April 2017: Voices of Lehigh
February 17, 2017: Legislation introduced in Senate would tighten protections against AOBs

Legislation sought by regulators, insurance, and business interests to reform assignment of benefits agreements finally dropped Friday — and the first thing it would do is bar attorney fee awards to contractors who use those contracts to sue insurers.

“Nothwithstanding any other law, as to suits based on claims arising under property insurance policies, attorney fees may not be awarded … in favor of any person or entity seeking relief against the insurer pursuant to an assignment agreement,” the bill says.

The provision in SB 1038, by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, would deliver a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

They blame litigation arising from AOB agreements for rising property insurance premiums, alleging abuse by unscrupulous contractors.

The measure also contains provisions shielding policyholders from abuse. For example, they could rescind any such agreement within seven days and would be shielded from liens by contractors seeking the difference between what the insurer pays and the cost of repairs.

Officials at the insurance office did not reply to a request for comment.

“OIR is leading the effort on the AOB legislation,” said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. “We have been working closely with OIR and other stakeholders to put together a proposal we believe will meaningfully benefit consumers.”

Contractors have argued that they need AOBs to ensure they are paid.

And Jee Jacobson, vice chairman of the Florida Justice Association Property Insurance Committee, said in a written statement that the bill would burden policyholders.

“This irresponsible legislation picks insurance companies as winners and makes homeowners losers. It is the insurance industry’s wish list,” he said.

“Under this legislation, homeowners in desperate need of emergency repairs would have to either provide large amounts of cash up front, or face having liens placed on their property,” he said. “That is because contractors making emergency home repairs will no longer agree to deal directly with the homeowners’ insurance company for payment.”

The bill would require that policyholders be given a copy of any AOB agreement. It gives contractors three days to deliver copies to the insurance companies, and requires them to submit written, itemized cost estimates.

Contractors would be barred from charging cancellation fees or other administration fees.

Before a contractor could sue, he or she would have to submit to a deposition under oath about the work done, the costs, and the details of the AOB agreement. They could be forced into arbitration.

“Notwithstanding any other law, the acceptance by a person of any assignment agreement constitutes a waiver by the assignee or transferee … of any and all claims against all named insureds for payment arising from the specified loss,” the bill says.

“Except that all named insureds remain responsible for the payment of any deductible amount provided for by the terms of the insurance policy and for the cost of any betterment ordered by all named insureds.”

The provisions would not apply when a policyholder assigns insurance rights to someone who buys the property — or to management companies, family members, or guardians empowered to act on the policyholder’s behalf.

Trial attorneys support “efforts to curb problems with water mediation and other issues with first-party insurance,” but “taking away people’s property rights is not the answer to this problem,” Jacobson said.

“The solution is simple: Good contractors should be able to require Insurance companies to keep their word to their customers and stop denying and underpaying legitimate claims – and if they don’t, the homeowner shouldn’t have to be burdened with liens and lawsuits.”

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January 27, 2017: Bills urge help for addicts in ERs and prompt RX drug reporting

Pharmacists and doctors who participate in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program would be required to report every prescription they fill for opiates and other controlled substances within 24 hours under a bill introduced on Friday.

HB 557 was filed by Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami. There is no companion bill in the Senate. 

Currently, pharmacists and doctors who participate in the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program have seven days to report controlled substances they dispense.

Although participation in the PDMP is not mandatory, the database improves clinical decision-making and can identify doctor shopping and pill mills.

Currently, 6,546 pharmacists and doctors input their prescribing data into the PDMP database. Sixty-six percent of participants already report data within 24-hours.

The database contains 37,048,030 prescriptions for 7.3 million Florida residents.

Also on Friday, Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo filed SB 558, which would require hospitals to provide additional services to overdose patients. Passidomo, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Health Policy and Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, represents Collier, Hendry and parts of Lee counties – all hard hit by the opioid epidemic.

The bill mirrors HB 61, filed by Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, which requires hospitals to screen overdose patients to determine the need for additional services and prohibits hospitals from discharging overdose patients to a detox or drug treatment center until the patient is stable.

The bills also require attending physicians to contact the overdose patient’s primary care physician or any other treatment providers who prescribed a controlled substance to the patient.

If the patient is currently in a treatment program, the hospital’s attending physician must also inform the medical director at the treatment center about the overdose.

The bill would also require the hospital to inform an overdose patient’s family or emergency contact about the overdose.

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January 26th 2016: Florida debating tampon tax exemption

Women across the country are forced to pay extra for a basic medical necessity. Now there is a push to get rid of the sales tax in Florida on feminine hygiene products, known as the “Tampon Tax.”

It could save women money, but cut the state short by millions of dollars.

College students like Natalie Figueroa and Katie Welter know what it’s like to pinch pennies where they can.

“Why do we pay extra money for a necessity?” Figueroa asked.

There are around 200 items that are exempt from the state’s sales tax, and if feminine products were added, it could come at a cost to the state.

“I don’t see why we have to pay tax on pads and tampons when Mother Nature gave us this,” said Welter.

And State Senator Kathleen Passidomo hopes women like Figueroa and Welter can save some money by getting rid of the six percent sales tax.

“It’s about $15 million which may not seem a lot to the state,” said Florida State Senator Kathleen Passidomo. “But [it is] to the women who pay the sales tax and it’s usually younger women.”

Regular sales prices on Tampax in $7.79 without that six percent sales tax, saving someone 46 cents. Over time that money adds up.

But don’t start counting that change just yet. The state would need to make up that $15 million loss somehow, and other items could go up in cost.

“Just like there is some [sales tax] on certain food items,” said Matcham Smart, “there shouldn’t be any on necessities.”

There are other states that have an exemption on feminine products like Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

This bill is still in committee in the Florida legislature, but if it’s passed, they hope the exemption goes into effect next January.

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January 19th 2017: Lawmaker seeks to protect ‘vulnerable’ road users

Motorists who cause bodily injury to bicyclists or “vulnerable” road users could, in addition to other charges, get slapped with fines up to $2,500, under a bill filed Thursday by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.

The proposal (SB 408) came a little more than a week after Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America released a report called “Dangerous By Design” that put eight Florida metro regions among the 10 most dangerous communities to walk in the nation.

Out of 104 metro areas, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers region received the top ranking in Smart Growth America’s “Pedestrian Danger Index” released Jan. 10.

Smart Growth America, which advocates for more walkable neighborhoods and more convenient ways to travel, based its pedestrian index on a number of factors, including the amount of people who walk to work and pedestrian deaths.

Also in the top 10 were: Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Jacksonville, Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Lakeland-Winter Haven, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, lumped into a single metro area, came in 11th on the list.

Passidomo’s proposal (SB 408) calls for motorists’ licenses to be suspended for three years, with a requirement to retake a driver’s exam, if they are charged with non-criminal traffic infractions that result in serious bodily injury or death to bicyclists or “vulnerable” road users.

Along with walkers and bicyclists, the bill defines a “vulnerable” road user as a highway worker, as well as people riding horses, farm tractors, horse-drawn carriages or electric mobility devices.

As a House member, Passidomo proposed similar legislation the past two years, but the bills did not pass.

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October 26th 2016: U.S. Chamber Announces 2016 Legal Reform Award Winners

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) today announced its 2016 Legal Reform Award winners at its 17th Annual Legal Reform Summit. The event, The Litigation Machine, brought together top experts to explore current lawsuit trends, and featured a keynote address by Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney. The awards honor individuals and organizations whose outstanding work has contributed to reforming civil justice systems around the globe.

“We are proud to honor these individuals and organizations for their tireless efforts to advocate for commonsense legal reforms, both in the U.S. and abroad,” said ILR President Lisa A. Rickard. “Each deserves recognition for helping to protect businesses and citizens alike from the economic damage that comes from an overly litigious environment.”

The five award winners included:

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten received the Legal Reform Champion Award. Josten will retire at the end of the year after 42 years of service at the Chamber, and is one of the business community’s most effective strategists in the ongoing battle for civil justice reform.
  • The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers received the Outstanding Alliance Award. The group partnered with ILR earlier this year to hold a symposium to draw attention to the over-criminalization of American enterprise and has made important contributions to the fight for criminal justice reform.
  • The Michigan Chamber of Commerce received the Outstanding Organization Award in recognition of its extraordinary leadership in the legal reform community – including as chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, and as a liaison among all of the state chambers and the U.S. Chamber.
  • Ken Daly of the Sidley Austin law firm received the Research and Policy Award for authoring invaluable research reports and comment letters on third party litigation financing and class actions, as well as helping guide ILR’s efforts in the EU and the UK.
  • Florida State Representative Kathleen Passidomo received the State Legislative Achievement Award. As chairwoman of the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee, she exhibited extraordinary leadership as one of the business community’s strongest and most reliable allies in the fight for legal reform in Florida.

ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.

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August 30th 2016:  Voters choose Kathleen Passidomo to replace Sen. Garrett Richter

Kathleen Passidomo edged out a GOP primary victory Tuesday in the race to be Southwest Florida’s next state senator, ending a blistering campaign that turned nasty as each side accused the other of being a closet liberal.

Passidomo, a state representative from Naples, received 31,076 votes, or 58 percent, according to unofficial results from the Collier, Lee and Hendry county supervisor of elections offices. Her opponent, state Rep. Matt Hudson of Naples, received 22,950, or 42 percent of the vote.

The race pitted two veteran state lawmakers against one another to replace Sen. Garrett Richter, who will lose his seat in November due to term limits.

“It was such a hard campaign, very grueling,” Passidomo said at a victory party at The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce building in Naples. “I had no expectations at all. My whole philosophy was I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. I was at polling places during early voting. I was out there (Tuesday) in the rain going precinct to precinct getting every last voter because, I didn’t know.”

Passidomo, 63, won commanding victories in both Collier and Lee counties, where the majority of the district’s voters live. Hudson more than doubled Passidomo’s support in rural Hendry County, but there weren’t enough votes there to make up the difference.

Passidomo’s win Tuesday all but cements her seat in the upper chamber, with only two write-in candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot standing in the way. Those candidates closed Tuesday’s primary to Republican voters only, leaving registered Democrats and independents unable to vote.

The Passidomo-Hudson race attracted the most campaign contributions in this year’s state primary election cycle. Passidomo’s campaign raised $619,904 as of last week. Hudson raised $520,089, according to state campaign finance records.

Both campaigns also attracted sizable donations to political action committees that supported them. Hudson’s Making the Right Call for Florida PAC raised $946,526 while Passidomo’s Working together for Florida raised $400,500, state records show.

Hudson’s campaign and PAC outspent Passidomo by $484,533.

Hudson launched plenty of advertising punches that criticized Passidomo on issues, including her voting record on abortion. Another PAC that Passidomo said was not tied to her campaign threw advertisements back at Hudson for decisions he made while serving on the Golden Gate Fire Commission. Those decisions include plans to increase health care and pay for commissioners.

Both Hudson and Passidomo were ranked among the most conservative lawmakers in the state House by the American Conservative Union in 2015.

“It’s distressing to me that that’s the whole tenor of political campaigns these days,” Passidomo said of the mudslinging. “You almost wish you could stand up and say, ‘This is what I believe,’ and people would make a choice. But that’s not how it is these days.”

Hudson will conclude his last House term in November after serving as chairman of the Healthcare Appropriations Committee. He was also House speaker pro tempore, second in command in the chamber.

Passidomo last served as the chairwoman of the House Civil Justice Committee. She could have served two more years in the House but saw Richter’s departure as an opportunity to move on to the Senate.

Passidomo’s future state Senate seat offers a four-year term, two years longer than the House. The seat also historically has not presented much opposition, as the incumbent. Richter never faced a major opponent during his two election cycles.

Passidomo will face a larger Senate district than Richter did. A 2015 gerrymandering case forced the Senate to adopt redrawn districts, expanding the seat previously serving the coasts of Collier and southern Lee counties to all of Collier and Hendry counties.

Hudson raised a good chunk of his campaign dollars before the start of this year’s legislative session in January. Passidomo’s fundraising began after the session and received rock-solid support from legislative leaders such as Sens. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

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