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Takeaways from Tallahassee — No-fault frustration

Ron DeSantis vetoed auto insurance reforms; Tiffany Faddis wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

No-fault frustration

After Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed reforms to the auto insurance industry last year, advocates are making a big push to get mandatory bodily injury (MBI) coverage over the line this year. Among those advocates is the Florida Justice Association, again making no-fault repeal and MBI its top priority for Session.

Florida is one of only two states that doesn’t require MBI coverage. Additionally, Florida is a no-fault state and requires personal injury protection (PIP) coverage in auto policies.

FJA says those two points are significant contributors to why Florida has the third-highest auto insurance rates in the nation.

Faith Based Events

The Affordable Care Act has helped get more people health insurance than ever; PIP coverage has become redundant for 86% of Floridians, FJA argues.

Because MBI isn’t mandated, people often have to pay for their medical treatment after an accident from their health insurance or PIP policy. And because Florida is a no-fault state, it doesn’t matter if they or another driver caused the accident.

When you pull from your PIP policy, that means your premiums could go up, said FJA President Tiffany Faddis, who primarily practices auto negligence.

“It’s very frustrating as a practicing attorney, and very difficult how many conversations I have had with Floridians about there’s just nothing that I can do for them,” Faddis said. “There’s no coverage for them. There’s no compensation.”

In his veto letter, DeSantis said the bill didn’t adequately address Florida’s high rates and may have had unintended consequences. FJA Executive Director Paul Jess noted last year’s auto insurance bill tackled more than repealing Florida’s no-fault system, including addressing bad faith reform. Perhaps bundling issues did more harm than good, politically.

“We know that both the Senate President and the House Speaker would be interested in passing the bill again if a formula can be found to win the Governor’s acceptance,” Jess said.

Lawmakers are already angling to try again. As the Legislature reconvened this week, Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Erin Grall, the two Republicans who sponsored last year’s legislation, filed the legislation again (SB 150 HB 1525).

No-fault repeal is not the only thing FJA is prioritizing. They’re also addressing construction defects and want to stop lawmakers from shortening the window homeowners have to sue homebuilders over construction defects.

Both the House and Senate have bills dealing with construction defect claims. While Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough’s House version (HB 583) doesn’t alter the number of years on construction defect claims, the version from Republican Sen. Travis Hutson (SB 736) makes a couple of changes. Among them is to create variable time limits for suing over latent, or hidden, defects. Instead of 10 years, the length of time could fall to five or seven years on some claims.

“That means that a lot of homeowners are going to end up developing and finding out for the first time about a construction defect with their home after five or six or seven years, and they will have no remedy,” Jess said. “They’ll just have to suck it up and pay for it out of their own pocket.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters the bill is not a priority of leadership but backed the general principles behind Hutson’s bill.

“I’m not 100% familiar with it, but I do believe there’s a lot of fraud that goes on the longer you are allowed as a building owner or homeowner to go back against the general contractor,” Simpson said.

Following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside last year, expect to see critics like FJA argue Florida should be expanding the time frame for claims, not shortening it.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers, and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter SchorschDrew Wilson, Renzo DowneyJason DelgadoChristine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

DeSantis touts Florida’s freedoms in SOTS — Freedom abounds in Florida, DeSantis declared during his State of the State address this week. The Session kickoff saw the Governor claim victory in how Florida has weathered nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In schools, DeSantis said Florida beat the “hysterical media,” unions and the politicians they control. “We were right, and they were wrong, and millions of families in Florida are better for it,” he said. In his rebuttal, House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne said the Democratic caucus’s goal is to protect Floridians’ freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. Gubernatorial candidates also attacked DeSantis for his remarks. “He’s not there to help unless you cut him a check,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called it an “ideological hit parade of fake conservatism.”

Republicans back 15-week abortion ban — The Legislature is taking its cue from Mississippi rather than Texas with abortion bills filed the morning of Session’s opening day. The measures, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Erin Grall, would ban abortion after 15 weeks. The Mississippi law has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the case later this year. But lawmakers say they aren’t waiting for the court’s ruling. Without seeing the proposal, DeSantis told reporters he would sign a 15-week abortion ban. “I think that will be something that we’ll be able to sign, and I think a lot of people would be happy with that,” DeSantis said.

Odds/evens assigned in Senate redistricting — The first week of Session also marked a busy week in redistricting, capped by a peculiar process that could determine the political careers of some senators. The Senate’s resident auctioneer, Sen. Aaron Bean, drew cards from a jar to decide which districts have even numbers and which have odd numbers. All Senate seats are up for election in a redistricting year like 2022. But after just two years, odd-numbered seats will appear on the ballot again. As a result, 16 incumbents could serve 10 consecutive years before terming out, as could the future senators in three open seats.

Vaccine rulings hand Florida win, complicates care — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked enforcement of a vaccine mandate requirement for large employers, handing a victory to DeSantis and other Republicans who had sharply criticized the move by President Joe Biden’s administration. But the Court is keeping in place a rule requiring the vaccination of health care workers employed at hospitals and providers that rely on federal funding. In Florida, that means health care facilities will have to choose between the federal rule and Florida law, which bans vaccine mandates. Attorney General Ashley Moody, a party to the lawsuit, praised the Court for striking down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule.

SBA official killed in road rage shooting — John Kuczwanski, the Legislative Affairs Director for the State Board of Administration, was killed in a shootout triggered by a road rage incident in north Tallahassee. There are conflicting reports about what happened, but sources told Florida Politics that Kuczwanski caused an auto accident and later fired a gun at the other vehicle involved in the crash, a white Prius. The Prius driver drew a gun and fired back into Kuczwanski’s BMW, hitting and killing him. Kuczwanski’s wife, who was not there for the shooting, claimed her husband was trapped and “assassinated” and was trying to escape the person shooting at him. Kuczwanski was arrested for a separate road rage incident at the same intersection in 2014.

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