Monday, May 1, 2017

Legislative Update 2017

The Florida Legislative Session runs through Friday (May 5, 2017). The length of the Session is set by the state constitution. The Legislature's calendar predicts closure of the 2017 Session around 10:00 a.m. Friday, but the chambers will vote on their adjournments when they deem their respective business done. 

Much of the news this Session has centered on the state budget. However, compromise and agreement has been reportedThe budget is a mandatory legislative function. In recent months, some prognosticated that the Legislature might fail to reach a budget consensus during the Session. Had that occurred, or if some other particular need was perceived, the Legislature can be called into a "Special Session." Last year, some advocated for a "Special Session" regarding workers' compensation, but it did not occur. Recently, with a budget seemingly agreed upon, there has been less discussion of any perceived need for a "Special Session" in 2017. 

There has been significant discussion, debate, and discord about workers' compensation this year. The main proposals are noted below. 

Florida's legislature operates on a two year Legislative term. Bills introduced in the first year of a term (2017) remain viable through the end of the second year (2018). Therefore, discussion of the bills currently pending should perhaps include whether they will pass this year and whether they might be taken-up again next spring for further discussion, revision, and consideration. 

The House passed a significant bill regarding workers' compensation, House Bill (HB) 7085. The last House action, as of this morning, was its passage on April 19, 2017 (82 to 37). When a bill is passed in either chamber, it is sent to the other chamber in "messages." In order to reach the Governor's desk for consideration, a bill must first pass both the House and the Senate (each referred to as a "chamber"). The Florida Senate received HB 7085 in messages on April 20, 2017 and referred it to the Senate Rules Committee. UPDATE May 2, 2017 - the Senate has taken no substantive action on HB 7085. 

The Senate also has a significant bill regarding workers' compensation, Senate Bill (SB) 1582. It is listed on the "special orders" calendar for May 1, 2017. That means that a vote on the bill by the entire Senate is likely today. If it is passed, as expected, it would similarly be transmitted in messages to the House for consideration. When bills are received by a chamber, they might be referred to a chamber committee, or could be voted on by that chamber. UPDATE May 1, 2017 - this bill remains on the "special order" calendar, and may well be voted on by the Senate this week. UPDATE May 2, 2017 - this bill was "temporarily postponed" or "TP'd" today. It will be back on the calendar tomorrow. 

There is significant discussion of both of these bills and the impending end of the session. There is seemingly no end to opinions and conjecture regarding the potential for either bill to pass both chambers for presentment to the Governor. That potential is usually seen as more likely when the two chambers are each working on identical or significantly similar bills. 

The 2017 workers compensation bills have similarities, but are far from identical. It is possible that either chamber could accept the language of the other chamber's bill. In that case the "accepting" chamber would amend its own bill by substituting the language of the other chamber's bill. It is also possible that the two chambers could work with both bills and reach some compromise of language that is acceptable to each. Agreements such as these might take significant discussion and time. 

There are also less comprehensive bills, which have some impact on Florida workers' compensation.

SB 1008 (many bill numbers include "CS," which reflects that the proposal is a "committee substitute" for the originally filed bill; this bill is currently "CS/CS/SB 1008," meaning there have been two significant committee substitutes) would exempt information about injured and deceased workers from Florida public record laws. This bill was last acted upon April 28, and is on the Senate's special order calendar for May 1, 2017. SB 1008 applies specifically to information submitted to the Department of Financial Services (Division of Workers' Compensation).

There is a similar public records bill in the House, HB 1107 (which is also the second CS). The impact of the HB is broader. It applies to information submitted to the Division, as addressed in SB 1008, but also to information submitted to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Division of Administrative Hearings (Office of Judges of Compensation Claims). The House passed HB 1107 unanimously and it was sent to the Senate in messages on April 25, 2017. The Senate has referred the bill to Senate committees for consideration. UPDATE May 1, 2017 - the Senate withdrew the bill from the assigned committees and substituted the HB 1107 for SB 1008. HB 1107 is scheduled for a Senate vote this week. Update May 2, 2017 - the Senate passed this bill unanimously.

Thus, the two public record bills are also not identical. Therefore, for changes in workers' compensation and public records to reach the Governor this year, compromise between the chambers would be required. 

HB 1007 is not per se a workers' compensation bill. however, it would require all insurance carriers to address fraud. Some predict that it could receive a final House vote this week. Whether the Senate will act upon it in the final days of session is a matter of discussion. The House bill has similarities with SB 1012, which is set for a Senate vote this week. 

Time will tell whether the week of May 1, 2017 brings action on these proposals. It is worth noting that a great many bills are filed each year. Few successfully travel through the committee process and reach the floor of either chamber. Fewer still pass both chambers and are presented to the Governor. And, whether to veto such a passed bill is up to the Governor. The path from bill to law is is challenging, sometimes difficult to understand, and often time-consuming. With only a few days left in the 2017 Session, many will be watching these and other bills of interest. 

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