Failure to Enact Meaningful AOB Reforms Hurts Florida’s Consumers, Coalition Says

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (March 11, 2016) – Florida’s property insurance policyholders face paying higher rates due to the Legislature’s failure this legislative session to pass meaningful reforms to rein in fraud and abuse involving Assignment of Benefits (AOB).

For the fourth straight year, legislators heard testimony about a rapidly growing scam in which shady home repair vendors pressure homeowners to sign away the rights and benefits of their insurance policies as a condition of performing work. This practice has led to grossly inflated claims and an explosion of AOB lawsuits against insurers, which is driving up the cost of homeowners’ coverage for consumers.

Last week, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. warned that its policyholders in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties face rate increases of 10 percent annually for years to come, and that rate decreases for its other policyholders across the state are now jeopardized, due to a huge increase in water damage claims and AOB lawsuits. Citizens said it is now receiving an average 650 new lawsuits a month. The mounting losses are threatening the state insurer’s financial strength and jeopardizing its efforts to move policies to the private market.

Earlier in the session, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation issued an analysis showing that AOB abuse and lawsuits are also a growing problem for private insurers. State insurance regulators said if the trend wasn’t stopped, private insurers also could be forced to raise rates by 10 percent or more annually just to break even.

The Consumer Protection Coalition, led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, praised state Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) and state Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) for introducing bills at the start of the 2016 session that contained strong consumer protections. However, their bills died in committee. Among the common-sense consumer protections that failed to win acceptance with legislators were provisions allowing the consumer to rescind an AOB within three days, a requirement that the home repair vendor provide written disclosure to the policyholder that they might be signing away important legal and policy rights and a prohibition against vendors interfering with the right of the insurer to communicate directly with their own policyholder.

Hukill’s bill also sought to reform the use of one-way attorney fees in AOB lawsuits, which are fueling the dramatic surge in AOB lawsuits. One-way attorney fees that exist in state law today were intended to ensure a level playing field for policyholders forced to sue their own insurance company. Instead, shady home repair vendors are obtaining the right to these one-way fees, incentivizing them to file lawsuits – because they don’t have to pay attorney fees to insurers, even if they lose.

“Unless the Legislature takes real steps to address one-way attorney fees and stop the lawsuit free-for-all, consumers will continue to pay the price of inaction in the form of higher insurance rates,” said David Hart, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the coalition. “The fraud and abuse involving AOBs is real, it is getting worse and it is spreading statewide. While we are disappointed that the Legislature did not agree to a cure this session, we are 100 percent committed to ending the abuse and protecting consumers in 2017.”

The Florida Chamber and Consumer Protection Coalition, which includes a wide array of consumer advocates, construction firms, realtors, bankers, business associations, insurance agents and insurance companies, said it will continue to work to educate consumers, legislators and other stakeholders and press for real reforms over the next year.

Florida Chamber-Backed Comprehensive Water Bill Signed by Governor

Today, Florida took an important step toward securing Florida’s water future, when Governor Scott signed the Florida Chamber-backed water bill into law. This bi-partisan effort is a step in the right direction to ensure that Florida’s water future doesn’t go the way of California.

The Florida Chamber thanks House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam as well as Florida Chamber members, local chambers of commerce and members of the Florida Chamber’s water coalition for their help in this success.

 

What Does This Law Mean for You?

Click here to read our one-pager, which outlines what this law will mean for your business, your employees and your community.

Comprehensive Water Bill Passes, Heads to Governor For Signature

The Florida Chamber of Commerce applauds the Florida Legislature for fully passing a Florida Chamber-backed comprehensive water bill today that will help secure our state’s water future.

SB 552, sponsored by Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), takes meaningful steps, using science-based solutions, to help ensure Florida’s water future doesn’t go the way of California.

This measure, which now heads to Governor Rick Scott for signature:

  • Will help ensure clean and abundant water,
  • Reduce the prospect of “water wars” among users in resource-limited areas, and
  • Promote strategic partnerships between the public and private sector in achieving water resource development goals.

The Florida Chamber Foundation estimates that by 2030, six million more residents will call Florida home. We commend House Speaker Steve Crisafulli,  Senator Charlie Dean, Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres),  and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for continuing to champion Florida’s water future.

What’s Next for This Bill

The bill now heads to Governor Scott’s desk to await signature.

Watch and Share Our “Keep Florida Clean & Affordable” Video

Watch the video to learn why Florida needs long-term water solutions and share with your employees, co-workers and friends. Share via twitter and be sure to tag @Florida_Wins.

 

Water Bill En-Route to Governor’s Desk

Ensures Clean and Abundant Water for Future Growth

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (January 14, 2016) – The Florida Chamber of Commerce applauds the Florida Legislature for fully passing a Florida Chamber-backed comprehensive water bill today that will help secure our state’s water future.

 

“The Florida Chamber has long supported science-backed efforts that will ensure our state can meet the demands of today and of the future,” said Christopher Emmanuel, Director of Infrastructure and Governance Policy at the Florida Chamber. “This bill is a meaningful step in the right direction to help ensure Florida’s water future doesn’t go the way of California. This bi-partisan effort is a fantastic start to Florida’s 2016 Legislative Session.”

 

With six million more residents expected to call Florida home by 2030, the Florida Chamber of Commerce believes that securing Florida’s water future is essential in preparing Florida’s infrastructure for smart growth and development.

Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) this week appeared on The Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line, saying “It’s no secret water is a key component to our success here in Florida.”

The Florida Chamber thanks House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), Representative Matt Caldwell (R- Lehigh Acres), and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for continuing to champion Florida’s water future.

###

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business and the state’s largest federation of employers, chambers of commerce and associations, aggressively representing small and large businesses from every industry and every region. The Florida Chamber works within all branches of government to affect those changes set forth in the annual Florida Business Agenda, and which are seen as critical to secure Florida’s future. The Florida Chamber works closely with its Political Operations and the Florida Chamber Foundation. Visit www.FloridaChamber.com for more information.

Rep. Matt Caldwell Discusses Comprehensive Water Bill, AOB and Pension Reform

“It’s no secret water is a key component to our success here in Florida.”

Rep. Matt Caldwell, (R-Lehigh Acres)

Rep. Matt Caldwell today joined the Florida Chamber of Commerce to discuss several issues before the legislature during the 2016 Legislative Session which began today.

Among them, the Florida Chamber’s long-supported comprehensive water bill, which is expected to fully pass the legislature this week.

 

“Whether its ensuring long-term supply in Central Florida, restoring the springs in North Florida as well as the Everglades, this bill goes a long way toward accomplishing all of that,” said Rep. Caldwell.

 

Rep. Caldwell also discussed the need for assignment of benefits reform, commonly known as AOB.

 

“This is an issue- fraud has clearly grown,” said Rep. Caldwell.

 

Today, the Florida Chamber announced a broad-based group of business leaders, consumer advocates, real estate agents, construction contractors, insurance agents and insurance trade groups who form the Consumer Protection Coalition and are pushing for reforms to end AOB abuse on its new web platform – www.FightFraud.Today.

Rep. Caldwell also discussed the need for state pension reform and fixing out state’s current unfunded liability.

 

“This year, we are pushing  strongly for a change in the default, and that is, when a state employee is hired, they get to make a choice whether to be in the pension or in the investment plan. Today if they don’t make a choice, they are placed in the pension automatically. Since most state employees don’t work the minimum seven years to vest, they actually never receive retirement of any kind from the state. So just the basic question of fairness, we think we ought to default those folk to the investment plan for that reason… We believe the investment plan is the future.”

 

SIGN THE PETITION:

Click here to sign the AOB petition and help us stop insurance fraud!

Florida Chamber-Backed Water Bill Passes Senate Environmental Preservation Committee

The Florida Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee today unanimously passed a Florida Chamber-backed water bill that will help secure Florida’s water future.

The bill, SB 0552 by Senator Charles Dean (R-Inverness), will:

  • Help ensure clean and abundant water,
  • Reduce the prospect of “water wars” among users in resource-limited areas, and
  • Promote strategic partnerships between the public and private sector in achieving water resource development goals.

In testimony before the committee, Florida Chamber lobbyists David Childs of Hopping Green & Sams, P.A. explained that this bill will go a long way to ensure we have the water quality decision being made to ensure that, Florida isn’t decades from now, kicking itself and wishing that it would have done something.

“We’re on the home stretch of a very long journey,” Childs said. “This is not a victory lap, but a lot of hard work to ensure that in 20 years and 30 years from now, we look like Florida and not California who is dealing with water shortages.”

The House companion bill, HB 7005 sponsored by Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) passed its first committee stop two weeks ago.

With six million more residents expected to call Florida home by 2030, the Florida Chamber of Commerce believes that securing Florida’s water future is essential in preparing Florida’s infrastructure for smart growth and development.

The Florida Chamber thanks Senator Dean and Representative Caldwell for sponsoring this legislation, and we will continue to monitor its progress in the coming weeks.

 

Water Bill Will Help Secure Florida’s Water Future

With six million more residents expected to call Florida home by 2030, the Florida Chamber of Commerce believes that securing Florida’s water future is essential in preparing Florida’s infrastructure for smart growth and development.

Earlier today, the Florida Chamber testified before the House State Affairs Committee in support of an environmental resources bill (PCB SAC 16-01) sponsored by Representative Matt Caldwell (R- Lehigh Acres) that takes meaningful steps, using science-based solutions, to help ensure Florida’s water future doesn’t go the way of California.

This measure:

  • Will help ensure clean and abundant water,
  • Reduce the prospect of “water wars” among users in resource-limited areas, and
  • Promote strategic partnerships between the public and private sector in achieving water resource development goals.

During testimony before the committee, Florida Chamber lobbyist David Childs of Hopping Green & Sams, P.A., pointed out that this proposed bill will allow Florida’s planning process to become a “water supply, water quality problem solving process” and in doing so, will help Florida focus on creating “clean water to drink and clean water to recreate in,” and allow our state to become a “leader in the nation in water supply and water quality.”

The Florida Chamber thanks Representative Matt Caldwell and the legislature for proposing this bill and will continue to monitor its process in the coming weeks.

 

Securing Florida’s Water Future – Legislative Update

At the start of the 2015 Florida Legislative Session, the Florida House developed comprehensive water legislation that addressed issues – such as water supply plans, water quality, the Central Florida Water Initiative, Northern Everglades impacts and springs restoration. With guidance from the Florida Chamber, and the leadership of Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and Rep. Matt Caldwell  (R-Lehigh Acres), this legislation – HB 7003 – passed the House overwhelmingly on March 5th.

“To ignore the growing demand for, and the quality of,
our water supply leaves our state incredibly vulnerable.”

– Speaker Steve Crisafulli,
Florida House of Representatives

 

HB 7003 is now being vetted in the Senate, a discussion that began earlier this week.

The Florida Chamber supports securing Florida’s water future by developing science-based water solutions that encourage the use of alternative water supplies to help promote sustainable economic growth.

As lawmakers continue to discuss solutions to Florida’s long-term water future and Amendment 1, the Florida Chamber believes:

  • A majority of funding investment be used for water supply and infrastructure to meet current and future need,
  • Florida should receive a better return on investment for land purchases, and can achieve this through conservation easements, which allow the landowner to manage the land,
  • Florida should consider investing in land and water that’s available for public access like hiking and bike trails, and
  • Land buffers around military bases are essential to ensuring Florida remains a military and veteran friendly state, and as such should be protected.

Watch and Share This Short Water Video:

Water is an important issue throughout Florida for different reasons. Watch and share this short video that explains why so much importance is being placed on securing Florida’s water future.

Rep. Caldwell Outlines Long-Term Pension Goals

For a more competitive Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce believes that creating fiscally stable governments through modern and sustainable retirement programs will secure public pensions and protect taxpayers. Creating fiscally stable state and local governments through modern and sustainable retirement systems will help avoid a bankrupt future that too many state and local governments currently face.

“I think the thing to really focus on…is the way these are funded,” said Rep. Caldwell. “It comes out of taxes on our insurance premiums. So everyone in the state pays for these municipal pension liabilities. The debate in the legislature is about how those monies are allocated.”

The Florida Chamber believes our state needs to take action to create a local pension system that is sustainable for the long-term, but in a way that doesn’t place additional burdens on taxpayers.

“Our goal between the house and senate, at the ten thousand foot level, is to gain greater flexibility in how those premium tax dollars are allocated and how they are able to be used to pay for base benefits,” explained Rep. Caldwell. “There’s been, over the years, a buildup of commitments for extra benefits that are frankly, very expensive and unsustainable long term. We need to be able to allow the cities and unions to negotiate to a more realistic level.”

At a state level, the Florida Chamber continues to fight to reform the Florida Retirement System (FRS) into a program that is more sustainable- not just for the taxpayers, but for those in the system that will rely on their retirement at some point. While it’s true that Florida’s FRS is one of the best retirement systems in the nation at 86.6 percent funded, that still leaves more than $21 billion in unfunded liability. As it stands, Florida families are on the hook for $500 million each year for the next 43 years- funds that could be used for other important state priorities.

“This $500 million a year is money we could be spending on other big priories- education, healthcare- both of which consume a great deal of our attention each year,” said Rep. Caldwell.

And like the Florida Chamber, Rep. Caldwell believes long-term solutions will keep Florida moving in the right direction.

“When you read about scenarios where pensions go bankrupt and the pensioners themselves, the terrible stories of folks that relied on that retirement, then have nothing,” said Rep. Caldwell. “It’s a commitment not only for the taxpayers but for those people who are banking on that for their retirement. They need to be sure that they are going to have something that’s solid and existent when they are ready to retire.”

Get Involved

Visit our Pension Reform page to learn how the Florida Chamber is fighting to reform unsustainable pension programs.