More homers, fewer singles
Florida’s trial lawyers sure know how to play defense.
Lawmakers are nearing the halfway mark of the 2022 Legislative Session, and it looks like an effort to get the Legislature to further restrict or change the rules regarding litigation appears to be over.
Business leaders and organizations that promote lawsuit protections said this week that they were not expecting this year’s Session to yield additional lawsuit restrictions for Florida businesses.
Tom Gaitens, executive director of the Florida chapter of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, pitched it this way: “We are hitting singles right now. The reality is we need home runs; they may not come this Session.”
The one exception could be a COVID-19 bill that would shield nursing homes, hospitals and physicians from lawsuits connected to the pandemic.
That bill is poised to be considered by the House this week. If passed, those health care providers would have protections until July 2023.
But business interests wanted more.
NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle, who joined Gaitens at a news conference to discuss litigation, said his group wanted the Legislature this year to consider changing the law to require plaintiffs to disclose to the defendants if third parties are providing financing for their litigation. No member filed a bill.
Herrle also said NFIB wanted to reduce when attorney fee “multipliers” could be awarded to plaintiff’s attorneys. There’s a bill in the Senate but not in the House.
“Even though there may not be real major tort reform this year, lawsuits are still happening. And that’s our message to the Legislature. This issue cannot be abandoned,” Herrle said.
Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson said that lawmakers are wrestling with various insurance issues, and lawsuits have resulted in the market being out of balance. But Broxson suggested that limiting lawsuits shouldn’t be as tricky as it has been in the past. Gov Ron DeSantis’ election in 2018 coincided with the mandatory retirement of three Florida Supreme Court justices who were considered the liberal faction of the court. DeSantis replaced them all with conservative justices.
“We now have all three branches of the government. We have the Governor, the Supreme Court and the Legislature that realize we are out of balance as far as litigation,” he said.
While the news conference attendees agreed that more lawsuit protections are necessary, a recent study shows that things in Florida may not be that bad.
According to the December 2021 report, Economic Benefits of Tort Reform, Florida has per capita an $812.52 “tort tax,” or reduction in the gross product due to excessive litigation. That puts Florida near the bottom of the tort tax list. According to the report, Mississippi has the least expensive tax at $440.30 per capita. Conversely, Massachusetts has the steepest tort tax at $1,978.54 per capita.
To watch the news conference, click on the image below:
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel, and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Christine Jordan Sexton, Tristan Wood and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Neo-Nazis rally in Orlando — White supremacist demonstrations in Orlando over the weekend captured Florida and the nation’s attention this week as leaders on both sides of the aisle denounced the actions of the dozens who rallied and spread hate. However, the universal condemnation turned political in some cases. After some Democrats associated the right-wing extremists with Republicans and DeSantis’ base, and after the Governor’s press secretary left open the possibility that the demonstrators weren’t neo-Nazis, DeSantis denounced the protests but also Democrats for attempting to tie him to the demonstration. “Why would they want to elevate a half-dozen malcontents and try to make this an issue for political gain?” DeSantis asked. “Because they want to distract from the failure that we’ve seen with Joe Biden.”
House and Senate release budget proposals — Lawmakers on Friday unveiled their budget plans for the coming fiscal year, beginning with the Senate’s $108.6 billion plan, followed soon by the House’s $105.3 billion plan. The House and Senate appropriations committees will meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday to move the proposed budgets toward their initial floor votes. Both budgets clock in above DeSantis’ $99.7 billion proposal. However, the Governor’s plan includes additional spending not included in his top-line figure. Senate President Wilton Simpson has made a push to bring state employees’ pay to $15 an hour and beyond. The House’s leaner budget includes changes to hospital funding, putting the offset into nursing training.
SB 90 trial begins as new elections bills considered — A federal trial regarding Florida’s voting reform laws started Monday, with those suing to overturn SB 90 portraying the bill as something akin to voting rights’ death by a thousand cuts. The defense, meanwhile, sought to describe each cut as not harmful. At stake is whether a federal judge might strike down all or parts of SB 90, Florida Republicans’ attempt to tighten the state’s voting laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss. Meanwhile, House and Senate committees began advancing follow-ups to SB 90. The measures could bring changes to mail-in voting, IDs and more, including banning ranked choice voting. Also, they would include a DeSantis priority to create an election investigation unit within the Department of State.
State legislative districts approved — The House and Senate have officially OK’d their district maps for the coming decade of elections. The next legal step will be for Attorney General Ashley Moody to review the maps and petition the Florida Supreme Court within 15 days to conduct a high-level review. The court has 30 days to complete that process. Potentially, this gives the Legislature a chance to address any concerns raised by courts with either map before the end of the Session. While only three Democrats voted against the Senate maps, House Democrats were united in their opposition in their chamber. Democrats’ critiques were largely about the balance of minority districts. In the House, Democrats also complained they were shut out of the mapmaking process.
Red meat measures advance — The Republican-led Legislature continued to push bills likely to fire up their base come November, as lawmakers advanced abortion, immigration and critical race theory measures through the committee process. On Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee voted for legislation targeting class lessons and corporate training that teach cultural guilt, which proponents say inserts ideology into history lessons. The following day, the Senate Health Policy Committee gave the chamber’s abortion measure its first hearing. The measure would implement some of the strictest abortion limitations in the nation, including a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And on Thursday, the Criminal House Justice and Public Safety Committee would prevent state and local governments from contracting with businesses that transport immigrants who’ve entered the country unlawfully.
Save some coin
Cryptocurrency scams bilked more than $200 million from Americans last year, but much of the loss could have been avoided by taking a few simple precautions.
This week, Attorney General Ashley Moody released a new edition in the “Scams at a Glance” series, highlighting common crypto scams and offering tips that could help Floridians spot and avoid them.
“The quick rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies has drawn the attention of criminals trying to exploit the trend to rip off Floridians. I want to make sure Floridians have the information they need to spot and avoid these types of scams,” Moody said.
For the most part, the adage “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t” holds true, Moody’s office warned. It recommends investors think long and hard before buying into the hype of a new cryptocurrency — especially ones that promise guaranteed returns.
Other scams are more nefarious. One common grift involves threats to share alleged embarrassing or compromising material unless a cryptocurrency payment is made. Moody’s office urged people targeted by such scams to hold firm and report the threat to the FBI.
Scammers may also send texts, tweets or emails with a prompt to send someone cryptocurrency. If you get one, it’s almost certainly a scam.
“Scams at a Glance: Cryptocurrency Scams” is available in English and Spanish. Back issues covering topics such as IRS impostors and “swindling sweethearts” — an important reread ahead of Valentine’s Day — are available on the Attorney General’s website.