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Senate panel cracks windshield repair benefit reform with tie vote

Contentious bill dead for 2020 Session.

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee did what they couldn’t do last time they met: cast a vote on SB 312.

The bill was voted down, but not before a failed motion to temporarily postpone for a second time.

Sen. Jeff Brandes noted the 4-4 vote allowed any member to reconsider the bill, but he withdrew his motion, adding last-minute drama to a discussion that sprawled over two committee meetings.

The legislation, carried by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, would have ended the ability of auto repair shops to incentivize assignment of benefits.

“Gift cards, cash, coupons … anything of value,” Stewart said would be banned.

The practice has led to upticks in litigation, with thousands of people unwittingly named as co-defendants when auto repair shops sue insurers to claw back the difference.

Stewart said these claims jacked up premiums, according to her constituents.

The committee had taken up the bill last meeting, but it was temporarily postponed. Tuesday saw a similarly wide-ranging discussion before the vote.

The Florida Justice Reform Institute, in support, noted an “inorganic” pattern: five lawyers file half of the expected 17,000 suits about windshield repair benefits, suits largely in Hillsborough and Orange Counties regardless of where the damage was inflicted.

Mark Delegal, representing State Farm, noted that “over 90% of [State Farm] litigation on auto glass is in the state of Florida.”

“Florida’s the problem … an outlier,” Delegal said.

Sen. Annette Taddeo noted “a lot of concerns” with the bill ahead of the vote.

“I thank you for getting to this point,” Stewart said. “There’s a lot of concerns here in this room on both sides and I think we should continue to talk about it.”

However, the bill failed, and that conversation is over for 2020.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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