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Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto chats with Sen. Jeff Brandes at the start of session Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened today for its annual 60-day session. (Phil Sears/For SaintPetersBlog)

Influence

Insurance bill sponsor insists it won’t become a train for AOB, PIP

When Lee Jacobson heard that that an insurance omnibus bill had been pulled from the Rules Committee onto the Senate floor Wednesday, he hightailed it to Tallahassee.

The Orlando insurance and personal-injury attorney, active in the Florida Justice Association, was watching his daughter play soccer at the time.

“I ran home, threw two suits in a bag and grabbed two one-way flights to get here,” Jacobson said Thursday morning.

His fear was that the bill — CS/CS/SB 454 — would become a train that might pull legislation to reform assignment of benefits agreements or personal injury protection auto insurance into law.

Bills on those two subjects have been languishing in the Senate.

Jacobson needn’t have worried. Jeff Brandes, SB 454’s sponsor, insisted Thursday that that’s not going to happen.

“My deal to pull that from committee was to take only things that were in the House bill or were in the Senate bill, plus one or two other issues that leadership of the Senate agreed would go on that bill,” Brandes said.

“AOB, PIP, workers’ comp are not any issues that are authorized to go on that bill, nor has the president asked me to put that on there,” he said.

The House version — which would prevent third parties from collecting attorney fees — is favored by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, the industry, and business lobbies.

“They could put the AOB bill on workers’ comp,” Brandes allowed. He wouldn’t object “as long as it’s the House version. I would take the House version of both workers’ comp and AOB if it were up to me. I think they’re far superior to what we’ve approved.”

But on SB 454? No way.

“I would be happy to have that conversation, but that would violate the agreement I made to pull that bill from committee.”

He described his bill as “largely clean-up provisions that are needed to basically provide consumer protection and offer more efficient service in the insurance industry.”

Pulling a bill from committee like this is “a huge lift,” Brandes said.

“You think about how many bills got pulled from committee this year — maybe four of the thousand bills that got filed. You want to operate within your agreement, and that’s what I always endeavor to do.”

Might AOB or PIP find their way onto Sen. Rob Bradley’s workers’ compensation legislation? It awaits debate on the Senate’s special order calendar.

“To my knowledge, there’s nothing like that happening. But things could be happening I’m now aware of,” Bradley said.

He’d oppose any effort to amend an AOB bill onto his legislation.

“My workers’ comp bill is a workers’ comp bill,” he said.

“It’s going to be hard enough trying to get workers’ comp reform done this session. If you were to add AOB or any other insurance to the mix, it would weigh the thing so much it would sink.”

Bradley filed an amendment Wednesday that moves his bill closer to the House version by lowering the maximum hourly attorney fee available in claims appeals from $250 to $200. The House bill would provide $150.

The move does not reflect any deal with the House, Bradley said.

“But there is certainly a good faith effort on our part to meet in the middle.”

Update: Brandes swapped the House bill for the Senate language, but avoided any unwanted amendments. The bill still awaits a final Senate vote.

Written By

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.

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