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Trial lawyer bill leads to chaos in House commitee

The debate about a top legislative priority for the Florida trial lawyers -- a bill to increase the financial damages recoverable from governments -- led a House committee Tuesday to dissolve into chaos.

A flurry of handwritten amendments, still warm from the copy machine, brought the House Civil Justice and Courts Policy Committee to a halt while staff attorneys tried to determine the proper procedure for addressing them and lobbyists worked the room. If you can judge a bill's importance by the number of lobbyists in dark suits lining the back wall, this is one of the most intriguing bills this session.

The original measure (HB1107) sponsored by Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, would have increased the caps for claims against the government from $100,000 to $250,000 and $200,000 to $1 million in the aggregate. He offered an amendment, gutting other trial lawyer-friendly provisions, and now the Rep. Ralph Poppel, R-Vero Beach, won approval for another amendment to cut the new caps to $200,000 and $400,000 aggregate for the state and local entities.

The numbers are closer to the compromise likely to emerge in the Senate Judiciary Committee later this week, but in that proposal apply to both the state and local governments. The debate is now reaching one hour and continuing with Rep. Dave Murzin offering another amendment to "keep current law" and negate the ability for attorneys to get higher fees. The lawmakers -- and lobbyists -- barely understand what is in the bill at this point.

UPDATED 9:50 a.m.: The bill passed with a handful in opposition, including a number of lawmakers who helped change the bill.