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Weekly Legislative Update from January 31, 2020

Legal & Judicial

SB 478 – Relating to Motor Vehicle Rentals

On Monday, January 27, SB 478 by Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) was heard by the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee and was reported favorable with 9 yeas and 0 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

Currently, rental car companies levee a daily surcharge of $2 per day that is paid by individuals renting cars. Peer-to-peer vehicle sharing programs are typically app-based platforms where owners can list and lease their personal vehicles for a pre-determined time and rate. Presently, these car sharing services are exempt from the rental car surcharge. The proceeds from the rental car surcharge paid by consumers who rent vehicles goes to build and maintain the state’s infrastructure, which is very important to Florida businesses statewide.

The bill amends current Florida statute which establishes a surcharge on the lease or rental of a motor vehicle, to extend the surcharge to peer-to-peer vehicle sharing programs. The fee amounts to $2 per day on rentals over 24 hours and drops to $1 for rentals of less than 24 hours. The bill also establishes operational requirements for peer-to-peer vehicle sharing programs, such as insurance requirements to prevent a lapse in insurance coverage should an accident occur.

SB 478 will now move to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

AIF supports the proposed measures in this bill to hold all rental car services accountable, regardless of how the vehicle is accessed.


HB 305 – Relating to Preemption of Conditions of Employment

On Tuesday, January 28, HB 305 by Representative Bob Rommel (R-Naples) was heard by the House Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and was reported favorable with 10 yeas and 5 nays. AIF stood in support of this legislation.

Local governments have broad authority to legislate on any matter that is not inconsistent with federal or state law. A local government enactment may be inconsistent with state law if (1) the Legislature "has preempted a particular subject area" or (2) the local enactment conflicts with a state statute. Where state preemption applies it precludes a local government from exercising authority in that area.

The bill:

  • Expressly prohibits a county, city, district, or other public body created by state law from requiring an employer from paying a minimum wage other than the state or federal minimum wage or to offer other conditions of employment;
  • Expressly preempts to the state the right to regulate any requirements imposed upon employers relating to a minimum wage and conditions of employment;
  • Defines “conditions of employment” to include preemployment screening, job classification, job responsibilities; hours of work; scheduling and schedule changes, wages, payment of wages, leave, paid or unpaid days off for holidays, illness, vacations, and personal necessity, and employee benefits;
  • Voids any ordinance, regulation, or policy currently in existence which is now preempted.

HB 305 will now move to the House Commerce Committee.

AIF supports legislation that allows Florida businesses to adhere to state or federal wage requirements, thus eliminating onerous regulations set by municipalities.


SB 1668 & HB 9 – Relating to Damages

On Tuesday, January 28, SB 1668 by Senator David Simmons (R-Longwood) was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was reported favorable with 4 yeas and 2 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

On Wednesday, January 29, HB 9 by Representative Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) was heard by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and was reported favorable with 10 yeas and 4 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

A tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. The purpose of tort law is to fairly compensate a person harmed by another person's wrongful acts, whether intentional or negligent. In a negligence action in Florida, the compensation a plaintiff recovers is reduced to the extent the plaintiff or a third party contributed to the injury.

A healthy tort liability system benefits society, as a whole, by compensating injured parties fairly, resolving disputes, and discouraging undesirable behavior. A flawed tort system generates exorbitant damages and unpredictability, causing: 

  • Increased economic costs and increased risks of doing business;
  • Higher insurance premiums; 
  • Increased healthcare costs and declining availability of medical services; and 
  • Deterrence of economic development and job creation activities.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 1668, requires evidence of medical expenses in personal injury claims to be based on the usual and customary charges in the community where the expenses are incurred. The bill states that the amounts paid or to be paid through any public or private health insurance coverage on behalf of the claimant are presumed to be usual and customary medical charges.

The House version of the bill, HB 9, modifies the damages recoverable in certain tort actions by requiring a jury to consider an estimated value of medical services based on an independent database reporting medical costs charged and paid. This ensures the jury does not rely solely on the amount billed by the provider of medical or health care services to determine damages.

The key difference between the House and Senate version is in regard to charged versus paid expenses. The Senate version bases amounts to be paid on the usual and customary charges for a procedure, whereas the House states damages recoverable is to be based on the actual fee paid for services, not the amount simply charged.

SB 1668 will now move to the Senate Health Policy Committee.

HB 9 will now move to the House Commerce Committee.

AIF supports legislation that creates transparency and ensures accuracy in damages, thereby reducing the cost of insurance premiums for Florida businesses.


HB 7037 – Relating to Constitutional Amendments Proposed by Initiative

On Wednesday, January 29, HB 7037 by the House Judiciary Committee was heard by the House Appropriations Committee and was reported favorable with 20 yeas and 10 nays. AIF stood in support of this legislation.

The Florida Constitution is the charter of the liberties of Floridians. It may be amended only if the voters approve an amendment originating from the Legislature, the Constitution Revision Commission, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a constitutional convention, or a citizen initiative.

The bill modifies several aspects of the citizen initiative process to increase transparency, strengthen the integrity of the ballot, and reduce costs for the supervisors of elections. Specifically, the bill changes the deadline for gathering signatures, the Fiscal Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC) analysis process, the ballot language requirements, and the requirements for supervisors of elections.

HB 7037 will now move to the House State Affairs Committee.

AIF supports the measures contained in this bill to prevent interest groups’ circumvention of the legislature in revising Florida’s constitution.


HB 7 – Relating to Legal Notices

On Thursday, January 30, HB 7 by Representative Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) was heard by the House Judiciary Committee and was reported favorable with 11 yeas and 7 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, spoke in opposition to this legislation.

Brewster Bevis on HB 7


All meetings of a county, municipality, school board, or special district at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business is to be discussed or transacted must be open to the public and notice must be given. All legal notices and publications must be made in a newspaper that meets the following qualifications:

  • Published at least once a week;
  • At least 25 percent of its words are in English;
  • Considered a periodical by the post office;
  • For sale to the general public; and
  • Contains information of interest or value to the general public in the affected area.

The bill would allow a governmental agency the option to deviate from print and publish legally required advertisements and notices on a publicly accessible website.
HB 7 will now move to the House State Affairs Committee.

AIF opposes internet-only public notice, as it eliminates the wide net created by print media and the internet combined. Webpages are present one day and gone the next; the internet is an inherently unreliable platform for critical information.


HB 741 – Relating to Asbestos Trust Claims

On Thursday, January 30, HB 741 by Representative Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) was heard by the House Judiciary Committee and was reported favorable with 12 yeas and 6 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

Asbestos is the name given to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals resistant to chemical, thermal, and electricity damage historically used in construction, manufacturing, and fireproofing. When handled, asbestos separates into microscopic particles, exposure to which causes cancer and other diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, which can take 20 to 40 years to develop following initial exposure.

Workers exposed to asbestos began falling ill and in turn sued the corporations responsible for their exposure. As the suits against these corporations piled up, many filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which in turn stayed all current suits against the respective corporation.

The bankruptcy court faced a unique scenario, where corporations were able to reorganize while shielded from future suits. These suits would instead be filed against a trust fund formed by the company seeking bankruptcy reorganization.

Presently, where liability for an asbestos injury comes from both a trust and a solvent corporation, an injured person may sue the solvent corporation to recover its share of the harm, and a court may offset the judgment by the amount of trust payments the plaintiff received for the same injury. However, where a plaintiff files a trust claim after obtaining a judgment in a civil action alleging the same injury, a court loses its ability to offset the judgment against the solvent defendant. Plaintiffs use this loophole to increase their compensation for a single injury, essentially double-dipping.

The bill:

  • Requires a plaintiff to:
    • Provide a sworn statement verifying that he or she investigated all asbestos trust claims and filed all asbestos trust claims he or she is eligible to file.
    • Identify all asbestos trust claims the plaintiff filed and provide all trust claim material.
  • Allows a court stay an asbestos action if the plaintiff did not file an asbestos trust claim he or she was eligible to file.
  • Allows a defendant to seek discovery directly from an asbestos trust and requires the plaintiff to provide all necessary permissions for the release of trust claim material and governance documents.
  • Allows a trial court to adjust the judgment in an asbestos action by the amount of any subsequent asbestos trust payments made to the plaintiff if the plaintiff makes an asbestos trust claim after obtaining a judgment in the asbestos action.

HB 741 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

AIF supports legislation that curbs “double dipping” of the asbestos trust fund which ensures that all Floridians affected may be adequately compensated.


Proposed Committee Bill JDC 20-03 – Relating to Contingency Fee Multipliers

On Thursday, January 30, PCB JDC 20-03, sponsored and heard by the House Judiciary Committee, was reported favorable with 13 yeas and 5 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

In certain situations, after the resolution of a court case, the court may require one party to pay the opposing party's attorney fees. Several Florida and federal statutes, known as "fee-shifting statutes," entitle the prevailing party to a "reasonable" attorney fee as a matter of right. When a fee-shifting statute applies, the court must determine what constitutes a "reasonable" attorney fee.

Florida courts calculate reasonable attorney fees under the "lodestar amount.” The lodestar amount, in this context, is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate for the attorney’s services on behalf of the insured or beneficiary.

Federal case law states that a contingency fee multiplier may only be used in rare and exceptional circumstances, and that the multiplier is completely unavailable under certain federal statutes. Contrary to Federal case law, the Florida Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the contingency fee multiplier in Florida courts is not subject to the "rare and exceptional circumstances" requirement. Thus, there is now a difference between Florida and federal law with respect to this issue.

The bill prohibits a court from using a contingency fee multiplier when calculating an attorney fee award unless an applicable statute expressly allows use of the contingency fee multiplier.

The PCB will now be given a number and committee references.

AIF supports legislative efforts that prevent unscrupulous actors from taking advantage of property insurance disputes which keeps insurance rates low and allows growth in Florida businesses.


HB 519 – Relating to Private Property Rights Protection

On Thursday, January 30, HB 519 by Representative James Grant (R-Tampa) was heard by the House Commerce Committee and was reported favorable with 13 yeas and 8 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.

The Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from depriving a person of his or her private property for public use "without just compensation." However, not every government action burdening private property amounts to an illegal "taking" under the Takings Clause. Florida law provides legal remedies when a local government burdens property rights in a manner that does not amount to a "taking.”

The bill requires a local government, when settling property rights claims, to treat similar properties similarly. If the government settles or the property owner secures a judgment declaring an inordinate burden, there is a presumption that similarly situated parcels are also inordinately burdened and entitled to the same settlement terms or judicial determination. The bill also makes it easier for a private property owner to challenge a local regulation burdening his or her property by:

  • Allowing a jury or the court to consider business damages in making its damages calculation;
  • Removing a provision allowing the government to seek attorney fees and costs when a property owner refuses a bona fide offer which reasonably would have resolved the property claim fairly.

Additionally, when a local government is poised to impose an exaction upon private property, the bill allows the property owner to sue without having to wait for written notice of the exaction.

HB 519 will now move to the House Judiciary Committee.

AIF supports private property rights which create a prosperous business climate in Florida.