Simpson Eyes Local Governments, No-Fault, Pensions

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Tallahassee, FL (NSF) - Senate President Wilton Simpson this week backed a controversial proposal that could open local governments to more lawsuits, while also suggesting lawmakers might revisit a vetoed effort to end the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

Appearing Thursday at the Florida Chamber of Commerce Insurance Summit in Tampa, Simpson signaled support for bills aimed at local governments, including a bill (SB 620) by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, that would allow certain businesses to sue if local ordinances cause at least 15 percent losses of revenue or profits.

“What we need to make sure of is that our local governments don't destroy our business,” said Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is running for state agriculture commissioner in 2022.

Referring to local governments, Simpson pointed to Hutson’s efforts and “several others that are controversial … to them.”

“They want to take people’s rights and businesses away from them. We’re not going to let them,” he added.

Lawmakers in recent years have considered --- and often passed --- proposals to limit the authority of county and city governments. That has included blocking local governments from prohibiting items such as single-use plastic straws, sunscreen, plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. It has also included passing statewide laws about ride-hailing companies, guns, gas stations and the location of wireless technology.

Hutson’s proposal would require businesses to have been open for three years before they could file lawsuits against local governments based on lost revenue or profits. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to back Hutson’s bill on Tuesday.

The bill drew support from groups such as the Florida Chamber, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation and Americans for Prosperity-Florida. Groups such as the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida AFL-CIO and Sierra Club Florida opposed the measure.

Lawmakers will start their annual 60-day session on Jan. 11. Simpson suggested Thursday that they could revisit a Senate proposal that would have blocked new government employees from enrolling in the traditional pension system and required them to enroll in a 401(k)-style plan. The issue fizzled in the House during the 2021 session.

Also, Simpson said lawmakers could again try to repeal the no-fault auto insurance system. Lawmakers passed a repeal during the 2021 session, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it in June.

Simpson said, “there's some opportunity, I think, to clean some of that up from last year,” before noting “we'll see if we have some partners this year.”

A repeal would end a decades-old requirement that motorists carry $10,000 in personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage to help pay their medical costs after accidents. The bill that DeSantis vetoed would have required motorists to carry bodily injury coverage.

Supporters and opponents of the bill offered conflicting arguments about whether the change would increase or reduce insurance rates for drivers and battled about an issue known as “bad faith” that can lead to costly lawsuits over how insurers handle claims.

In vetoing the measure, DeSantis noted the no-fault system has flaws and state law involving bad faith litigation is “deficient.” However, DeSantis added that the proposal didn’t “adequately address the current issues facing Florida drivers and may have unintended consequences that would negatively impact both the market and consumers.”

The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, an insurance industry group that opposes the no-fault repeal, appears to be preparing for a fight over the issue during the 2022 session. It released a list of session priorities this week that included preventing a no-fault repeal.

“This legislation might be making a comeback, and PIFF strongly opposes the concept,” the group said in a news release about its priorities.

Simpson was at the Florida Chamber event to address rising sea levels and flooding of coastal communities. Lawmakers this year approved a pair of bills that created a Resilient Florida Grant Program and directed the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a statewide flood risk assessment.

“We know what's at stake, right, and it’s the value of the state of Florida,” Simpson said.

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