Two laws, lower workers’ comp rates to take effect

Irina Baranova

A pair of bills signed this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, involving vehicle rentals and notaries public, will become law Saturday.

Meanwhile, also starting Saturday, Florida employers will see an average 4.9 percent decrease in workers’ compensation insurance rates.

The vehicle-rental measure (SB 566) sets insurance and other requirements for people who take part in peer-to-peer car-sharing programs.

In part, the bill requires that during car-sharing periods, the vehicle owners and rental drivers are insured to at least minimum requirements in state law. It also requires car-sharing programs to oversee the collection and remittance of taxes.

“We are mirroring what is required by Enterprise or Alamo and the other ones,” said Senate bill sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, during an April meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, a Lighthouse Point Democrat who was among 12 senators and 15 House members who voted against the proposal, questioned at the Appropriations Committee if the measure would provide “appropriate safeguards.”

“I’m not a rental car company. I’m not going to know, to check the validity of a driver’s license,” Farmer, a trial lawyer, said. “Maybe you’ve got a whole history of DUIs out there and I don’t know about it. And now I’m entrusting you with my car. Cars are deemed dangerous instrumentalities under the law of the state of Florida. So, we do a lot of things to protect our residents in general. That’s why we have the rule that a car owner is generally responsible for anybody they let use their car.”

Lawmakers passed the bills dealing with vehicle rentals and notaries (HB 121) during the legislative session that ended in April. Most bills passed during the session took effect July 1, which also was the start of the state’s fiscal year.

The notaries bill expands on a 2019 law that authorized remote online notarizations in the state.

Rep. Sam Garrison, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the measure, said during a March Judiciary Committee meeting the changes are designed to address issues that arose as the coronavirus pandemic increased use of remote notary platforms.

Among the changes, the law requires platforms to store video of notary sessions, directs the Department of State to include on its website a list of platform providers and allows court reporters to remotely swear in witnesses and newly admitted attorneys via audio-video technology. The law also prohibits platform users’ personal information to be sold.

A third bill (HB 54) that legislators sent to DeSantis with a Jan. 1 implementation date would have eliminated the state’s no-fault insurance system — and its requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. But that was among five bills that DeSantis vetoed from the 2021 session.

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In vetoing the measure, DeSantis said the no-fault system has flaws and state law involving bad-faith litigation — an issue that can lead to costly lawsuits over how insurers handle claims — is “deficient.” However, DeSantis said the proposal didn’t “adequately address the current issues facing Florida drivers and may have unintended consequences that would negatively impact both the market and consumers.”

On Dec. 2, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, suggested the no-fault repeal issue could return in the 2022 session, which begins Jan. 11.

While it was not a result of the legislative session, employers will continue to see decreasing workers’ compensation insurance rates in 2022. Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier issued an order in November that set an average 4.9 percent decrease, with it starting to take effect Saturday.

That came after an average 6.6 percent decrease that took effect in 2021.

“Safer workplaces, innovative techniques, and improved risk management practices have resulted in the continued decline in workers’ compensation claims, ultimately benefiting Florida businesses,” Altmaier said in a prepared statement in November.

By Jim Turner

https://www.tampabay.com/news/business/2021/12/28/two-laws-lower-workers-comp-rates-to-take-effect/

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