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'Looks like a stinker'

Bush threatens to veto a $20 fee on car insurance policies that slipped unheralded through the Legislature and would go directly to agents' pockets.

Published May 21, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush said an obscure bill adding $20 to every car insurance policy in Florida "looks like a stinker," and he threatened to veto it unless the Legislature wipes it out in this week's special session.

"I'm leaning toward vetoing it," Bush said Tuesday. "I've been told also that the Legislature is looking at cleaning up their mess before I get to veto it."

The $20 fee was one of many that passed the Legislature in the regular session. It is the largest fee hike that benefits a particular interest group, not the state itself.

Embarrassed lawmakers who voted for it, and who spent the regular session defending their support for working people, are now scrambling to repeal it. They say they did not know the fee was in an insurance industry bill that unanimously passed both houses.

"We're not infallible," House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said.

The fee was pushed by lobbyist Travis Moore of Largo, who represents the Specialty Agents Association of Florida, a group of agents who write policies for low-income drivers.

The agents said their customers require extra paperwork because they drive clunkers and often switch cars.

"Some of these agents are not making a whole lot of money. They're basically just surviving," Moore said.

Moore said car insurance agents have been allowed to charge a $10 administrative fee, but it has remained unchanged since 1992.

The House sponsors of the fee were Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair, and Stacy Ritter, D-Coral Springs. The Senate sponsor was Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

The fee would raise at least $134-million a year, and the money would go to the pockets of insurance agents - not the state. Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, is drafting an amendment to a must-pass insurance fraud bill that will wipe the fee off the books before it can take effect.

The House passed the Senate measure (SB 2364) by a 116-0 vote on the last day of the regular session. It passed despite Byrd's insistence on a two-day waiting period before final passage of bills to give the public time to catch controversial provisions.

- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 21, 2003, 02:01:26]

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