Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 22

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.

Committee chair wants assurances PIP repeal would lower premiums

The chairwoman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee foresees changes to Florida’s personal-injury protection, or PIP, mandate for auto insurance, but wants assurances reform will reduce premium costs.

“I think that this is an issue that you will see some legislation that will come before this committee at a future date,” Anitere Flores said as the committee wrapped up testimony Tuesday from insurance regulators and interest groups.

She urged committee members to “view it through the lens of how will this affect our consumers’ rates, and having some sort of assurances that anything we do as a Legislature to lower rates … that there will be some requirements that those rates actually be lowered.”

The panel discussed abandoning PIP in favor of a system whereby people injured in auto accidents can sue to recover against bodily injury policies held by drivers found at fault.

The Legislature created the PIP system during the 1970s in the hope that removing such claims from the court system would lower insurance costs. Initially, it did, but costs increased notwithstanding a series of reforms enacted over the years.

The most recent reforms, in 2012, resulted in a 20 percent reduction in PIP losses, according to testimony at the hearing. However, costs have increased by close to 26 percent since Jan. 1, 2015.

Florida has the fifth highest auto insurance costs in the country.

A study released in September suggested that drivers could save an average $81 per car if the state abandoned mandatory PIP coverage.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, is among the lawmakers pushing for repeal.

If PIP were repealed, about 73.8 percent of PIP costs would be shifted to other types of auto coverage, said Sandra Starnes, director of property and casualty product review for the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The rest of the losses would shift outside auto policies to private health insurers, health care providers, Medicare and Medicaid, and the injured persons.

“Florida has had a no-fault system in place for several decades and valiantly fought to reform the system. Unfortunately, a no-fault system has proven not to advance the goals that were established, what was hoped for — a decrease in litigation, lowering of premiums,” said Ron Jackson of the American Insurance Association.

“Quite frankly, we think it’s time to move to a mandatory bodily injury liability system,” he said.

Michael Carlson of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, representing large insurers including State Farm, Allstate, and Progressive, didn’t take a position but urged caution.

“We do believe that any consideration of the repeal of the no-fault law should be grounded in the reality that new mandatory insurance coverage will have a price effect on Floridians,” Carlson said.

He worried that mandated bodily injury and first-party medical coverage could drive up the cost of auto insurance.

Representatives of the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Hospital Association opposed repeal. Hospitals are obliged by law to treat accident victims without regard to their ability to pay.

The FMA’s Jeff Scott noted that the 2012 reforms contained insurance costs in part by limiting physician reimbursements and increasing regulations.

But it also ensures an emergency room doctor “will at least receive some compensation for the care he provides — generally, 80 percent of his reasonable fee,” Scott said. “Versus the likelihood of receiving nothing for providing care to an automobile accident victim without PIP or health insurance.”

Dale Swope of the Florida Justice Association denounced PIP as “the original social experiment” in forcing people to buy insurance.

“It has failed,” he said. “The best minds Florida has have tried to reform it over and over and over again, and every time new systems and new restrictions and new regulations are imposed, people figure out ways around it, so that the premiums creep back up again and again.”

The benefits haven’t kept up with inflation since the $10,000 benefit limit was imposed in the 1980s, he said. The average car in those days was worth $7,200; today it is worth $33,500.

“Careful drivers are subsidizing the negligent drivers, because we’re all in the same pool,” Swope said.

“If anybody doesn’t like the premiums, slow down. Stop causing wrecks.”

Bill to ban hydraulic fracking attracts bipartisan support

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have endorsed proposed legislation to ban extraction of oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing in Florida.

“This bill is concise and straightforward. It bans fracking of all types in Florida,” Senate sponsor Dana Young said Tuesday during a news conference outside the Senate chamber.

“As a sixth generation Floridian and avid outdoorsman, I believe we must act quickly and decisively to to protect our fragile environment from incompatible practices.”

Present at the news conference  to discuss Young’s SB 442 were Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer and Linda Stewart, and Republican Sens. Jack Latvia and Keith Perry; House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and Democratic House member Mike Miller, who is expected to introduce a House companion bill this week.

“Just this collection of folks, you can see that this is an issue that transcends politics,” Farmer said. We can all come together to protect something as critically important as our water supply.”

Legislation to study fracking in Florida died last year in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lavala, who chairs that committee this year, helped to kill it. He said he didn’t buy assurance from the Department of Environmental Protection that fracking would be safe in Florida.

“We looked a the worst-case scenario, and if there was any possibility in anyone’s mind that a bill might have the effect that people thought it would, then we took the bill down,” Latvala said. “Now we’re all together to try to so something positive to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Young promised while campaigning last fall that she would introduce a fracking ban, after she was accused of supporting the controversial practice of extracting natural gas and oil during the 2016 legislative session.

The ban would be statewide, Young said.

“The aquifer in our state does not know county lines. It does not know city boundaries,” she said.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, issued a written statement praising Young and the bill.

“Fracking poses too big a risk for the millions of Florida families and visitors who rely on our groundwater for safe, clean, driving water,” Moncrief said. “We look forward to working with Sen. Young throughout the 2017 legislative session as we work to ban fracking in Florida once and for all.

Floridians Against Fracking, a coalition of anti-fracking organizations, noted that nearly 90 cities and counties have passed anti-fracking resolutions and nearly 20 counties have passed local fracking bans.

“We’re excited by the bi-partisan support for banning fracking in Florida. The citizens have long seen that fracking is a risk Florida cannot afford for its environment, its tourism-based economy, and its communities,” Kim Ross, president of Rethink Energy Florida, said in a written statement.

“We look forward to working with these senators to get a strong ban bill on Governor Scott’s desk,” Ross said.

Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida state director, also issued a written statement.

“We applaud Sen. Young for listening to her constituents and Floridians across the state who want a ban on fracking,” Rubiello said. “A ban on fracking will ensure our communities, our health, and our environment are better protected. Floridians should celebrate this bill, pick up their phones, and tell their state senators to support it.”

“Sen. Dana Young’s decision to introduce a fracking ban bill is an example of true leadership,” said Michelle Allen, Florida organizer for Food & Water Watch. “Florida residents have been fighting relentlessly for a fracking ban and with Young on board, the momentum will only continue to build.”


Tampon tax exemption clears Senate Commerce Committee

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism couldn’t resist hazing Sen. Kathleen Passidomo before approving her bill to exempt female sanitary products from the sales tax.

“I think this is Sen. Passidomo’s first bill” as a member of the committee, Sen. Jack Latvala said of his colleague, a Naples Republican elected to the Senate last year following service in the House. “What an interesting bill this is!”

He asked what SB 176 — her tampon tax exemption — would cost state government.

About $15 million annually, Passidomo said.

Latvala: “Would that be an annual figure or a monthly figure?”

Passidomo: “Let me look at my pad and see if I can calculate that.”

Latvala: “Does the committee attorney, can they offer an opinion as to whether there’s any conflicts of interest from any members of the committee voting on this? We can’t vote on things where we have a personal financial impact.”

Passidomo, cracking up laughing: “I can answer that for me. It wouldn’t affect me at all.”

“I believe we’ve exhausted those questions,” chairman Bill Montford said at that point.

The committee voted, 8-0, in favor of the bill.

The panel also voted unanimously in favor of SB 68 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, which would clarify that tourist development tax dollars may flow to facilities, like Clearwater’s Eckerd Hall, that are publicly owned but managed by nonprofit organizations.

Existing law allows tourism tax money to be spent only on convention centers, sports stadiums or arenas, or coliseums that are publicly owned and operated.

Enterprise Florida’s new chief defends the economic development program

The new head of Enterprise Florida Inc. defended the organization Monday against complaints that it doesn’t raise enough private-sector money, saying a required one-to-one match of public and private dollars applies only to operating expenses.

Chris Hart, who became president and CEO just weeks ago, cited the statute that created the economic development organization in 1996 during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism.

“We do meet our private sector match,” Hart said. “That one-to-one match that’s been required since 1996 is met, as you look at the statutory guidelines.”

The match does not apply to economic incentives paid to lure out-of-state businesses to Florida, Hart said — only to the organization’s core functions — international trade and development, including promoting the state as a place to do business; business development; and marketing.

Sen. Jack Latvala said he served in the Legislature at the time and could verify that Hart was correct.

“My memory agrees with Mr. Hart’s that it was anticipated that that (match) would be based on operating dollars,” Latvala said.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida this year. House Speaker Richard Corcoran opposes such spending as “corporate welfare,” but Scott points to public support for the program.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez cited news reports suggesting that the taxpayers pick up as much as 90 percent of the Enterprise Florida budget.

“This is the first time I’m hearing that economic-development incentives are not operating costs,” he said. “It seems like a new argument.”

“There have been a lot of misperceptions, misconceptions,“ Hart said. In practice, most economic incentives have contained a private match — for example, an employer drawing a job-training grant would be expected to contribute its own money, too.

But it doesn’t count toward the required operations match, he said.

The contrary interpretation has emerged during the past year or two, Hart said.

“That’s new. That’s why I think we all need to talk to you as policymakers,” he said — to clarify the situation.

The meeting flared up somewhat when Rodriguez — who has filed legislation to boost oversight of the organization — asked that Enterprise Florida was doing to avoid conflicts of interest.

“Some of the criticisms have been about EFI doing business with some of its board members,” he said.

Latvala objected.

“Can we get Sen. Rodriguez to be a little more specific about what specific examples he’s referring to here?” Latvala said. “That’s a broad and accusatory statement.”

Rodriguez started to mention some examples, including that Publix has a board seat and has received incentives and “six or seven” companies “that I could identify.”

“I don’t think it would be necessary to identify any particular company,” committee chairman Bill Montford interjected. “We don’t want this to be a dog and pony show.”

Hart said Enterprise Florida is committed to reviewing its governance process — and that board members have no say in awarding incentives. The organization does that with the Department of Economic Opportunity, he said.

Jeffrey Rosen urges law students to channel their inner Louis Brandeis

In a post-truth world, beset by fake news, in which people segregate into information bubbles impenetrable to unfriendly ideas, constitutional scholar Jeffrey Rosen finds inspiration in Louis Brandeis, the late justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Addressing students Thursday at the Florida State University College of Law, Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, called Brandeis “the greatest prophet of free speech and privacy” of the 20th Century.

“Brandeis has faith that people, self-governing citizens, will take the time to educate themselves and develop their faculties of reason, and deliberate together and converge on some sort of common understanding of the facts and the truth,” he said.

Rosen was in Tallahassee to present the keynote address to the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual dinner, but dropped by to chat with the students first.

This isn’t the first time technology has unsettled the old way of doing things, Rosen reminded the students.

“James Madison, at the end of his life, wondered whether the American experiment would survive. He feared that it would not without the sustenance of public reason,” Rosen said.

“And he examined new technologies — it was the broadside newspaper — that might unite farmers and manufacturers and elites to try to engage in public reason, and have reasoned compromise and deliberation,” he said.

“We all know … that we’re in an age when facts are contested and people are no longer able to agree on what the truth is. That poses a serious threat to Madison’s belief that, without reason, democracy would atrophy.”

Today it’s not only government that patrols speech.

“In this age of social media, who has the most power over free speech? Who has more power than any king, president, or Supreme Court justice?” Rosen asked.

Mark Zuckerberg,” a student answered.

“Absolutely,” Rosen said. Companies like Facebook and Google employ teams of lawyers to decide whether to suppress content at the demand of overseas leaders and other scolds, even when the content is legal under the First Amendment.

Rosen isn’t comforted by moves to submit these decisions to algorithms. “These are very subtle, contextual judgments, of the kind that Supreme Court judges make all the time. The idea that an algorithm can distinguish between political speech and child pornography is not convincing.”

He pointed to differing opinions on free speech around the world. Europe, for example, bans hate speech directed at, say, religious groups, that would be protected in the United States.

Europe also protects an individual right to be forgotten, meaning that even truthful information about people can be forced off the Internet on pain of huge fines.

Rosen acknowledged: “I don’t have a solution about how we can resurrect public reason.”

But he said the Constitution Center is doing its part through a national commission to debate what to make of an imperial presidency that gives both liberals and conservatives pause; a Congress that has ceded its authority to the White House; politically polarized courts; and news media that are “segregating us into filter bubbles and echo chambers.”

Rosen quoted at length from Brandeis’ concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, a seminal First Amendment case decided in 1927.

The founders “believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile,” Brandeis wrote.

“That, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”

As a lawyer, in a 1908 case involving maximum hour laws for women, “Brandeis collects all these facts — industrial reports and medical reports — to show that women who work in dangerous industries need protection,” Rosen said.

So powerful was the weight of those facts in defense of a position that Thurgood Marshall reread Brandeis’ brief before arguing Brown v. Board of Education. It inspired Ruth Bader Ginsberg when arguing for women’s rights during the 1970s, Rosen said.

“He’s very keen on the idea of using our leisure time to educate ourselves about facts,” and prepare ourselves for the duties of citizenship, Rosen said.

“Is this too idealistic in this post-truth society?” Rosen wondered — one marked by Twitter mobs and social media distractions?

“Speaking for myself, after a long day it may be more fun to watch cat videos than read industrial reports,” he said. “But Brandeis thinks it’s important. And it is important. Because we can’t be fully engaged citizens unless we do this.”

“Enclaves of public reason” exist, Rosen said. The Constitution Center promotes “engaged civil discussion, where people separate their political views from their constitutional views, and find that sometimes unexpected areas of agreement arise.”

Juries are another example. “People are locked in a room together and forced to treat each other with respect and hear each other out and reach some kind of unanimous verdict,” he said.

“Brandeis inspires me, with all the frailties and distractions of modern life, to be a better citizen. To try to read and think more, and eat and drink a little less, and basically just force myself to use all my faculties as much as possible. And you can do that too.”

How does one separate fake news from real?

Brandeis would be suspicious of efforts to suppress even erroneous information, Rosen said.

“The idea of a central regulatory body, whether its Facebook and Google or the government, officially deciding what it true … is the antithesis of the Jeffersonian ideal,” he said.

“My instinct is that it all has to be admitted into the public square,” he said. “The best remedy for evil speech is good speech.”

Court question’s insurance office’s claim to State Farm sales information

A state appeal court panel appeared skeptical Thursday of the Office of Insurance Regulation’s arguments that trade-secrets protections don’t exempt State Farm Florida from having to turn over business information for public scrutiny.

The judges wondered whether the plain language of the trade-secret exemption in Florida’s public records law doesn’t protect the information at issue — data about policies sold, not renewed or cancelled every month by county.

Elenita Gomez, a litigator in the insurance office, insisted that State Farm turned over the information regularly since 1999. It balked in 2014, when it began reselling property insurance in Florida following a hiatus.

“What has changed to suddenly make a routine submission a trade secret, when it has never been a trade secret before? Particularly when, over the last 20 years, none of the approximately 150 insurers in the state of Florida, residential insurers who do business in Florida, have never requested the same protection,” Gomez said.

The office collects data for every insurer in its Quarterly and Supplemental Reporting, or QUASR, database, where it is available to the public and competitors in the insurance market. Officials use the data to monitor market conditions and prepare reports.

A Leon County trial judge ruled in March that State Farm’s data were protected. The appeal before the three-judge 1st District Court of Appeal panel was Office of Insurance Regulation v. State Farm Florida Insurance Co.

State Farm’s position would harm the state by denying regulators, the public and elected leaders access to complete data about the insurance market, Gomez said.

“The manner of submission allows for comparisons and numerous industry reports to be run, utilizing that data for all or any of those insurers,” she said. “If one is missing, the information that is left becomes not only limited, but basically either useless or unusable.”

Judge Harvey Jay III asked whether State Farm didn’t have the right to decide for itself which information constituted trade secrets.

“Meaning to the extent you keep it privileged or secret, there’s no disclosure,” Jay said.

“Suppose you had an ice cream company and you came out with a new flavor every year, and you always made it public, you put it on the Internet, you said, ‘Look, we want everyone to have our recipe and have the opportunity to make this,” Judge Allen Windsor asked.

“And one year you decide, ‘We have some new flavors and we’re going to protect these.’ You wouldn’t say that, by virtue of giving up the original recipes, that a new recipe wouldn’t be a valid trade secret,’ would you?”

State Farm’s position presumes other insurers would accept its data as 100 percent accurate and that they’re going to compete head to head, Gomez responded. “That’s a lot of assumptions.”

In the lower court, State Farm’s expert witnesses testified that the data would be useful to competitors, but Gomez said regulators were not aware of any actual use by competitors, or by State Farm of competitors’ data.

“There’s no evidence in the record that a potential competitor can use QUASR data on its own for any competitive marketing purpose or otherwise,” she said.

“But the QUASR data does tell what markets it’s entering. That’s what I understand their concern is,” Judge Timothy Osterhaus said. The county-specific data would “reveal where they’re going.”

As for the harm to the public, Osterhaus asked whether that was the proper question.

“It seems to me there is a trade secret under the statute — in which case the chips fall where they may with respect to the examples you’re giving — or it’s not trade secret.”

“The main issue here is whether the QUASR data has independent economic value,” and there’s doubt that it does to State Farm, Gomez said.

Arguing for State Farm, Karen Walker, of Holland & Knight’s Tallahassee office, argued that the company’s data meet the statutory definition of a trade secret, and therefore are protected.

“If it’s trade secret under the statute, that’s the end of the story. This is not a policy argument,” she said. In this case, the data do meet that definition and therefore are “confidential and exempt from the Public Records Act.”

No one asked for the data, she conceded. “But the office made it abundantly clear to State Farm that it was not going to honor State Farm’s trade-secret designation of its QUASR data beginning in 2014. And that was what initiated the action below in the trial court.”

She picked up on Windsor’s metaphor.

“The flavor of ice cream was changed. The flavor prior to the first quarter of 2014 was that State Farm was not writing new property insurance policies in the state of Florida. In 2014, that changed. They began writing new policies and, as part of that, implementing a marketing strategy — a marketing strategy that has value to State Farm.”

For example, she said, information about where the company is writing, cancelling or not renewing policies might influence competitors’ marketing.

“We know, based on the testimony not only of the witnesses that State Farm presented, but the office’s own witnesses, that companies are looking at QUASR data of other companies, and we also know they’re doing it for economic reasons,” Walker said.

And if there’s no evidence that State Farm itself uses its competitors’ data, such information would be of the most use to smaller insurers who lack her client’s resources, she added.

“Really, the value element is the value in not being known to others. There is clear evidence below that this information, beginning in 2014 when State Farm begins writing new policies in the state Florida, not being known to its competitors, has value to State Farm. And that is all that State Farm has to prove.”

She concluded:

“I know the office would like for the Legislature to say QUASR data, even if it meets the trade-secret designation, can never, never be exempt. That’s not the law in the state of Florida.”

Council sees breakdown of trust with Office of Insurance Regulation

Proposed reforms to Florida’s continuing care retirement community regulations ran into heavy flak Wednesday during an advisory council meeting, with the body’s president lamenting a breakdown of trust in the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Joel Anderson, chairman of the Governor’s Continuing Care Advisory Council, complained that office staff unexpectedly unloaded a 61-page rewrite of the statute governing the facilities, also known as CCRCs.

Anderson said he hoped the staff would not view his comments as overly “inflammatory,” saying the council has worked productively with them in the past.

Then he unloaded.

“I promise you that these proposed changes to the law would cause an immediate impact on good-performing CCRCs with proven track records, and also lead to severe consequences for the future of Florida’s CCRCs,” he said.

As an executive at the Village on the Isle retirement community in Venice, he impresses on his colleagues the importance of “trust, rapport, and credibility with each other,” he said.

“These core beliefs apply to us as well, and I am concerned that they do not exist in today’s working relationship with the office and the council and for the Florida CCRCs,” he continued.

“My question is, ‘What has happened … to cause the OIR to act on its own and abandon this approach when it has been proven to work for decades,” Anderson said.

“We won’t survive if we don’t trust each other and trust the process. A unilateral move by any stakeholder, even with the best intentions, can cause a misstep for us as a whole.”

Following hours of testimony and debate, the council voted to encourage the office to continue to investigate increased oversight of ownership changes in financially troubled communities.

But the members turned thumbs-down on proposals to tighten minimum liquidity reserves and other proposed regulations. They wanted emergency repairs where necessary this year, and time to draft broader reforms for the 2018 legislative session.

“We really need a proper vetting of these issues overall, with all the stakeholders involved,” Anderson said in an interview following the meeting.

Of the insurance office staff, he said: “We hope that they will continue to use the council as their resources for advice and support in any of these changes.” He offered to confer with the office via telephone conference call in person.

The dressing-down came during a special meeting of the council, which advises the insurance office about CCRC regulation. It comprises representatives of the industry, accountants and facility residents.

Anderson complained that, during its last meeting in September, office staff said they planned reforms in reaction to a series of CCRC bankruptcies — most notably that of University Village in Tampa.

The office has accused the facility of filing false information, failing to pay more than $4 million in refunds to residents, taking on new residents while being “financially insolvent,” and conducting business in a fraudulent or dishonest manner.

The council asked the office to meet with LeadingAge Florida, a trade organization representing most Florida CCRCs, and the Florida Life Care Residents Association, to come up with a solution.

But council members never had warning of the scale of the changes the office would seek, Anderson said.

“I never believed that we’d end up where we are today,” Anderson said.

Rich Robleto, deputy commissioner for life and health, replied that staff members were trying to solve a threat to senior citizens who place their trust in an insurance product.

“That trust relies in part on the understanding that the office oversees the CCRC industry, and they expect that the office can intervene when the CCRC’s ability to meet its promises is in jeopardy,” Robleto said.

In light of the insolvencies, “further legal protections are needed for us to be able to fulfill that trust that’s put on us. We think it’s dangerous when people think the government can do something for them that it cannot.”

OIR believes the reforms would give the office greater oversight of facility finances, including over dividends and reserves designed to make sure CCRCs meet their obligations to house and care for residents. According to the OIR presentation, such reserves would have to be banked with the state Bureau of Collateral Management.

The office would also oversee ownership changes and facilities expansions. Residents would see improved consumer protections, including notice of any examination reports or legal proceedings.

Anderson and other members of the council — including CCRC representatives and Jacksonville CPA Trey Gunn — worried the regulations would put a financial straitjacket on the facilities. And punish well-run facilities along with the bad.

Ed Kenny, president and CEO of Des Moines-based LCS, which operates CCRCs, said his company has pulled out of plans to acquire a troubled Florida community because of the proposals.

Robleto said the office did confer with LeadingAge Florida and the residents, and planned continued discussions. The draft bill, he said, staff presented for purposes of discussion.

Following the meeting, Robleto said he was grateful for the council’s advice.

“We will take these back, and we will see what we can do without proposed legislation to recognize some of the good points they made,” he said.

“They didn’t direct us to change the bill,” he continued. “They gave us advice. We will continue to work with other parties. We’re still in the gathering-of-information stage, but this has been very helpful for us.”

FSU “policy pub” chat surveys a future with robot cars

Self-driving cars promise to reshape the country into a more urban, but more humane, place. But we need to make sure the technology serves human needs, rather than adjust ourselves to technology’s demands.

That was the word Tuesday evening from Tim Chapin, a professor of urban and regional planning and interim dean of the College of Social Sciences at Florida State University.

“It’s happening, and it’s happening very quickly. Your grandkids and great-grandkids are going to grow up in a very different world because of this technology,” Chapin said during a “policy pub” discussion the college staged at a Tallahassee restaurant.

“It’s my view that we need to make sure we get in front of the technology and what we want our communities to look like — and have the technology serve the communities rather than the communities we build to serve the technology as it comes to the fore.

“Because that’s what happened with the automobile 100 years ago,” he continued. “It’s about us as humans and not the expensive vehicles that we drive or that we ride in.”

Self-driving cars — also called autonomous vehicles or robot cars — promise to undo some of the damage done to the landscape by human-driven cars, Chapin said. They could free real estate occupied by parking lots, and ease traffic and urban sprawl.

And they’re legal in Florida.

They will communicate with one another and potentially with road infrastructure to warn of potholes, congestion, and other hazards. They could be shared, obviating the requirement to purchase a personal vehicle. One could simply summon a car for the morning commute — as with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

That would mean many fewer cars on the road. One autonomous vehicle could replace as many as 11 personal vehicles, Chapin said.

We wouldn’t need expansive parking lots — just drop off zones. People could live in that space, instead of cars, which could be relegated to exurban parking facilities when not in use.

The United States sees 5.5 million auto accidents every year, 93 percent of them because of human error, Chapin said. But autonomous vehicles don’t fall asleep or spill hot coffee in their laps.

“The vehicle will have true situational awareness that will be able to react better and more quickly than a human driver would be, and they are paying attention better than a human driver would be,” Chapin said.

He foresaw “free-flowing” intersections that don’t need traffic lights.

“You’re sitting in the vehicle. It doesn’t have a steering wheel. It doesn’t have brakes. It doesn’t have a gas pedal. You’re just going to go through that interchange and trust the vehicle is smart enough not to hit any other vehicle out there,” Chapin said.

“And I can tell you; we’re pretty sure we can get that right,” he said.

As in “99.9999 percent” sure.

“That’s a pretty high probability you’re going to make it through that intersection.”

Someone asked: With so many fewer cars on the road, how would people in Florida evacuate ahead of a hurricane?

Chapin said his researchers raised that very question with state officials, asking them to consider that scenario.

“We talked to our friends at emergency management about this, and their answer is, ‘Huh. Yes, we should.’ ”

Chapin’s a professor, so he naturally had a reading list: He recommended this book and this report, prepared for the Florida Department of Transportation by the FSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

The college began staging these discussions before last year’s elections, “to bring the scholarship of our outstanding college to the community,” Chapin told the crowd at Tallahassee’s Backwood Bistro. “And to get your feedback on the work we do.”

1st DCA rejects challenge to evidence standard in workers’ comp case

An intermediate state appeals court refused Monday to let a workers’ compensation claimant introduce a second medical opinion, in a case testing an evidence code provision the Legislature adopted in 2013.

Baricko v. Barnett Transportation Inc. turned on the applicability of the Daubert evidentiary standard. The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in September about whether it should embrace the standard, but has yet to rule.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected an attack on Daubert filed on behalf of David Baricko, a truck driver seeking to introduce evidence that sitting for long periods caused his embolism.

Michael Winer of the Law Office of Michael J. Winer in Tampa argued that a judge of compensation claims had impermissibly applied Daubert in advance of its approval by the state high court.

The appellate panel did not explain its thinking, but Judge Kent Wetherell II said in a concurring opinion that the appeal was “frivolous.” The 1st DCA had ruled in 2014 that Daubert applies in workers’ compensation cases, he wrote.

In any event, he added, “it is well established that the (Supreme) Court does not have the authority to establish procedural rules for executive branch quasi-judicial proceedings such as those under chapter 440, Florida Statutes” — the workers’ compensation code.

Even if the justices decline to enforce the new evidentiary standard in trial courts, “that decision will have no impact whatsoever on the applicability of the Daubert test in workers’ compensation proceedings,” Wetherell wrote.

The 4th District Court of Appeal rejected a similar claim in November, Wetherell added.

“He just couldn’t be more wrong about his conclusion,” Winer said in a telephone interview. In suggesting the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to set evidentiary standards in workers’ compensation courts, Wetherell “ignores precedent,” Winer said.

He plans to seek a written ruling by the 1st DCA panel to clarify the court’s thinking.

The U.S. Supreme Court adopted the evidence standard at issue in 1993, in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. The standard prevails in federal courts and in courts in other states.

Judges apply the test when weighing whether proposed expert testimony is generally accepted by the scientific community.

Insurance office finds workers’ compensation market stable, competitive

Despite broad consternation over rising workers’ compensation insurance rates, Florida’s market is relatively stable and competitive, according to an analysis released Friday by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The market “is served by a large number of independent insurers and none of the insurers have sufficient market share to exercise any meaningful control over the price of workers’ compensation insurance,” the report says.

Entrants to and withdrawals from the market produce “no market disruptions,” the report continues, signalling “that the Florida workers’ compensation market is well-capitalized and competitive.”

Furthermore, there have been no bankruptcies by insurers requiring the Florida Workers’ Compensation Insurance Guaranty Association to absorb policies.

“There are some good things about the workers’ compensation system — which is that the market is stable and very diverse, and that’s a good thing for the small business insurance consumer,” said Bill Herrle, Florida director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

The Florida Supreme Court threw the market into a tizzy last year by striking down elements of reforms passed in 2003 to drive down costs. They included a cap on attorney fees and limits on temporary disability payments.

The attorney fee ruling accounts for around 10 percent of the 14.5 percent premium hike approved the insurance office last year, according to ratings agency the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

The legality of that increase is before the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The report says the attorney fee provisions “were a significant factor in the decline of workers’ compensation rates and continues to impact them. It is also the case, however, that most of the improvements resulting from legislative changes may have been realized, as there were four rate increases from 2010 to 2014 after seven years of decreases following the 2003 reforms.”

The report points to additional price pressures, including the cost of drugs and of treatment in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, which are running ahead of the national averages.

The recent rate increase, which began to take effect last month and will roll out as employers buy new or renewed policies this year, has sparked calls for renewed reforms. Insurers and business groups have focused on controlling attorney fees, but the Legislature also may look at additional cost drivers.

Herrle, who serves on an Associated Industries of Florida task force on workers’ compensation reform, argued attorney fees are the chief enemy.

”We don’t need to be making changes to the rating process,” he said. “That dynamic is good. The dynamic that is not good is the (Supreme) Court cases.”

The report notes that, before the 2003 reforms, Florida tended to rank either No. 1 or No. 2 among the states in terms of high rates, according to data collected by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. It had dropped to No. 40 by 2010.

Even before last year’s rate hike, the state had climbed to No. 33.

Even so, Florida’s rates ranked below the national median.

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