Rob Bradley Archives - Page 7 of 38 - Florida Politics

Brewster Bevis: Affordable housing good for Florida business, economy

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) was created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development and welfare of industry, business and the people of the state, which is why we are proud to be one of the 30 statewide organizations that make up the Sadowski Coalition.

Fully funding our affordable housing programs is good for all Florida businesses and our economy. Affordable housing generates jobs in home construction, which is a major economic driver in the state. This industry also fosters growth in local businesses when they draw upon and use local resources.

Florida’s housing market and available affordable housing stock are key factors in attracting new businesses to the state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our workforce and business climate.

If we can ensure Florida’s employees at all income levels can find a safe, reliable and affordable home near their job, our state can continue to be one of the best places to do business in the nation.

Recently, the state Senate and House released their respective budget proposals. We truly appreciate the Senate and Senate leadership, including Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley of Fleming Island and President Joe Negron of Stuart, for their commitment to affordable housing.

The Senate continues to be a strong advocate for affordable housing in Florida, and we ask they remain resolute in their recommendation of fully allocating these funds as they move through budget negotiations.

On the other hand, the House’s funding proposal only appropriates affordable housing money for areas impacted by the hurricane, which means the bulk of the state will not receive any affordable housing funding with this proposal.

We hope they will move to the Senate’s funding position. We ask they remember just how important affordable housing is to our economy, Floridians and our entire State of Florida.

If lawmakers fully fund affordable housing programs during Fiscal Year 2018-19, we can generate more than 30,000 Florida jobs and have a positive economic impact of $4 billion in the State of Florida.

We ask lawmakers to keep this in mind as their focus shifts to finalizing the FY 2018-19 budget.

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Brewster Bevis is the senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF, which is a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

Rob Bradley

House, Senate tee up differing budget plans

The House and Senate on Wednesday advanced separate versions of an $87 billion-plus state budget, with the two chambers taking different courses on health-care spending and a plan to link education policy to the budget process.

After initial debate on the bills, the Senate is poised to pass its $87.3 billion bill (SB 2500) on Thursday, and the House is expected to pass its $87.2 billion spending plan (HB 5001). After the floor votes, the chambers will be able to begin negotiating the 2018-2019 budget, facing a March 9 end-of-Session deadline.

Although the two bills are only $100 million apart overall, details differ. One major hurdle facing negotiators is a House plan to directly link the $21 billion public-school portion of the budget to passage of a separate 198-page “conforming” bill (HB 7055), which contains dozens of education policy changes, including voucher-like scholarships to let bullied students transfer to private schools.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who leads the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, acknowledged that if the House budget bill passed, but the separate policy bill failed, lawmakers would have to return to Tallahassee to pass a budget to fund Florida’s 67 school districts for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, offered an amendment seeking to sever the link between the education-policy bill and the budget.

“I think this is a bad precedent,” he said, saying there has not been enough public review of the massive education conforming bill, which was only heard by one committee.

But his proposal was defeated in a 72-39 vote, along party lines, with the Republican majority opposing the effort.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said the Senate is taking the position that major policy bills should be handled through the normal committee process and not included in a budget-linked bill. A conforming bill cannot be amended and would only be subject to an up-or-down vote if it is approved in the House-Senate negotiating process.

“Our conforming bills this year are skinny, for the lack of a better word,” Bradley said. “They do only what is a bare necessity to make sure the budget is done in a legal manner.”

But Bradley also said many House education proposals would likely receive Senate support if the measures are handled through the normal bill process.

“Our objections are on procedure, not policy,” Bradley said. “I think as those issues move through the Senate process that they will be receiving favorable votes because there are many of us who are supporters of the parental-empowerment, school-choice movement.”

Another potential sticking point in budget negotiations is a Senate plan revamping the way Medicaid payments are distributed to Florida hospitals. It would replace an existing system that favors facilities that serve a greater percentage of poor and disabled patients with a plan that would increase base Medicaid payments for all hospitals.

House leaders say they favor the current system, noting major hospitals like Jackson Memorial in Miami would face a funding cut in excess of $59 million. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, said he supports helping major not-for-profit hospitals, like Jackson, while he is more skeptical of for-profit hospitals.

Bradley acknowledged the Senate and House plans “are wildly opposite,” but the Senate proposal is designed to spur a policy debate.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Bradley said. “But this is a debate that is long overdue in this building. Don’t fear the debate, we look forward to the debate over how we handle Medicaid payments for our medical providers moving forward.”

In floor action Wednesday, the Senate adopted dozens of amendments to its budget bill, most related to funding local projects across the state.

One of the amendments, sponsored by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and several other senators, would boost operational funding for Florida A&M University by $6 million. FAMU lost some $11.5 million in state performance funding this year because it finished near the bottom of annual rankings for the 12 state universities.

The House and Senate budgets would boost state and local funding for public schools by more than $500 million. The House has a $100 increase in per-student funding, while the Senate has a $110 increase.

Neither budget has a general pay raise for state workers. But the Senate bill would increase pay for state law enforcement officers by at least 7 percent, if the officers have 10 or more years of experience. The Senate also would provide a $2,500 pay raise for state firefighters.

The Senate bill would increase salaries for state Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges by 10 percent.

Senate leaders press for change in hospital funding

A proposal to redistribute hundreds of millions of dollars away from safety-net hospitals and toward increasing base Medicaid payments at all hospitals drew opposition Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

But Senate Republican leaders were able to beat back a proposed amendment by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, that would have scrapped the plan and maintained current law, which directs upward of $318 million in enhanced Medicaid payments to 28 hospitals with Medicaid caseloads of 25 percent or greater.

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, said the budget plan is a fair redistribution of what she called “special project funds” and said it’s something the Legislature should have done years ago.

“I am very hopeful that this is the year we pass a budget that actually does this,” Flores said of the Senate’s plan.  “Where we actually say, “Hospitals thank you for opening your doors, for not asking questions.”

Flores said every hospital in the state provides Medicaid care and charity care.

“The fact remains that under today’s system that there are hospitals across the entire state that we represent that don’t ask (about ability to pay), that don’t get any of that money and still provide the care,” she said.

Specifically, the Senate plan would eliminate automatic rate enhancements paid to the 28 hospitals and use the money, instead, to beef up base Medicaid rates for all hospitals.

The Senate budget plan also would provide $50 million in general revenue, which, when matched with federal Medicaid dollars, would total $130 million. The plan would redirect that funding to base rates. As a result, the Senate plan would increase Medicaid base rates from $3,426 to $4,049 for each hospital admission.

Because the base rates would be increased, the Senate plan would benefit any system that owns more than one hospital, such as HCA, Tenet, Community Health Systems, BayCare, and Adventist Health System. HCA, which owns 43 facilities in the state, could see nearly $40.5 million in Medicaid increases under the Senate plan.

Conversely, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami faces more than a $59 million reduction, UF Health Shands in Gainesville faces more than a $20 million hit and Tampa General Hospital could lose nearly $14.7 million.

The Senate is expected Thursday to approve its proposed budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the House in the coming weeks on a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Senate’s proposed changes in hospital funding could be a key issue in negotiations.

House budget chairman Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, already has indicated that the Senate’s proposal could face an uphill battle in the House, telling reporters last week that Jackson Memorial and other facilities are “essential to the well-being of our residents. As for some of the for-profits, we’re much less sympathetic.’’

Before the floor debate Wednesday, staff members from the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida met with members of the Senate Democratic caucus to discuss the impact of the redistribution plan on its members. The alliance represents public, teaching and children’s hospitals.

Lindy Kennedy, executive vice president of the alliance, told Senate Democrats that it’s been long-standing policy to give additional payments to hospitals that provide large amounts of charity care. The policy, she said, is a recognition that Medicaid pays just 60 cents of every dollar hospitals spend caring for Medicaid patients and that hospitals treating large numbers of Medicaid patients can’t afford the loss.

Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida President Tony Carvalho said three of the four largest teaching hospitals would be cut $94 million under the Senate plan.

But Senate Minority Leader Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, reminded his members and the Safety Net Hospital of Florida lobbyists that the Senate has stood behind the industry for the last four years.

In 2015, for example, the Senate championed a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which would have increased the amount of federal funding flowing to the state. The Senate also was able to secure additional state funding for hospitals after the federal government reduced the amount of supplemental Medicaid dollars coming to the state.

“It’s amazing now that all of a sudden the House is a hero after they cut you all for almost half a decade,” Braynon said during the meeting. “I want to keep it in that frame of mind. That the people that we seem to have a slight problem with … are the people that have been for the most part trying to fight to keep hospitals” from getting cut.

His comments may have resonated with some Democratic members. Sen. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St Petersburg, opposed Rodriguez’s amendment.

The hospital financing issue isn’t the only difference between the Senate and House budgets, but it is one of the larger differences. During debate on the Rodriguez amendment, Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Rob Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, told senators that it was “is an important issue as we move into conference.”

Among other health-care spending differences, the Senate has included $130 million in additional funding for nursing homes and it also has proposed cuts to Medicaid HMOs, reducing the amount of premiums paid to the health plans from $312 per member per month to $304 per member per month.

Senate approves $100 million for Florida Forever land-buying program

In an effort that would comply with voters’ wishes, the Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal that would direct $100 million to the Florida Forever land-buying program every year.

“This is one of the things we can be proud of not just when we go back home, but for many years to come,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, the sponsor of the bill.

The measure is a top priority for Bradley this legislative session and said lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure the state’s “amazing ecosystems” are preserved for future generations. The measure passed on a 37-0 vote.

Now that the measure has been pushed through the Senate, all eyes are on the House, which has yet to hear its companion bill in committee. The measure has three stops before it can head to the House floor for a vote.

Bradley’s proposal would comply with the wishes of voters who approved a constitutional amendment back in 2014 that would set money aside for land and water conservation efforts. The Fleming Island Republican says his bill will ensure the constitutional amendment money is used for conservation efforts and not administrative and technical costs at agencies.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, questioned how the state would make sure the land is maintained and not just acquired.

“How are we going to keep our commitment to those amendment 1 dollars to keep the environment pristine?” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, for all of us in the chamber, it is not just about purchasing land, but maintaining it.”

Bradley agreed with Garcia and assured him the money for the program should also go toward land maintenance.

The environmental appropriations committee chaired by Bradley has also proposed an additional one-time $50 million for the Florida Forever Trust Fund, which would be a $150 million total for the 2018-19 budget.

The Legislature last session approved $0 in funding for the trust fund.

alcoholic beverages

Bottoms up: Booze bills moving in House

A trio of alcoholic beverage-related bills moved through a House panel Tuesday:

— Beer advertisements in theme parks would be allowed under a bill approved by the Careers and Competition Subcommittee.

That measure (HB 669) was approved 13-2, with chair Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican, and Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican, casting ‘no’ votes.

This is the second year the bill’s been up before lawmakers. It stoked controversy last year: Critics said it would allow theme parks to “extort” ad dollars from beer companies and ultimately favor Big Beer manufacturers who can pay to put up the biggest and most ads.

They also could sponsor concerts. other events or attractions at parks. It’s supported by SeaWorld and Universal Orlando and opposed by beer distributors and the state’s craft beer industry.

The House bill heads to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 822) has cleared one of its three committees.

— Legislation that would allow beer distributors to give away for free glasses imprinted with product names and logos to bars and restaurants was narrowly OK’d. Under current law, glasses must be sold. 

The subcommittee cleared that bill (HB 961) on an 8-7 vote. This also is the second year this bill has been before lawmakers.

Those in favor, including small businesses, say it’ll be a help to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage. Opponents, including many craft brewers, counter that they won’t be able to afford to keep up with the stream of free glasses from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the makers of Bud Light and Stella Artois.

Josh Aubuchon, general counsel for the Florida Brewers Guild, the craft beer industry’s trade group, told panel members many of his members sell their product only in kegs, not bottles or cans. Because branded glasses effectively act as passive advertisements for a particular label, he worried that bars would push out craft beers on tap in favor of Big Beer’s offerings.

This year’s House bill, carried by Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters, would limit “the total pieces of glassware, per licensed premises, (to) 15 cases per calendar year.” That’s about 360 glasses.

“Branded glassware … is intended to be used only to serve consumers the brand advertised on the glassware,” the bill summary says. The measure also would expire in June 2021 unless renewed by legislators.

The bill now moves to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 1224) by Appropriations chair Rob Bradley has cleared two panels and will next be considered by his committee.

— A bill that would expressly allow Floridians to use a smartphone app to order alcoholic beverages to be delivered also cleared the subcommittee.

The panel OK’d the measure (HB 667) on a 13-2 vote. Republican Reps. Ben Albritton of Wauchula and Julio Gonzalez of Venice opposed it.

Services with apps such as Drizly and Shipt already deliver in the state, but “current law does not address orders received via the internet or other electronic forms of communication,” a staff analysis says.

The bill, carried by Miami Republican Daniel Perez, is supported by retail and restaurant groups, and by Target. The House measure now heads to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 1020) sponsored by Tampa Republican Dana Young has cleared two of its three committees unanimously.

Despite Seminole concerns, fantasy sports bill ready in Senate

A Senate bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation cleared its last committee this week, making it available for the floor.

But there are still big ‘if’s that could blow up the gambling exclusivity deal, known as the Seminole Compact, between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Here’s the staff analysis: “If fantasy contests permitted under the bill constitute gaming, are considered Class III (i.e., Vegas-style) gaming under federal law, and constitute, under the Compact, new Class III gaming in Florida, (then) the payments due to the State under the Compact could end when fantasy contests begin to be offered for public or private use.”

It’s not spare change: More than $382 million to the state from Seminole casino gambling is predicted for next fiscal year. Around 3 million Floridians play some sort of fantasy sports, advocates say.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, brought up those worries at the bill’s (SB 374) Rules Committee hearing Thursday, mentioning gaming concerns’ continual efforts to find loopholes in state gambling law.

“It gets you focused in on what you’re doing is written tightly enough that someone can’t drive a truck through it,” he told bill sponsor Dana Young of Tampa. “Because this industry owns a lot of trucks.”

Young had an easy answer: Fantasy sports play isn’t the kind of game—like slots and table games—that violates the Compact’s exclusivity provision.

She’s previously provided a legal memo contending fantasy play doesn’t “constitute an online bet or gamble.” Fantasy players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.

The Tribe, however, sent a letter warning lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if approved, would violate the Seminole Compact. An identical House measure (HB 223) by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur has cleared one of its three committees so far.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s exploded in popularity. DraftKings and FanDuel are the two biggest in the field.

Opponents have pointed to a 27-year-old opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. It says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

“You feel comfortable we’re on safe ground here?” Lee asked. “Yes,” Young said.

She added that the state’s fantasy sports players “are in a gray area where they potentially could be engaging in a criminal enterprise … I don’t see any risk to” the legislation.

Lee, along with Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, eventually voted against the bill.

Mary McLeod Bethune statue, Florida Forever ready for Senate approval

A plan to place a statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol as a representative of Florida and a measure to set aside $100 million a year for land preservation moved a step closer Wednesday to Senate approval.

With little comment, the Senate positioned the bills for votes next week. One of the measures (SB 472) seeks to have a statue of Bethune replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington.

“We’re one step closer. We’re going to get there this year,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is sponsoring the measure.

An identical House bill (HB 139) also has started moving and is next slated to go the House Appropriations Committee.

Smith, born in St. Augustine but with few adult ties to the state, has been one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall since 1922. The other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace the Smith statue during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

Despite agreeing to remove Smith, lawmakers were unable to come up with a replacement during the 2017 Session, as the House did not move forward with any of the suggestions from the Great Floridians Program within the state Division of Historic Resources.

Bethune, whose resume included serving as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, founded what became known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The university has offered to pay for the new statute.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa republican, attached an amendment to the bill Wednesday to require the Smith statue be acquired and displayed by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

“I think it should be back in the state of Florida,” Lee said. “I think we have a Division of Cultural Affairs, within the secretary of state’s office, that can receive that important piece of Florida’s history and place it appropriately somewhere in a museum.”

Meanwhile, the Senate also is on the verge of approving a plan to spend $100 million a year on the Florida Forever land-preservation program. The bill (SB 370), sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would use money from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at increasing land and water conservation.

“The ($100 million) number is not a magic number, but it is commensurate with when you look at how funds have been appropriated, via statute, whether it be (for) springs or the Everglades,” Bradley said.

In past years, lawmakers directed at least $200 million a year to the Everglades; $64 million for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area; $50 million for the state’s natural springs; and $5 million for Lake Apopka.

The constitutional amendment directed that a portion of money from a real-estate documentary tax go into the land-acquisition trust fund. That is expected to generate $862.2 million next year.

As part of Bradley’s proposal, lawmakers would not be able to use the trust fund money for agency overhead, which has been a point on contention with backers of the 2014 amendment.

Bradley also has a separate measure (SB 204) to increase annual funding for the state’s natural springs to $75 million and to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida. The bill is also ready to go before the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican, are seeking another $50 million from the trust fund (SB 786 and HB 339) to help restore the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.

Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill has taken over legislation (SB 174), initially filed by former Sen. Jack Latvala, that seeks $50 million a year for beach projects.

Senate committee OKs repeal of ‘archaic’ chastity defamation law

A 135-year-old law that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to defame a woman for being unchaste would be repealed under a bill that cleared its first of three Senate committee stops on Monday.

“In our modern society these penalties are too severe for an issue that has mostly been handled among two private citizens in private proceedings,” said Sen. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat sponsoring SB 1060.

A first-degree misdemeanor could be punishable for up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

The measure would also repeal a provision that makes it a crime to make derogatory statements about a bank, building or loan association.

Members in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee praised Campbell for championing the effort to repeal these defamation laws and advanced it with a unanimous panel vote. Chairman Rob Bradley said Campbell’s bill is one of his favorite proposals this session, and joked that he wished he would have thought of it first.

“We should clear our state statute of these archaic and silly crimes,” Bradley tweeted after the committee vote.

While Campbell’s bill has two more stop before it can head to the full Senate floor for consideration, the trek for an identical bill in the House has proven more difficult.

State Rep. Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, filed HB 6019 last October and it has yet to gain momentum in his chamber. His proposal has two committee assignments, but has yet to be heard in one.

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

Windshield repair fraud targeted in Senate

Insurers could demand car windshields be checked for damage before they are replaced under a Senate proposal that started moving forward Tuesday to combat reported increasing cases of repair-shop fraud.

But the inspections would have to be done quickly.

The bill (SB 396), sponsored by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee after being amended to require inspections occur within 24 hours in most cases and by adjusters employed by the insurers.

Hukill, who expressed concern about the attached timelines, said she will continue to work on the proposal, which has support from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and business-lobbying groups Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“There are some bad actors out there, lots of bad actors, it’s more than just a couple of people,” Hukill said. “I thought this didn’t affect my county. But we see them now hanging out in the car wash, the normal car wash on the main drag in my town, coming over to people and saying, ‘Do you want us to fix that?’”

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said his amendment Tuesday was intended to prevent motorists from getting tickets for driving unsafe vehicles while waiting for repairs.

“The spirit of this amendment for me is ensuring that these repairs are done in a reasonable amount of time, because it actually violates a traffic law if they are driving around with a broken windshield,” Steube said.

Fleming Republican Sen. Rob Bradley added a provision that would allow repairs to proceed without inspections if the damage has “demonstrably impacted” vehicles or continued use of the vehicles. He said his proposal is focused on rural communities, where an insurance inspector may not be readily available within a single day.

Ashley Kalifeh, representing the American Insurance Association and Associated Industries of Florida, said glass experts should also be able to conduct the inspections while expressing concern about the timelines. Kalifeh said people are already being encouraged by some glass shops to avoid inspections for windshield replacements that may not be needed.

“When it comes to a time limitation, we would just urge a lot of caution,” Kalifeh said. “It is in everyone’s interest to quickly get a truly broken windshield repaired. But we don’t want people being coached to just avoid the time limitation so they cannot get an inspection.”

Florida law currently doesn’t prevent an insurer from requiring the inspections. The proposal would clearly state that an insurer may require the inspection before authorizing any windshield repair or replacement.

The proposed is tied to a practice known as “assignment of benefits” which is part of a larger legislative battle regarding property insurance and is being blamed for the rise in insurance costs.

Assignment of benefits has been a controversial issue in recent years, primarily because of residential water-damage claims. But it also has become an issue in claims for windshield damage.

In assignment of benefits, policyholders sign over claims to contractors, who perform work and then pursue payment from insurers. The insurance industry contends that the practice leads to fraud and increased litigation, while contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys argue it can help make sure insurance claims get handled properly.

Hukill said windshield repairs and replacements have become a growing field for fraudulent insurance claims.

“It drives up costs for all of us,” Hukill said.

The Department of Financial Services reported that the number of auto glass lawsuits has increased from 397 in 2006 to 19,513 last year.

A House version (HB 811), sponsored by Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia has not been heard in committees. Hukill’s proposal must still go before the Senate Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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