It was just after 9 p.m. last night , and House Speaker Marco Rubio needed to do some lobbying to help out fellow Republican and Senate President-designate Jeff Atwater, the insurance industry’s one-time bud turned election-year scourge. It seems other GOPers in the House don't quite like the legislation, which could be heard this morning.
So Rubio sat down next to Democratic Rep. Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale in the back of the chamber and made his pitch for an Atwater provision designed to speed up payments to the insured for undisputed benefits. If the money isn’t paid within 90 days, the insurer could be sued under Florida’s unfair trade and deceptive practices act.
"Ninety days! That's it. That's what he wants," Rubio told Seiler as a debate about Chinese-made products in dental fillings raged on the floor.
Seiler: "Why do you support this?"
Rubio: "Because it's Atwater's bill, and he wants it."
Seiler wasn't sure what this would do to the industry, lawyers or customers. So he went outside the chamber to check with the trial lawyer lobby in the Capitol rotunda. Meantime, Atwater’s fellow House Republicans like Rep. Dennis Ross are even more concerned, saying the provision could lead to a new “cottage industry” of easy-to-file suits against the industry.
By night’s end, Democrats remained unsure and Ross et al remained unpersuaded. So the bill wasn’t brought up – proof that Democrats have proved one thing this session: They have the required numbers (a third) to grind the process to a near-halt (as they did two weekends ago).
“Marco learned it would be easier to check with us for 20 minutes rather than spend two hours on questions,” Seiler said. He noted that much of the Atwater legislation had yet to be heard in the House. Who knows what it does?
Said Rubio later: “We’re getting close... But it’s late. Making insurance legislation at 1 a.m. is a recipe for bad policy.”
A recipe for bad election-year legislation: The 2006 insurance package that raised rates. Atwater and the GOP-run Legislature quickly reversed course after their party got clobbered at the polls and once Gov. Charlie Crist showed them the way out: Clobber the industry.
This bill helps Atwater do that. So why should the Democrats help? "We're with anybody who's with the consumer," said House Democratic leader Dan Gelber.
Democrats, fielding former Tamarac Sen. Skip Campbell against Atwater, briefly put up a YouTube video attacking the North Palm Beach senator over his rate-raising vote, but it has mysteriously been withdrawn. Now this is all commercial about “Big Insurance” from Atwater is all that appears: