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    Legislature

    With few friends, workers' comp bill moves ahead

    Senators on both sides of the issue find things to dislike - but it clears the Banking and Insurance Committee, anyway.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 16, 2003


    TALLAHASSEE -- A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday introduced a workers' compensation plan that left people on both sides of the debate grumbling.

    The bill (SB 1132) would give out-of-state doctors a role in deciding who gets benefits, limit attorney fees and cut off nonmedical benefits for the permanently disabled workers at age 75.

    Two members of the Banking and Insurance Committee voted against it. Insurance companies, business groups, doctors and workers advocates were unhappy with details.

    But committee Chairman Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, seemed content with the bill, which he said would meet a request by Gov. Jeb Bush.

    The governor has made workers' compensation a priority and has asked the Legislature to adopt a plan that would lower rates by 15 percent.

    "If anyone is not duly offended by this bill, they don't have a dog in the hunt," said Posey.

    Among the changes, the new law would:

    Narrow the definition of permanent total disability benefits and place the burden on afflicted workers seeking that status to prove they cannot work in any capacity.

    Cut off nonmedical, permanent total disability benefits at age 75.

    Establish a complicated review process with a panel of out-of-state doctors to settle disputes over medical benefits denied by insurance companies.

    Create a legal fee sliding scale of percentages.

    Create a fee schedule for doctors that pays 125 percent of Medicare.

    Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac, objected.

    "I think it gravely harms injured workers and improves the situation for workers' comp insurance carriers and employers at the expense of injured workers," Wasserman Schultz said.

    She wanted more latitude for workers seeking permanent total disability status, limits to fees collected by attorneys who defend insurance companies and a competitive rate-filing system.

    But sensing a lack of support, Wasserman Schultz withdrew several amendments seeking those and other changes.

    Worker advocates were pleased that the committee eliminated two special immunity provisions sought by businesses and insurance companies. One gave immunity to employers who intentionally put their employees in dangerous situations that lead to injuries. The other protected one subcontractor from a lawsuit when an employee injures another subcontractor's employee on a general contractor's site.

    Both were included in a revised House bill favored by the insurance industry.

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