Florida's Legislative Preview
A roundup of what interest groups, lawmakers and the governor are seeking this year.
» Citizens — Gov. Scott, insurance regulators, the state’s business lobby and others are pushing for major changes to help shrink the state-run Citizens Property Insurance, which has been issuing policies at a rate of 8,000 per week and now insures almost 1.5 million Floridians. Ideas being floated include raising the current 10% cap on rate hikes and separating Citizens’ coastal business, which insures high-risk properties along the coast, from its inland policies. Citizens President Barry Gilway has suggested setting up a “clearinghouse” program that would automatically provide Citizens’ customers with premium quotes and coverage comparisons from other potential private market insurers. Gilway believes that 641,000 Citizens’ customers would be able to find reasonable coverage in the private market.
» CAT Fund — Lawmakers may also look at ways to shore up the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, the state-run reinsurance fund that helps insurers pay homeowners if a large storm causes widespread damages. Jack Nicholson, COO for the CAT Fund, has expressed concerns about a potential shortfall. Nicholson has also stressed the importance of making sure that the fund will not run out of money after a single hurricane season, forcing insurers to scramble for private reinsurance.
» Drug Repackaging — Workers’ comp carriers and business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are renewing their effort to try to cap what doctors can charge for dispensing drugs to workers treated under workers’ comp insurance. These physician-dispensed drugs, also known as “repackaged drugs,” have become a lucrative income stream for physicians in recent years but are also a cost driver in workers’ compensation insurance rates [see related article "Bitter Pills"]. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which wants a cap, says the move could decrease workers’ compensation rates. The FMA, however, disputes claims that repackaged drugs are driving up workers’ comp costs and says in-office dispensing improves patient care by encouraging better compliance. Automated HealthCare Solutions, a politically powerful firm that provides dispensing technology to doctors, also opposes caps.
» Bodily Injury — The Florida Justice Association is pushing for legislation that would require bodily injury liability coverage on Florida car insurance. Debra Henley, the association’s executive director, says recent changes to personal injury protection law have reduced the value of that coverage and that Florida would be better off requiring drivers at fault to pay the damages of the parties who are injured via mandatory bodily injury coverage.
» Infrastructure — The Florida Chamber wants an initiative to provide recurring funding for investments in infrastructure in Florida ports. The group also supports the development of an inland port to help increase the flow of goods through Florida ports and an increase in Enterprise Florida’s budget for international trade and marketing activities.
House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to eliminate the state’s defined benefit pension plan for new government employees and offer them instead a defined contribution, 401(k)-like investment plan. Pension reform, to the chagrin of employee unions, is also a top priority for many cash-strapped cities and counties that are finding it difficult to keep pace with their growing benefit obligations for police officers, firefighters and other public employees. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which supports a hybrid system for public-sector pensions that incorporates both a defined benefit and defined contribution plan, has a long laundry list of public-sector pension and benefits reforms, including:
• Establishing uniform health care premium contribution amounts for all state employees and implementing a defined contribution model for state employee pension health insurance benefits;
• Eliminating the ability of public employees to cash in large amounts of vacation and sick time they’ve accrued;
• Placing caps on the average salary used for calculating pension benefits.
» Gaming — Lawmakers will launch a review of gambling issues, with the goal of introducing a comprehensive gaming bill in 2014. Garrett Richter (R-Naples), chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, says the review will examine everything from destination gaming to the proliferation of internet sweepstakes parlors, tribal casinos, pari-mutuels and the state lottery.
» Restricted Ticket Resales — Fan Freedom, a national advocate for sports and entertainment fans funded by StubHub, is supporting legislation by Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness) and Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) to make it illegal for ticket vendors to restrict the resale of tickets, including paperless tickets. Recent years have seen an uptick in paperless tickets, which require the individual using the ticket to present the original purchaser’s credit card when showing up at the event. Such tickets can only be resold on designated online marketplaces and not in secondary markets such as StubHub. Supporters of paperless tickets say it helps prevent ticket loss, but consumer rights groups say it restricts fans’ property rights by making it difficult for them to resell or give away their tickets if they are unable to attend an event.