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Senate Panel Backs Worker’s Comp Changes

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With the proposal drawing opposition from business, insurance and labor groups, a Senate committee Monday approved a bill that would revamp parts of the workers' compensation insurance system.

The bill (SB 1582), approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, comes after a 14.5 percent insurance rate increase started taking effect for businesses in December. A large part of the increase stemmed from two Florida Supreme Court rulings that struck down parts of the workers' compensation system — including a ruling that rejected strict limits on fees paid to attorneys who represent injured workers.

The most-controversial part of the Senate bill would allow judges of compensation claims to award attorney fees up to $250 an hour. Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said his proposal is an attempt to respond to the Supreme Court ruling.

"I'm trying to find a middle ground, and I think we have achieved it here," he says.

But major business and insurance groups oppose the bill and the potential for higher attorney fees, which they argue drive up insurance costs. Kimberly Fernandes, a lobbyist for the Florida Justice Reform Institute, which is aligned with business groups, said fees of $250 an hour would become the norm if the bill passes.

"We're going to go straight to that $250 rate," she says. "It's not going to be a maximum rate."

Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, says his labor group also opposes the bill — for different reasons. For example, he said it would not give injured workers enough power to choose their doctors.