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Trial attorneys and Chamber both pushing to kill workers compensation compromise bill


If cats and dogs can live together why not the Chamber of Commerce and trial attorneys?

On Thursday in an unusual display of unity, lobbyists for the Chamber and the Florida Justice Association (literally sitting side by side even) sent the same message to Florida Senators: kill a compromise bill related to workers compensation.

While the two groups have very different reasons why, the message was the same, an attempt to strike a compromise on workers compensation issues has made it unacceptable to both.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Clay County, is expected to pitch a compromise plan today with hopes of passing a workers compensation reform package before the end of the annual session on Friday.

The House and Senate have been at a standstill over how to address rising workers compensation insurance rates being charged to businesses because of recent court decisions. At the core of the disagreement is how to deal with attorney fees for injured workers who win their cases against companies that tried to deny their injury claims.

The House wants to cap the amount an injured worker’s attorneys can be awarded at $150 an hour. The Senate has pitched a $250 an hour cap. Also, the House proposal called for reducing reimbursement rates to hospitals and surgical centers that care for hurt workers - a provision the Senate has opposed.

Under Bradley’s new proposal, the difference on attorney fees would be split and reduced to $200 an hour, but continue to keep medical reimbursement rates unchanged.

Speaking to Democrats at an early morning meeting Thursday, the lobbyists for the Chamber and for the trial attorneys urged them to vote against the entire bill if Bradley’s compromise hits the floor for a vote. Trial attorneys said the lower rate would dissuade attorneys from taking on workers compensation cases, and the Chamber - which prefers the House version straight up - said the attorney fee are too high.

NCCI, an insurance rating group, has said if the House version passes, insurance rates would drop more than under the Senate plan. They have not analyzed Bradley's latest amendment, though business groups say they would expect little savings because the key is lowering attorney fee awards and dealing with medical reimbursements.

When Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, heard both agree he clarified that both really wanted no bill to pass rather than accept the Bradley concept. Both agreed.

“I think we know what needs to happen,” Braynon said.

Bradley said he says the fact that both interest groups are against the bill, it might be a signal that his proposal is a balanced approach.

His isn't the only proposal out there. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is pushing his own amendment to Bradley that would change the attorneys fees to what the House has pushed for - $150 an hour. Brandes said attorney fees are what is driving the rate increases on businesses and the Legislature needs to address it.

For more background on the workers compensation issue, check out this piece.