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Repealing PIP, implementing Amendment 4 top priorities for Jeff Brandes in 2017

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

Sen. Jeff Brandes will once again file legislation to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance requirement, saying it’s time for Florida to move away from the troubled system.

The St. Petersburg Republican said repealing the state’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) system will be one of his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session. The decision to file the bill comes just a few months after a study revealed Floridians could save an average $81 a car if the state drops the system.

“We believe that PIP is not the right product for Floridians going forward,” said Brandes.

Brandes and Rep. Bill Hager filed legislation in 2016 to repeal the law, which requires drivers to buy $10,000 PIP coverage. The proposal, which would have ended the requirement by 2019, did not receive a hearing during the 2016 legislative session.

Brandes is hoping 2017 is different, and thinks a recent analysis that showed consumers could see a savings if the program is repealed will help his cause.

Florida is one of ten states that has personal injury protection auto insurance, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The program was intended to provide injured drivers up to $10,000 in medical coverage in lieu of establishing fault, but in recent years the number of PIP claims have increased.

In fact, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported Florida led the nation in PIP Questionable Claim referrals in 2009. And not only was it the highest in the nation, a National Insurance Crime Bureau report found Florida had twice as many claims as the next highest state, New York.

In 2012, state lawmakers approved legislation aimed at curbing fraudulent claims. A recent analysis for the OIR showed the 2012 reforms reduced fraud and abuse, but also suggested the state could save Floridians $1 billion a year if they get rid of the system entirely. The Palm Beach Post reported, however, those savings would only apply if lawmakers get rid of PIP without putting new requirements to offset the impact in place.

And with a host of insurance issues expected to be on the table this year, Brandes said he understands repealing PIP could be a tough sell. Still, he’s hoping the potential savings will help move the issue along.

Repealing PIP might be a heavy lift, but Brandes is hopeful the implementation of Amendment 4, which gives tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

The ballot initiative, which was on the Aug. 30 ballot, passed with 73 percent support. While backers of amendment were criticized for putting it on the primary ballot, Brandes said he thinks the decision to keep it separate from the utility-backed solar amendment was “absolutely the right one.”

Amendment 1, the utility-backed solar amendment, received 51 percent support in November, just short of the 60 percent needed to become law.

Brandes said the passage of Amendment 4 shows there is “clear mandate to implement” the amendment as passed. He plans to roll out a bill implementing the amendment in the coming days, and said he is hopeful House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who supported the bill to get the amendment on the ballot in 2016, will sponsor the implementing bill in the House.

The amendment removes the state’s tangible personal property tax, which taxes solar equipment installed. It also authorizes the Legislature to prohibit the devices from being considered when assessing the value of the property for tax purposes.

Removing those tax barriers means more large, scale commercial property owners could begin installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices. And that, Brandes said, could give consumers more access to solar.

Brandes said he believes the implementing bill “should go through very smoothly.” That’s because it will be easy to show legislators that their community supported the amendment, even down to the precinct level.

In addition to repealing PIP and implementing Amendment 4, Brandes said he will once again take a look at local pension reform.

“We don’t file easy legislation … we file things to do with real problems,” he said. “We think pension obligations are a huge untold story in politics, that they are taking down states and nations.”

Editors note: This story has been updated.

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