|Date:||January 26, 2017|
|Source:||The Florida Times-Union|
|Author:||Times-Union Editorial Board|
This is an era when sensibly moderate agendas are increasingly hard to find.
But “sensible and moderate” usually describes the type of agenda rolled out each year by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
And it aptly characterizes the list of priorities that the chamber plans to pursue during the Florida Legislature’s upcoming session.
“Our main focus is to keep Florida competitive in every way,” said David Hart, the chamber’s executive vice president, during a recent session with the Times-Union editorial board.
That theme is obvious in the chamber’s current legislative agenda, which offers common-sense proposals that deserve serious consideration by Florida lawmakers.
WORKER’S COMP REFORM
The chamber’s overriding top priority, Hart said, is to urge legislators to make reforms in the state workers compensation system.
Hart declared that it has become so rife with abuse and manipulation that the average Florida employer is facing a whopping 14.5 percent increase in its worker-related insurance rates.
“We’re seeing the highest (rate increases) in the Southeast,” Hart said, noting that it could lead countless Florida businesses to raise prices, decrease employee benefits, freeze hiring or even lay off staff.
And while the rising insurance costs are hurting Florida businesses and taxpayers, Hart suggested, “law firms across the state are (opening up) workers compensation offices because they see a pot of money” they can earn by exploiting the current crisis.
Granted, Hart is likely indulging in a bit of hyperbole with that jab at the legal industry.
But there’s a reason why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has determined that only six states have worse legal climates for business than Florida — and one factor is surely the dramatic rate hikes that state businesses are absorbing to protect themselves against workers compensation claims.
It’s an issue that lawmakers should address in a constructive manner when they convene in March.
REDUCE PROPERTY INSURANCE FRAUD
Hart also told the editorial board that the chamber will seek Legislature support to reduce property insurance fraud, a problem he said has reached epidemic proportions and threatens a wide swath of businesses across Florida.
“It’s driving up costs for everyone,” Hart said.
Hart said that while the overwhelming majority of construction and home-repairs firms in Florida are reputable, there is a small but significant segment that has perfected the art of trolling neighborhoods (particularly after bad weather), convincing homeowners that their properties need work — and then offering to do the jobs at cheap rates if the residents agree to sign away the “assignment of benefits” rights in their property insurance policies.
Once they have those rights, Hart said, the unscrupulous firms send grossly inflated claims to insurance companies — and then rely on equally dubious lawyers to file time-consuming legal actions if the insurers balk at paying the excessive charges.
Too often, Hart said, insurers find it easier to simply pay the money and make the con artists go away.
“We need to tighten up legal (loopholes) that are causing this dramatic increase in fraudulent, false cases,” Hart said.
Here again, the chamber is pursuing a rational remedy for a problem that has grown to an irrational level.
And here, too, it’s an issue that deserves to be properly addressed by the Legislature during the upcoming session.
Too often, this state has been a hotbed of fraudsters on many fronts.
It requires continual vigilance to stop them.
On these and other issues — including its reasonable call for Florida officials to not overreact to the recent “Let’s pay Pitbull to promote our state” controversy by cutting funds for tourism campaigns — the Florida Chamber of Commerce should be applauded.
It is taking the right approach by focusing on three words that our state should always embrace: