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Florida Senate Merges Health, Business Liability Bills

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Sen. Jeff Brandes told the Senate's Appropriations Committee: " I think it’s important that we have both the business community and the health care community rowing with us together in the same ship.”

COVID liability bills aimed at protecting businesses and health care providers from lawsuits are heading to the Senate floor after being merged together in an effort to increase their chances of passing.

COVID-19 liability bills aimed at protecting businesses and health care providers from lawsuits are heading to the Senate floor after being merged together in an effort to increase their chances of passing.

“It makes sense now as we come in for a landing to land one piece of legislation to negotiate with the House on one piece of legislation so that we’re not putting ourselves in a situation were we can be held hostage on one but pass the other," Sen. Jeff Brandes told the Senate's Appropriations Committee on Thursday. " I think it’s important that we have both the business community and the health care community rowing with us together in the same ship.”

Critics worry the plans strip all COVID-related liability from businesses or health care providers who may have been negligent. Democrats proposed 11 amendments, all of which failed. Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston offered an amendment that would narrow the scope of nursing homes covered by the measure.

“Essentially what the amendment does is it says let’s not have a blanket application if they’re individuals that have not lived up to some of the basic tenets or some of the basic principles to protect the residents then they shouldn’t benefit form this liability protection,” Thurston said.

Under Thurston’s amendment, senior living facilities who’ve received penalties for living standards within three years would not be receive the protections afforded under the proposal. Brandes opposed the amendment, saying it’s not needed.

“To my knowledge, not one nursing home in the state of Florida pushed their residents to the curb and said we can no longer keep you safe, we can no longer take care of you," Brandes said. "They powered through this, and they struggled through it. We asked them to 'MacGyver' their way through a global pandemic and they were there, and they did the best they could for the residents they had. They were there for our family members on the front end of this. We’ve got to be there for them on the back end of this, so I would ask you to vote this amendment no.”

Senate minority leader Gary Farmer also proposed amendments, most of which aimed at limiting the liability protections for health care providers. All eight of his amendments failed as well.

“I just think the bill goes too far. It’s a dramatic change to Florida law. You’re potentially impacting thousands of consumers - Floridians who may have contacted this disease because a business or a health care provider didn’t act reasonably," he said.

The House is still working with two legislations. The House Judiciary Committee has advanced a proposal dealing with health care providers, and that bill is headed to the full House, which has already passed a measure on business liability.