July 5, 2020

2020 Legislative Preview

The Issues: Florida's 2020 legislative preview

Amy Keller | 12/26/2019

Tort Law

Business lobbies are renewing their push for changes in tort law. Their wish list includes accurate calculations of medical damages in injury cases; changes to “bad faith” laws, which require insurers to settle claims in a timely manner but which insurers say incentivize trial attorneys to bring frivolous lawsuits against them; and disclosure of third-party litigation financing. David Hart, executive vice president of governmental and political relations for the Florida Chamber, worries that investor-financed lawsuits are increasing the number of “frivolous lawsuits.” Says Hart: “It raises the very real questions that if you’ve got an investor involved in a lawsuit, is the attorney involved in the case beholden to their client, or is that lawyer more beholden to the third-party investor?”

Education

Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a pay raise for new teachers a centerpiece of his 2020 agenda. But the Florida Education Association, the labor union that represents public school teachers, wants broader pay reforms and worries the DeSantis proposal ignores veteran teachers. Legislative leaders, meanwhile, are cautious about the $600-million price tag. DeSantis has also proposed replacing the controversial Best and Brightest bonus scheme with a $300-million program that would reward teachers and principals based on their school’s growth in the A-F grading system.

Water/Environment

DeSantis is making good on his promise to focus on cleaning up Florida’s waterways. Last year, he persuaded the Legislature to deliver a record $682 million for Everglades restoration and related projects. This year, he’s pushing for $625 million for the next three years. He also favors a 50% increase in fines for sewage spills and environmental crimes. “If you’re dumping this stuff in the bay and the fine is cheaper than having to actually do the right thing, then it’s basically the cost of doing business,” he told reporters at an October news conference. He’s also proposed legislation to try to tackle the toxic algae blooms that have plagued Florida’s beaches and lakes. Drawing from the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, his proposal calls for inspecting and maintaining wastewater systems; regulating bio-solid applications and restricting them to high and dry land that’s less likely to put waste into sources of groundwater; and transferring the oversight of septic tanks from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, among other changes. Paul Owens, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, says he’s encouraged by the governor’s continued action on water issues but says whatever bill emerges needs to be comprehensive and “have real teeth.” The growth management group is also advocating for a repeal of a law passed last year that would require citizens who challenge a land development plan and lose to pay the winner’s legal fees and a return to full funding of $300 million annually for Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition program. Lawmakers allotted $33 million to the program during the last legislative session.

Tags: Government/Politics & Law, Feature, 2020 Legislative Preview

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