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House-Senate divide was on display at Florida Chamber session preview

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The Florida Chamber‘s Annual Insurance Summit wrapped up Wednesday morning in Orlando with a group of Florida lawmakers peering into their crystal balls ahead of next year’s Legislative Session, set to start in January.

The Chamber program listed participants as “members of the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives,” but of the four panelists – Republicans John WoodDoug Broxson and Bill Hager and Democrat Larry Lee – none was a Senate member.

That proved to be more than mere coincidence as the discussion wore on.

Discussing third-party “bad faith” legislation, a major priority of the Chamber and insurers to rein in insurance litigation, Chamber executive vice president David Hart asked what he could do to secure passage of a bill to change state bad faith laws.

“It’s not a Tallahassee secret that the House is probably been very willing to help solve this problem, but you haven’t had a dance partner on the other side,” Hart said. “Could you give all of us some advice as to where we go to get third-party bad faith fixed?”

Wood, who chairs the House Insurance & Banking Committee, responded: “It starts with an ‘S.'”

“But specifically, what can we do? Are we not telling the story well enough?” Hart asked.

“My advice would be to get 21 votes in the Senate,” said Hager, putting a finer point on things.

Hart, who moderated the round table, began the session by asking about the consensus that interchamber relations had become “toxic” and “dysfunctional” in the wake of last year’s abrupt Sine Die adjournment on the part of the House and the subsequent fallout.

“What happened last year was necessary,” Wood said, though he didn’t specify exactly why. He did say, however, that he was “looking forward to much more normal operating environment next Session.”

Speaking on the issue of “assignment of benefits” – a much-hated legal practice among insurers by which policyholders designate an attorney to collect their benefits, often aggressively – Wood further elaborated.

“We have to look at what is feasible politically,” he said. “We have our chamber, and we have the Senate and the governor. And not all the players are willing to telegraph exactly what they’re willing to do or willing not to do.

“It’s a dance, a courtship, the political process.”

Wood indicated he thought the Gov. Rick Scott‘s influence would be helpful in getting something done on AOBs, but it was not likely to be forthcoming.

“I think the governor is not really interested in engaging in a leadership role on this,” Wood said. “But he is supportive of it. That’s just my perception.”

“We’re gonna deal with the issue, if not this Session then next Session,” said Broxson regarding the bad faith issue, though a bill to do so passed only the lower chamber the last five years consecutively.

After all, Broxson added, “The House does not hate the Senate. Individually, at least.”

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Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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