach. The remarks below have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What’s going on with AOB?

A: I worked very hard to craft a bill that I think addresses all of the anecdotal and other testimony that we’ve been hearing over the years about the problems that the insurance companies are having.

I think Jamie Grant summed it up very well over on the House side when he was presenting his (AOB) bill. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s why I’m very protective of the attorney-fee statute. It’s necessary to make sure consumers are made whole.

You look at places like New York and New Jersey, from Hurricane Sandy, that didn’t have that that kind of statute in place. Homeowners had to give 30 percent of their repair money to their lawyer. That’s 30 percent of the repairs that don’t get done. You’ve still got whole neighborhoods up there that are incomplete and not rebuilt.

We’ve heard the complaints about insurance companies not being able to meaningfully consider these claims. So I put in provisions to strengthen the AOB, protect it, make sure it’s not abused. It’s limited to the work performed by that contractor. Estimates have to be provided up front. Bills have to be provided. A notice-demand letter has to be sent before litigation is started.

Concurrently, the insurance company’s got its own obligations. … But we’re going to give them all the tools so they are not blindsided — so that they can do a meaningful proposal for settlement. Because I’m not going to protect any of my (attorney) colleagues out there running around doing bad cases.

Q: And they are?

A: There are some, but it’s greatly exaggerated.

Q: There’s another bill by sens. Denise Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo.

A: I think the chair (Anitere Flores) by her actions has shown that she favors my bill, and that’s why we’re hearing my bill.

Q: Your bill would license water remediation contractors?

A: I’m all for putting bad actors out of business. We don’t have the power to do that right now as a state. It’s a huge gap in the regulatory scheme. The mold statute, I believe, was always intended to cover water remediators, as well. It’s just that the definition was so tightly drafted that they don’t fall within it, unless they’re providing the mold services.

Q: How are things shaping up in the Senate on workers’ comp?

A: I have another bill that is also on the agenda for Monday, SB 1684, that would take third-party attorney fees out of the insurance rate base.

When comp was first passed in this state, that was how it was. The one-way (attorney) fee statute has two purposes. One, make the consumer whole — they don’t have to take 30 percent of their medical bills or 30 percent of their roof damage claim and give it to a lawyer.

The second purpose is to deter bad conduct by an insurance company. … Same with bad faith — when they get hit for bad-faith damages, they can’t pass those along to other policyholders. That would defeat the whole deterrent-punishment purpose of the statute.

If we pass 1684, frankly, we don’t need any AOB or workers’ comp legislation.

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