Florida TaxWatch calls for Claim Bill reforms

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Florida’s claim bill process–by which individuals can petition the legislature for payment of tort claims against government–is too arbitrary, too political and lacks equity and transparency, according to a report released Thursday by Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institution and government watchdog headquartered in Tallahassee. 

The report shows that while there has not been a proliferation of claim bills filed or passed, awards have increased significantly.  Last year, 11 claim bills were passed by the legislature, containing awards totaling $39.8 million.  This included the first two awards exceeding $10 million in Florida’s history–$15.0 million and $10.75 million.  A record $140 million was requested in 2011, and there are 25 claim bills filed for the 2013 legislative session, requesting more than $50 million in damages. Leading up to the current Session, the Florida House of Representatives created a Select Committee on Claim Bills to develop recommendations for reform.   

“As more high-cost settlements are approved, there is likely to be a growing call for ever-increasing awards,” said Dominic Calabro, President and CEO.  “The size of these awards must be controlled in order to avoid each new award setting a precedent that leads to further escalation of the size of claims against the state and local governments and their taxpayers.”

The Florida TaxWatch Report offers the following recommendations:

  • Create an expedited process for settled claim bills;
  • Cap non-economic damages; 
  • Limit lobbying fees;
  • Make the actual amounts paid for medical expenses admissible at trial and in claim bill hearings and use actual compensation as estimates for future medical costs;
  • Explore requiring that the sponsor of a claims bill be from the jurisdiction where the incident took place or from where the claimant resides, with allowances made for localities with limited legislative representation; and
  • Allow local government to use periodic payments of judgments
“Claims reform requires a delicate balance,” said Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Tax Research.  “While every person with a legitimate case has a right for their claim to be heard and resolved in an expeditious manner, the taxpayer also has the right to assurances that their hard-earned tax dollars are not being spent capriciously and that settlements are not unnecessarily expensive. These Florida TaxWatch recommendations will help provide that much-needed balance.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.