The Senate assignment of benefits reform bill earned the Rules Committee’s blessing Wednesday and is now primed for a floor vote.
Before earning an OK on a 11-6 vote from the committee, SB 122 was amended by its sponsor, Gulf Breeze GOP Sen. Doug Broxson, to bring it in line with the House AOB reform bill (HB 7065) that cleared the chamber with a 96-20 vote last week.
“Today’s action on SB 122 in the Rules Committee is a victory for Florida consumers and the Florida economy. This legislation will go a long way toward curbing skyrocketing insurance costs, protecting consumers, and restoring accountability in our insurance claims process,” Broxson said.
“I look forward to continued cooperation with my colleagues in both the Senate and the House as we move this important bill on toward final passage and the Governor’s desk.”
Like the identical House bill, SB 122 would restructure the current one-way attorney fee system to account for the difference between the judgment sought by AOB contractors and what the court awards.
AOB allows homeowners to sign over their insurance policy benefits to contractors or attorneys in exchange for a quick repair. Those third-parties often seek payment by suing insurance companies, and sticking them with the bill for attorney fees.
Insurers say AOB lawsuits, which are on the rise — even outpacing Florida’s population growth — are a major factor in higher homeowners insurance premiums.
In addition to the attorney fee provisions, SB 122 and HB 7065 would allow homeowners to back out of AOB agreements for any reason within 14 days or 30 days if repairs hasn’t been “substantially” performed and would mandate state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. share post-reform savings with policyholders.
The Senate bill’s success was met with praise by insurance groups.
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), which represents three-fifths of the U.S. property casualty insurance market, issued a statement via its regional manager of state government affairs, Logan McFaddin, shortly after SB 122 got the green light.
“APCIA applauds the members of the Senate Rules Committee for advancing assignment of benefits legislation today that will help Florida policyholders on the home and commercial sides,” McFaddin said. “Addressing AOB abuse is vital to putting a stop to the number of AOB lawsuits filed in Florida, which are only growing steeper with each passing year and resulting in higher insurance costs.
“The time is now to end AOB abuse for Floridians. We look forward to working with our elected officials as this good public policy readies for the Senate floor to ensure Florida home and business owners alike are protected from bad actors who are taking advantage of them and our legal system just to put more money in their own pockets.”
“This is a big step forward for consumers,’’ said Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber. “We are extremely grateful that members of the Senate Rules Committee took a stand against AOB abuse and the harmful impact it is having on Florida’s consumers.
“We hope this vote sends a signal to the entire Legislature that the status quo is no longer acceptable and something must be done to stop unscrupulous vendors from using AOB to boost their profits at the expense of hardworking Floridians.’’
Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier also lauded the vote.
“Year after year we have watched the AOB crisis negatively impact our consumers — many of which are recovering from hurricanes. Now, more than ever, is the time to pass meaningful reform so we can protect consumers and start recovering from years of compounding abuse,” Altmaier said.
“The advancement of SB 122 is a significant step toward protecting Floridians from future AOB abuse and the leadership exhibited by Chair [Lizbeth] Benacquisto, Senator Broxson and countless members of the Florida Legislature is admirable.”
Not everyone was in a celebratory mood, however.
The Restoration Association of Florida has spent the 2019 Legislative Session fighting hard against AOB reform, even organizing an event that saw several homeowner slighted by their insurance companies descend on the Capitol.
“Today’s actions by the Senate Rules Committee to pass SB 122 out of its final committee stop added the most harmful provisions from HB 7065 and did nothing to alleviate RAF’s existing concerns with the current language,” said RAF spox Amanda Prater. “Dozens of small business owners and homeowners traveled to Tallahassee to testify in opposition to this bill, but none were allowed to speak.
“The proposed AOB legislation will negatively impact Florida’s small independent restoration contractors, while further confusing homeowners with the option of two policies. Not only will today’s decision cost Florida hundreds of jobs and put small businesses out of work, but it also encourages a tricky system designed to lead homeowners away from quality repair contractors and into the vicious cycle of the insurance companies who continue to deny, delay and underpay claims.
“Insurance carriers, who are already making record profits, are the only ones to benefit from these legislative changes,” she concluded.
Wednesday’s victory for the pro-reform crowd was coupled with a loss, as the Senate bill now concurs with the House position to hold off on bringing the same reforms auto glass repair suits.
Jeff Johnston, a lobbyist who represents independent auto glass repair shops, told Florida Politics Wednesday afternoon that the two flavors of weren’t comparable.
Independent shops, he says, are facing stiff competition from Safelite, a national glass repair outfit, and their payouts from insurance companies have cratered. Since windshield repairs cost significantly less than home repairs, the burden of attorney fees could shut those repair shops out of seeking fair compensation in the courts.
Safelite issued a statement pushing back against those allegations and issued a statement urging lawmakers to reinsert the nixed auto glass language. CPC did the same.