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We’ve come to the final (scheduled) week of the 2017 legislative session. It’s a time when deals are being put together involving bills that have nothing in common except that they’re on somebody’s must-pass priority list.

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FJA President Jimmy Gustafson deep in thought about legislative strategy in the office of FJA Legislative & Political Director Jeff Porter 

Budget Time
So, the period of wheeling and dealing is underway. Priority No 1 is the state budget. Florida legislative leaders this week retreated behind closed doors to work out the parameters of a budget agreement that will allow the Legislature to adjourn on Friday, May 5.

Lawmakers on Thursday began the conference committee process with a goal of finishing those meetings on Saturday. The negotiations on unresolved issues will then bump up to the appropriations committee chairs followed by the President and Speaker. The presiding officers will make the final agreements before a budget can be placed on lawmakers’ desks Wednesday to begin the mandatory 72-hour “cooling off” period before a final vote can happen.

FJA on Alert
In the meantime, there are still other laws to make in 2017. Important proactive issues like auto insurance reform, workers’ compensation, and assignment of benefits hang in the balance. There is plenty of time left to get these good proposals passed, but candidly it is going to take a combination of hard work and some good luck. If the old saying about making your own luck is true, then we should be successful because there is no legislative team in this process that works harder than the FJA team.

And our team will be on the watch to kill bad amendments and bills as they surface during the next week.

The business and insurance community is engaged in a full-court press to increase the government’s role in determining attorney fees in the areas of workers’ compensation and assignment of benefits. We have been actively pushing back on this frontal assault on civil justice advocates.

Workers’ Compensation
Along with our friends with Florida Workers’ Advocates and the AFL-CIO, we have spent much of the week highlighting the Senate’s approach to workers’ compensation reform and why it is important to pass a constitutional bill. It’s the best way to end the cycle where lawmakers have passed unconstitutional bills that have artificially depressed rates. A constitutional approach, especially related to access to courts for injured workers and competition in ratemaking like what’s being considered in the Senate plan, is the best way to better serve injured workers and employers.

The House this week passed an insurance-industry preferred assignment of benefits bill (CS/HB 1421) that creates more than a dozen new government mandates on small businesses that provide crisis remediation services for homeowners. The bill includes a complicated and unworkable provision related to how attorney fees are determined. We are against this plan and are providing steady support to Sen. Gary Farmer’s responsible and comprehensive approach that protects a homeowners’ key property right to assign their benefits.

MBI Legislation Still Alive
After the historic vote by the House to pass auto insurance reform to promote increased responsibility on our roadways our attention has turned to the Senate. The proposal championed by Sen. Tom Lee (SB 1766) is currently stuck in committee. There are several procedural moves that can happen to get the issue moving and we are exploring every opportunity to make this happen.

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