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Senate wants to extend no-fault insurance law 3 years

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published April 25, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - The Senate drastically rewrote its plan for automobile insurance Tuesday, proposing to keep the current system intact until 2010 and providing more money for fighting fraud.

The Senate's Government Budget Committee passed an auto insurance bill similar to what the Legislature passed last year, which Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed. The bill's next stop is the Senate floor.

The state's current mandated auto insurance coverage, which requires that every driver carry $10,000 worth of coverage to pay health care bills for a crash no matter who is at fault, will disappear Oct. 1 if the Legislature does nothing.

The Legislature set that deadline back in 2003 and nearly every year since has attempted to combat fraud in the state's no-fault system. State investigators have told lawmakers they are understaffed and overwhelmed in the fight.

The Senate bill extends the state's no-fault law for three years and puts $2.8-million toward fighting fraud.

The trial lawyers and most in the health care industry said they like the bill. Auto insurers hate it and said extending the current system would be a ripoff.

"Let me tell you something, we have people standing up here and talking about ripoffs and fraud, go home and sit with your constituents and ask them which industry rips you off and commits more fraud then the insurance industry," said the bill's author Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. "Let's give fraud investigators a chance to work their magic."

House Speaker Marco Rubio has said during this session he wants real reform. Otherwise, he said, the state's no-fault system should be allowed to disappear.

Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who helped craft the House's automobile insurance plan, said he didn't know if the Senate's plan would be acceptable to the speaker. "It should be interesting," he said.

On Monday, the House released its automobile insurance plan, which would replace the current no-fault system with one that would require drivers to carry $15,000 worth of coverage to pay mostly hospital and emergency care bills, triggered by an emergency room visit, regardless of who is at fault.