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Legislators may add insurance to agenda

Leaders hope to consider workers' compensation and auto insurance fraud in the special session.

Published May 9, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Stung by the criticism that they left town without resolving some important issues, lawmakers hope to add two key insurance measures to a special session that begins Monday.

Gov. Jeb Bush has called lawmakers back to Tallahassee for two weeks to pass a $52-billion state budget, but did not put workers' compensation and auto insurance fraud on the agenda.

It takes a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to expand the agenda, but leaders in both houses indicate they are close to an agreement to do that.

Bush said Thursday that he doesn't think any other issues should be added unless there is agreement in advance on a bill. But he expressed optimism for the future.

"Good progress is being made, and the level of cooperation and communication between the House and Senate has been excellent this week," Bush said.

If they don't get around to the insurance issues during this special session, Bush said, he will keep calling back lawmakers until they finish.

The governor has made workers' compensation a priority, noting that Florida businesses are paying some of the highest costs in the nation while workers get the least benefit. Changing state law would save Florida businesses about $500,000 next year, Bush said. The House and Senate, however, could not agree on a fix.

Lawmakers also couldn't agree on how to deal with the rising costs of fraudulent claims that threaten to upend the entire no-fault insurance system that has been in place more than 20 years.

Constituents are angry over the Legislature's failure to deal with major issues during the regular 60-day session and worried about spending on education and health care.

"It's pretty clear what the statewide perception is of what is going on in Tallahassee," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ken Pruitt. "I believe our constituents sent us up to do the people's work in a 60-day time period, and they have been awful patient. It's time for us to do what is right."

Last week budget negotiations blew up because House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, and Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, could not agree on a spending plan. King, however, has agreed to the House's bottom line and is close to agreeing on how to divide the money.

House Rules Chairman Allan Bense said the House is ready to tackle the two insurance issues. "I think we've all read the news clips and we're ready to start again," Bense said.

The House already has scheduled an Insurance Committee meeting Tuesday. The Senate is likely to follow suit if a deal seems close, Pruitt said.

The Legislature's Black Caucus is pressing House and Senate leaders to take up a civil rights bill that died in the final minutes of the session. The measure was requested by Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist, who wants the power to move against businesses that discriminate.

"We must not lose the momentum to pass this critical bill," said Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Jacksonville, in a letter urging the governor to add it to the special session agenda.

At the end of a regular session all pending bills die and must be refiled to be heard in a special session. Lawmakers generally do not like broad agendas for special sessions, but with so many unresolved issues this year, other measures might be added.

[Last modified May 9, 2003, 02:06:09]

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