By Gary Rohrer
March 12, 2022
‘That’s why they make next year.’
Florida’s Legislative Session will wind to a close Monday when lawmakers pass the budget, but all other bills that didn’t pass before Friday are effectively dead.
Most of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture war-heavy agenda passed. But plenty of other bills, including issues important to legislative leaders, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, withered in the final week of Session.
Simpson, for example, earlier in Session said the lawmakers will have “failed” the citizens if they didn’t tackle the property insurance crisis. A bill attempting to address that issue and several other bills died Friday.
But Simpson preferred to focus on the bills that did pass, telling reporters Friday it “would be a mistake” to focus on the bills that failed.
“That’s why they make next year,” Simpson said.
Let’s put aside that advice and take a look at 10 of the major issues that failed this year:
The Senate passed a bill (SB 1728) that took aim at frivolous claims and lawsuits, sought to impose a roof deductible and tried to make it easier for private companies to take policies out of state-run Citizens Property Insurance.
Simpson and other supporters of the bill pointed to the cancellation of more than 100,000 policies by four private companies last year, the bankruptcy of one other company and the large rate hikes sought by other companies as evidence the insurance market in Florida was in crisis.
But Sprowls was always reluctant to take on the measure, noting the Legislature passed a bill last year that squeezed attorneys fees in insurance cases and preferred to see how that reform played out in the market before embarking on another major reform.
PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION
Another insurance bill that failed to pass was a move to repeal Florida’s no-fault automobile insurance system with a mandatory bodily injury system. A similar bill passed last year but was vetoed by DeSantis, who feared it could raise rates for some drivers.
The sponsor for that bill, Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican, vowed to bring it back. But the legislation (HB 1525/SB 150) only passed through one Senate committee. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, opposed the bill and called it “legislative malpractice” that no rate study was done since the previous year to determine how the change would affect rates.
Legislation to require businesses to get approval from customers before selling, sharing or transferring their data failed again this year. Despite being a priority for Sprowls and clearing the House, HB 9 ran into resistance from the Senate, which feared its impact on business’ bottom line and the threat of lawsuits to enforce its provisions.
FENTANYL TESTING STRIPS
A Senate move to exclude strips used to test for fentanyl, a powerful narcotic that has led to surges in overdoses and deaths, from penalties for possession of drug paraphernalia was rejected by the House in the last week of the Session.
The Senate on Friday accepted a House amendment to HB 95, stripping the measure from the bill. The move upset Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, who noted there was a reported fentanyl overdose in his district Thursday, and fentanyl strips can be used to discover the drug and prevent overdoses.
“Enough of this ‘House isn’t going to accept it,’” Pizzo said. “We’re just trying to save lives, we’re not trying to scam them.”
Pizzo, though, voted for the underlying bill because other provisions in it aimed at cracking down on the fentanyl crisis.
SCHOOL BOARD SALARY CUTS
After some school boards defied DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates for K-12 schools, his GOP allies in the Legislature looked to punish those school districts. They did so by preventing the 12 districts from receiving $200 million in school recognition funds, but another move to eliminate salaries for school board members failed to pass.
The provision was stripped out of HB 1467 last month, but a provision imposing term limits of 12 years on School Board positions was kept.
Bills to increase the cap on payouts by governmental entities when they’re found at fault in a civil case also failed to reach the finish line this year, despite steady progress throughout the Session.
The bills (HB 985/SB 974) cleared three committees in each chamber, but were never heard on the floor.
In current law, a victim of an incident where a governmental entity was found at fault can only receive $200,000 as part of any award for damages by a court, no matter what the total judgment was. The cap is $300,000 for multiple victims in one incident. The Legislature must pass a bill, known as a claims bill, to approve payouts higher than the caps.
The bills would have increased the caps to $400,000 and $600,000.
SURFSIDE CONDO LAW
The collapse of the Champlain Towers building in Surfside in August, which killed 98 people, spurred lawmakers to propose changes to state laws regarding condominium buildings, inspections and repairs.
But in the final week of Session, the House and Senate failed to agree on the details, leaving current laws in place allowing condo associations to not set aside money to pay for structural repairs.
Specifically, the Senate removed a requirement for a reserve fund to pay for repairs, something the House insisted upon.
The House passed HB 1197 last week, which would have required public employee union members — except for law enforcement union members — to recertify their membership in the union each year and prevent union dues from being automatically deducted from members’ paychecks.
The bill was sent to the Senate, but it never received a hearing in that chamber.
Another bill that passed the House but failed to move in the Senate was HB 6031, which would have repealed the state ban on selling wine at retail in containers larger than one gallon.
The House vote was 117-1 on Feb. 10, with Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, casting the only “no” vote.
It never received a hearing in the Senate and attempts to insert it into omnibus bills also failed.