The occasional chill in the air — what passes for a chill in Tallahassee — sent signals that 2011 was drawing to an end. But with an early session slated for 2012 to deal with redistricting, lawmakers were beginning to lay the groundwork for the major proposals of the coming year, writes Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
Except, it seemed, for the redistricting debate that prompted the early starting gun.
While the Senate Reapportionment Committee put the finishing touches on its instructions for drawing up a proposed committee bill, the House panel tasked with the once-a-decade redrawing of Florida’s political boundaries hit the pause button. A committee meeting and three sub-committee get-togethers were all canceled, prompting yelps from Democrats that they weren’t getting the full story on the delays.
But even without a slate of redistricting meetings, there were plenty of political hot potatoes to deal with, from destination resorts to insurance reform to a pair of contentious claims bills.
GAMBLING BOOM OR BUST?
The lobbying war over the future of gambling in Florida heated up during the week, with some parts of the business community going all-in to support bringing massive luxury casinos to South Florida. Associated Industries of Florida put its cards on the table, saying it would make the approval of a destination resorts bill its highest priority in the 2012 session.
Among the other groups pushing lawmakers to adopt the proposal were the Latin Builders Association and the Florida United Business Association, with all of the supporters saying that the state could hit a jackpot worth tens of thousands of jobs.
Others business groups say the bill was nothing but bad luck. The Florida Chamber of Commerce has lined up with Disney and the Florida Retail Federation to say the proposal isn’t worth it.
But even after the first committee meeting on the proposal, it wasn’t clear where the chips might fall. The meeting of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee featured a lobbyist saying “bulls**t” and a panoply of concerns from all sides.
The bill could lead to expansions of gambling in the rest of the state, some opponents noted, though gambling interests said no other part of the state would support the $2 billion minimum investments required by the bill.
“There would be opportunity for this across the state of Florida if the bill was structured differently,” said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of MGM Resorts. “At $2 billion, this is a South Florida bill.”
But even some gambling lobbyists were skittish about having too many players at the table. Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations for Las Vegas Sands, told lawmakers to be careful about “market saturation.” And pari-mutuel racetracks were worried about the competition.
The only thing guaranteed was a roll of the dice. Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters Wednesday “we will have a vote on some type of destination resorts bill on the floor up or down. This is not me pushing members to vote yes or no.”
Also debuting this week: An assault on fraud that Gov. Rick Scott and others say is costing motorists almost $1 billion a year in higher car-insurance premiums. Scott kicked off the drive to change things, holding a press conference with Cabinet members, law enforcement officers and industry lobbyists and blaming staged crashes, bogus clinics and unnecessary medical procedures for raising the cost of personal injury protection insurance.
“It’s a $900 million tax on consumers,” Scott told reporters and lobbyists representing physicians, hospitals, plaintiff’s attorneys, providers and insurance companies. “.. Crashes are down but costs are up. That makes absolutely no sense. It’s happening because our current laws are being taken advantage of.”
The next day, House and Senate members began gauging proposals that would make a number of changes to rules surrounding the $10,000 benefit created in the 1970s to encourage injured motorists to seek medical attention and stay out of court.
A House proposal would limit rates and the number of chiropractic or massage treatments within a 12-month period for accident victims, cap attorneys fees for legal cases and ban benefits to recipients who submit fraudulent or exaggerated claims. Insurance companies would also face new regulations.
The Senate also began looking at efforts to craft a solution at a midweek hearing. Likely areas would include placing restrictions or bans on attorney referral services, a move supported by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, hinted other likely areas to be addressed include requiring clinics to be headed by physicians, and some limitations on the number of procedures allowed during the course of treatment.
But supporters of the crackdown saw a potential speed bump in the fierce debate ahead.
“It’s going to be a war,” said House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee Chairman Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka. “It’s not a bill that everybody is going to say yes, yes, yes