Florida Supreme Court Archives - Page 7 of 44 - Florida Politics

Supreme Court: Attorneys can collect fees for claim bill work

The Legislature can’t limit the amount of attorney fees to be paid out of money it OKs for a claim bill, a narrowly divided Florida Supreme Court decided.

The 4-3 opinion was one of nine in an unusual out-of-calendar release from the court this Tuesday. The Supreme Court normally releases opinions 11 a.m. on Thursdays.

Senior Justice James E.C. Perry and Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince were in the majority. Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga dissented.

Perry’s “senior” status after his December retirement was considered improper by conservative critics of the court. Perry was replaced last month by former state appellate Judge C. Alan Lawson, a conservative.

The Florida House of Representatives was even prepared to legally challenge Perry’s continued work on the court until he finally withdrew into full retirement this week.

In the claim bill opinion, the majority sided with the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley law firm, which represented Aaron Edwards, a brain-damaged man who received a $15 million claim bill from the Legislature.

Edwards was born brain-damaged in 1997 because of medical malpractice at Lee Memorial Health System, according to briefs in the case.

Florida law limits local governments and other public bodies to paying no more than $200,000 per person in damages. To get more, lawmakers must pass a claim bill, also known as a relief act, for extra money.

The “contingency fee contract” between the firm and Edwards’ mother called for attorney fees of 25 percent.

The 2012 claim bill, however, says the “total amount paid for attorney’s fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses relating to the claim may not exceed $100,000.”

The majority said lawmakers may approve or deny a claim bill but they can’t “impair an pre-existing contract” between an attorney and a client.

On the other hand, Polston noted in dissent that the firm’s fee agreement said, in part, that “Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees charged by [Searcy Denney], and in that event, I understand that the fees owed to [Searcy Denney] shall be the amount provided by law.”

“Because the fee agreement explicitly anticipates and agrees to an award of fees as limited by Florida law and in the amount provided by law, there is no impairment of contract,” Polston said.

Christian D. Searcy, the firm’s president, told the court during oral argument in June he took the case because no other firm wanted it and he believed Edwards needed to be compensated.

In emotional remarks to the court, he called the fee cap a “confiscatory limitation,” adding that “no seriously injured child will ever be able to get an attorney … or anybody with a serious claim.”

Searcy was not immediately available at his office Tuesday.

 

James E.C. Perry’s “senior service” on Supreme Court to end

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry‘s last day as a “senior” justice will be Tuesday, according to a court order released Monday.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed the latest order Jan. 11, modifying his previous order of Dec. 1.

Spokesman Craig Waters previously explained that the court’s “longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement.”

Perry

Perry, who joined the court in 2009, stepped down Dec. 30, having reached the mandatory retirement age. His name appeared on several opinions, including death penalty matters, released by the court since then.

“However, it is axiomatic that continued service is not without limit,” Labarga wrote.

“…At the time that the Dec. 1 order was entered, it was not known when a new justice would be appointed to replace him,” he wrote. “That issue now has been resolved.”

Gov. Rick Scott on Dec. 16 appointed conservative appellate judge C. Alan Lawson to replace Perry. Lawson had been chief judge of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

Perry has since “expressed his desire that his senior service not be protracted for a lengthy period of time,” Labarga said.

The senior status recently piqued the ire of conservative blogger Ed Whelan, who opined on National Review Online that Perry’s continuing to work on pending cases was wrongly “displac(ing)” Lawson.

 

House subcommittee looks into state courts’ caseload backlogs

The percentage of the Florida Supreme Court’s caseload still pending after 180 days doubled after the U.S. Supreme Court upended the state’s death penalty system last year, a court representative told a House panel looking into court delays on Thursday.

In Hurst v. Florida, the justices in Washington invalidated Florida’s death penalty because the law gave too much discretion to judges instead of juries in handing down death sentences. Death row inmates filed appeals en masse. The court in Tallahassee is still weighing a response.

“That has completely held up the death penalty cases in Florida,” said John Tomasino, clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

The court has set a standard for deciding cases within 180 days. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee held hearings into how quickly  the high court and other appellate and trial courts are clearing their caseloads.

Since 2006, the Florida Supreme Court has left between 1 percent and 4 percent of its cases lingering past that deadline. In 2015, the percentage was 3 percent. It swelled to 6 percent in 2016.

Cord Byrd, a Republican attorney from Neptune Beach, wanted to know why the Supreme Court takes so long sometimes to ruling on appeals. The court took more than two years to decide Castellanos v. Next Door Co., last year’s bombshell workers’ compensation ruling.

“Those are the exception, not the rule,” Tomasini said. “It does happen from time to time. All I can do is to point to factors that can contribute to those cases when that type delay does happen. One I definitely can share is the court trying to decide it properly, trying to decide it together.”

Officials representing trial courts and district courts of appeal said that what data exist about case clearance are sometime wrong. Chief trial judge Mark Mahon of Jacksonville referred to a report that his judges let 2,789 jury cases linger for more than 18 months. In reality, he said, none has lingered for more than 180 days.

He blamed delays on self-represented litigants who don’t understand the system; difficulties in securing language interpreters, parties’ requests for continuances, and an increasingly complicated case load.

Plus difficulties integrating new electronic filing systems, which are not always compatible with each other.

Death cases also can tie up the courts.

“It’s something that technology may not be the solution to. It’s just inherent in the system,” Mahon said. “Death is different, and it’s going to take a higher level of scrutiny. You just can’t afford to make a mistake.”

Lack of expertise in court clerks’ office can also inflate the statistics, he said. For example, he once found a first-degree murder case counted as a death penalty case when prosecutors weren’t seeking that sanction.

“You have to understand what you’re looking at. I think someone looked at it and said, ‘First-degree murder — that’s a death penalty case,’ ” Mahon said.

“I have not witnessed a systemic procedural delay issue at the trial court level,” said Rep. Shawn Harrison, a commercial litigator from Tampa.

“When the foreclosure crisis hit several years ago, that did have an impact. We noticed a delay there,” he said. “But most of the things I have seen are based on the geography of where the cases are brought; cases in South Florida tend to move slower than cases in different parts of the states. That’s just because things work that way there.”

George Moraitis Jr., a Republican from Fort Lauderdale, complained that, as a probate attorney, it can take months to see a case docketed.

“What tangible benefits are we seeing from this e-filing system?” he asked. “As a practitioner, it’s entirely frustrating.”

Judge Robert Roundtree of Alachua County, which has developed its own court management system, guessed there might be delays in Moraitis’ electronic filings being approved and sent to a judge.

“That’s what the clerks are struggling with, with their lack of resources, is having the tools to make sure they can maintain the file. The court is struggling with the overlay, the case management system, so we can see the file.”

This is the fourth year the trial courts have asked the Legislature for updated technology. “We saw the train wreck coming as we transfer from analog to digital,” Roundtree said.

“We’ve got the front end done with the electronic filing,” he said. “You bought all the bells and whistles on the data plan, and some us have a flip phone trying to access it.”

Committee chairwoman Heather Fitzenhagen, a Republican attorney from Fort Myers, asked whether administrators were moving toward a common system, accessible statewide.

Roundtree said the courts have established a common standard for these system and is working toward allowing different courts to communicate. “We are working to that level,” he said.

“Ultimately, it will be some form of a homegrown, internally grown system,” he said. “We cannot always be at the mercy of a third-party vendor who says now we have to upgrade to version 2.0 — now we won’t support the last system.”

Whether the courts are resolving delays, “it’s a problem for those people whose cases are delayed. We want to find out why that’s happening and if we can correct it,” Byrd said following the hearing.

Of the steps toward a coordinated database for trial judges and court clerks, he said: “It would seem like that would go a long way in solving some of these problems.”

Is there money for that?

“That’s a great question,” Byrd said. “Not one that I have an answer to.”

 

Bill would force case reporting requirements on Supreme Court

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida House would force the state Supreme Court to produce a yearly report on how many cases it’s finishing with opinions.

It seems to go against the court’s official Latin motto, “Sat Cito Si Recte,” translated as “Soon enough if done correctly,” or even “Justice takes time.”

“The phrase indicates the importance of taking the time necessary to achieve true justice,” the court’s website says. Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters declined comment on the bill.

The legislation (HB 301), filed by new Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, would require the court to tally in detail “each case on the court’s docket … for which a decision or disposition has not been rendered within 180 days.” 

It then requires a “detailed explanation of the court’s failure to render a decision or disposition” in pending cases older than six months.

The bill also instructs the court to tally cases it decided in the previous year but took longer than six months.

The report “shall be submitted in an electronic spreadsheet format capable of being sorted” and sent to “the Governor, the Attorney General, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

In a phone interview Friday, White – an attorney – said he started hearing from constituents soon after his election about “painfully long wait times for appellate opinions.”

“I thought, let’s just simply ask the court, starting with the Supreme Court, for a modest report,” he said. “A little sunshine and some data will all help us do a better job.”

To those who bring up the court’s motto, he counters with another expression: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Waters did say the court currently has 785 pending cases. “By comparison, the court disposed of 2,432 cases in calendar year 2016,” he said, adding that number “is subject to correction as we routinely audit the final results.”

Coincidentally, the bill is the latest legislation from a Republican-controlled House that’s long been antagonized by rulings its leaders have characterized as “judicial overreach.”

In October, for example, House Speaker Richard Corcoran lambasted a decision invalidating part of the state’s death penalty.

The ruling, requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence, “is just the latest example of the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives,” Corcoran said.

The House also is considering a measure for the 2017 Legislative Session that would impose term limits on judges. At its last hearing, the panel reviewing the legislation also discussed how quickly courts are clearing their caseloads.

Earlier this month, Heather Fitzenhagen – chairwoman of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee – rejected a suggestion that House Republicans want to publish the court for rulings striking down the GOP’s priorities. White also sits on that committee. 

“Absolutely not,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is … (make) sure that all of our branches of government are functioning at the best possible efficiency, and that we’re getting things done in the best manner possible. That justice is served in a timely manner.”

Officials, others respond to school vouchers case

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision not to take up a contentious school vouchers lawsuit continued to garner reaction throughout Wednesday.

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump‘s nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, tweeted, “Congrats to the Florida families who have a clear path toward more opportunity due to #SchoolChoice w/ today’s FL Supreme Court decision!”

Florida House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, in a statement, called the move “a blow to our state’s Constitutional promise of  ‘a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.’ ”

“We can all agree that the zip code of a child’s birth should not be a determining factor in their access to a high quality public education,” she said. “However, for almost 20 years now, since the passage of Gov. Jeb Bush’s original unconstitutional voucher system, Florida has diverted billions of taxpayer dollars away from our public schools in a misguided attempt at outsourcing our children’s education to for-profit corporations and fly-by-night profiteers.

“Instead, these resources should have been spent improving our neighborhood schools, focusing on options that we know have a proven success rate and a genuine benefit to the public they are meant to serve, such as the community schools model,” she added. “Unfortunately, some continue to view our children as a commodity from which every ounce of profit should be squeezed.

“Even with today’s setback, House Democrats will continue to fight on behalf of the thousands of parents and students who have been failed by legislative leaders more intent on serving an ideology of boundless privatization rather than a commitment to the educational well-being of our children.”

Bush, the president and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school reform group he founded, said the decision is “a powerful reminder to entrenched special interests that when policymakers work hand-in-hand with Florida’s families, students win.”

“It is my hope that opponents of Florida’s efforts to help our most vulnerable students will stop impeding successful reforms and join us in ensuring all students have access to excellent educational options,” he said.

Cruz’s counterpart, Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, called the court’s order “a great victory for school children, parents, and classroom teachers who want the best for their students.”

“I thank the many organizations, pastors, parents, and children who advocated for fairness and justice in our education system and wish them all a great school year,” he said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was “pleased that the lower court’s decision will stand, and that this important program will continue to provide educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources.

“Today is a great victory for our children,” she said in a statement.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL), the state’s pro-free market organization, called Wednesday “a day to celebrate.”

“Our childrens’ future looks brighter than ever,” AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson said in an email. “Last year, the legislature enacted several common sense reforms to improve access to a quality education. Today’s ruling furthers the initiative to ensure that parents can make the best decisions for their children.”

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said the program “provide(s) lower income families, most of whom are minorities, the opportunities to receive a high quality education and are funded through donations from businesses across the state.”

“Educating our children, particularly those who do not have the same opportunities as others, is crucial in ensuring that they can go on to college, earn a degree and begin a career that offers them prosperity and success,” Calabro said in a statement. “…With the lawsuit officially over, the state does not have to continue to spend taxpayer dollars on what could have been an expensive battle at the Supreme Court.”

Cesar Grajales, Florida Coalitions Director of The LIBRE Initiative, a project of Americans for Prosperity focused on the Hispanic community, said the court “was right to defend the needs of Florida students by dismissing the attacks from unions.”

“School choice is a powerful tool to ensure that our community has the best access to education possible,” Grajales said. “…I am looking forward to working with the Florida legislature to continue expanding reforms that ensure parents and students can achieve their educational goals.”

classroom school vouchers

Teachers’ union: “Who can challenge the Legislature on voucher program?”

The Florida Education Association (FEA) vented its “frustration” Wednesday after the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up a suit challenging the constitutionality of what’s been called “the nation’s largest private school choice program.”

The court decided not to hear a challenge to the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, created in 2001, though – as one former judge noted – its order “doesn’t say (it) lacks jurisdiction.” (Main story here.)

That had Joanne McCall, the statewide teachers’ union’s president and the lead plaintiff in the case, asking, Who can pursue a case? A trial court and the 1st District Court of Appeal had previously ruled the matter could not go forward.

“This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, doesn’t answer that question,” she said in a statement. “We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional, but we haven’t had the opportunity to argue our case in court.”

Though the Supreme Court put an end to this case, first filed in 2014, the challenge now for voucher opponents is to find one or more plaintiffs who do have the legal standing to successfully press a complaint.

At issue was money going toward religious schools, and whether “taxpayers,” like McCall, could challenge “indirect state subsidies” paying for parochial school tuitions.

“We’re baffled that the courts would deny taxpayers the right to question state expenditures,” McCall added. “This decision has ramifications beyond this challenge to a voucher program.”

It “relies on private, voluntary donations—not public dollars,” the state’s brief on the jurisdictional question said. “And the program provides tax credits to donors—not schools or students.”

“At bottom, petitioners’ assertion of taxpayer standing is predicated on the assumption that this case involves the unlawful ‘use of public funds,’ ” the state’s brief said. “As the trial court and the (appellate court) correctly concluded, that position is flatly at odds with the how the Scholarship Program actually operates, and misconstrues the plain language of Florida’s Constitution.”

In other words, “the Legislature’s carefully crafted policy choice does not suffice to establish a concrete, particularized injury” to those that sued, including the FEA, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP’s Florida State Conference.

On the other hand, the FEA’s brief said the vouchers scheme “diverts funds from the public (treasury) to subsidize the costs for certain Florida children to attend private schools, the overwhelming majority of which are sectarian.”

“(N)othing in the law prohibits these schools from engaging in religious discrimination or mandating that their students participate in religious instruction and religious exercise,” according to the brief.

It said the high court should “accept jurisdiction … because the decision not only undermines the law of taxpayer standing, but it effectively holds the Scholarship Program – and any other government program similarly funded by a targeted tax credit rather than direct appropriations – to be immune from challenge.”

Simone Marstiller, a retired judge of the 1st District and now a lawyer in private practice, said appellate Judge Lori S. Rowe‘s decision “beautifully lays out exactly why” the high court turned the case down.

“Bottom line: The union and others simply cannot show any ‘injury’ from the Legislature’s use of tax credits to fund the scholarship program,” said Marstiller, who also held many positions under Gov. Jeb Bush, including secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“This is not a situation in which tax revenues are being diverted away from the public school system in favor of private schools, including religious schools,” she said. “So, not only is there no exercise of the Legislature’s spending power at issue, no constitutional provisions are implicated.”

The FEA did not immediately say what further legal plans it had regarding the vouchers program.

Supreme Court throws out school vouchers case

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not take up an appeal on a high-profile school vouchers case.

The decision comes as a major setback to vouchers opponents, including the Florida Education Association (FEA), the statewide teachers’ union, but was applauded by school choice advocates. (Separate story on the FEA’s reaction here.)

The court denied a request to review the case, but did not comment on its merits. “No motion for rehearing will be entertained by the Court,” its 2-paragraph order said.

“Who is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers?” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, don’t answer that question.” McCall is the lead plaintiff in the case.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston concurred in the decision. Justice R. Fred Lewis dissented, saying he would have granted oral argument.

The nonprofit organization that administers legal battle over the nation’s largest private school choice program is over,” in a blog post.

Doug Tuthill, president of the nonprofit Step Up For Students organizationhe court has spoken, and now is the time for us all to come together to work for the best interests of these children.”

His organization and other supporters had put on a pro-vouchers rally last year featuring Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The FEA held its own “Enough is Enough!” rally days before.

“We face enormous challenges with generational poverty, and we need all hands on deck,” Tuthill added in a statement.

The program “provides for state tax credits for contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations (SFOs). The SFOs then award scholarships to eligible children of low-income families,” its website says.

The tax credit cap for the current year is $559 million, according to the state. That cap will increase to $698,8 million for the 2017-2018 state fiscal year.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran also issued a statement, calling the move “a great victory for school children, parents, and classroom teachers who want the best for their students.” The program is a favorite of legislative Republicans.

“I thank the many organizations, pastors, parents, and children who advocated for fairness and justice in our education system and wish them all a great school year,” said Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican.

The Supreme Court’s inaction leaves in place a 1st District Court of Appeal decision, siding with a lower court’s decision to throw out the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others.

They had argued that the state’s method of funding private-school educations for more than 90,000 schoolchildren this year is unconstitutional.

The appeals court said the plaintiffs haven’t been harmed by the program, and denied that it violates state law. The vouchers are funded by corporations, which in turn receive tax credits on money they owe to the state.

Florida has several voucher programs in place; the one being challenged extends vouchers to low-income families, most of them black or Hispanic, who send their children to religious schools.

It began in 2001 under Gov. Jeb Bush, and legislators later approved expanding it to middle-income families.

The teacher union argued that it violates the state’s constitution by creating a parallel education system and directing tax money to religious institutions.

But Judge Lori Rowe, who wrote the 1st DCA opinion, said the plaintiffs lack legal standing to sue because they had not shown that other school funding had declined because of the program, or provided other proof of “concrete harm.”

Rowe added that the tax credit scholarship program doesn’t violate a constitutional ban on state aid to religious institutions because it involves the taxing, and not the spending power, of the Florida Legislature.

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM) weighed in later Wednesday morning, saying “Florida is on the right side of history.”

“I am proud to live in a state where educational choices for families are embraced and upheld,” said Shawn Frost, FCSBM president. “… “Let’s return Florida’s focus to where it belongs: on our students.

“We must commit to meeting each child’s unique needs, and improving academic outcomes for all,” Frost said. “When choices work for a child, we should celebrate that success not be threatened by it.”

Background for this post from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

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.

Who knows best, parents or teachers’ union?

In a recent POLITICO article, Florida Teachers’ Union President Joanne McCall said the following: “We believe that those closest to the students should be making the decisions about what is best for the students they serve.”

At issue was the controversy surrounding the state Board of Education’s efforts to turn around Florida’s worst performing public schools. McCall was stressing her belief in local control of schools, saying that her members are bogged down with state requirements and don’t have enough freedom in the classroom.

It’s a shame that McCall doesn’t always follow the belief she articulates. She and her union have sued to shut down the state’s tax credit scholarship program and evict nearly 100,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that fit them better than their assigned district schools.

Both a trial court and an appeals court have ruled that the union didn’t even have the right to bring the case, but McCall has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. Like a hungry dog with a piece of steak, she just refuses to let go – even though it’s far past time to drop the suit and let the focus return to where it belongs: the kids.

To McCall’s point, I would ask her this: Who is closer to a student than his or her parent? Why don’t you believe these poor parents should be making the decision about what school is best for their children?

Finally, why do you persist in this misguided lawsuit whose aim is to keep kids away from the best educational opportunities available to them?

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