Senate postpones tobacco bond cap measure

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Running out of time for a vote, the chair of the Senate Regulated Industries committee postponed a bill that would repeal the cap on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds.

On Thursday, committee chair Travis Hutson yanked the bill (SB 100) from the agenda mid-discussion as the hearing’s noon ending time fast approached.

That was after a CSX Transportation spokesman told the committee he feared a repeal of the tobacco companies’ bond cap would be the first step on a “slippery slope” toward getting rid of the state’s overall bond cap.

A repeal would be an “erosion of reasonable tort reform” measures taken by the state in recent years, Bob O’Malley told the panel, adding it could lead to “repeal of the general bond cap, (which) would be a disaster for businesses.”

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who sits on the committee, and state Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, filed measures for their respective chambers for the 2017 Legislative Session.

Tobacco companies say a repeal would be unfair because, without a cap, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule. With some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they say.

The state’s trial lawyers back the cap repeal, saying it will force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.