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The second week of the Legislative Session comes to a close today and it was a busy week in Tallahassee. Gunster’s Government Affairs team is working diligently, monitoring legislation and meeting with legislators and staff on behalf of each of our clients.

Legislative Update:

HEALTH CARE & COVID-19:
Legislation that would extend the timeframe of liability protections from COVID-related claims and lawsuits filed against health care providers passed the full Senate this week by a 22-13 vote. The Legislature passed the protective measure last year but the law has an expiration date that only grants immunity through March 2022. Under the new bill, liability protections would be extended until June 1, 2023.

Under a bill passed by the Senate Health Policy Committee on Wednesday, qualifying non-emergency patients could have in-patient care outside of the hospital after a hospital stay. SB 1222 would help local health departments partner with hospitals to provide at-home care. Proponents of the measure say it could help reduce health care costs for some patients and increase quality of care.

INSURANCE:
This week the Senate voted to extend a public records exemption for insurers’ anti-fraud plans and annual fraud reports that are filed with the Department of Financial Services. The measure, SB 7016, which passed unanimously during Wednesday’s floor session, was one of several open government sunset review bills before the Legislature in which public records extensions are extended. The insurance fraud exemption would expire in October without the bill, which now awaits House action.

Florida-based surplus lines insurers could sell surplus policies in Florida opening the state’s distressed property insurance market to more carriers under legislation approved this week in a Senate committee. On Tuesday, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved SB 1402, which would end a ban on surplus lines carriers being domiciled in Florida. If passed and signed by the governor, the bill would allow more carriers to cover hard-to-insure properties, but the companies wouldn’t be subject to state regulators’ review on rates. The initiative follows numerous other states working to make the change, and warnings from state economists that the number of policy owners in the Florida-backed Citizens’ group is threatening a collapse. The committee on Tuesday also approved measures to boost penalties for some actions by public adjusters (SB 1292); allow higher workers’ compensation reimbursement for physicians (SB 1274); and add new requirements on insolvent insurance companies (SB 1430).

ENVIRONMENT:
Legislation that barely passed the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee on a 3-2 vote Tuesday is aimed at offsetting seagrass damage in Florida’s waterways. Under SB 198, developers could be allowed to carry out work that may damage seagrass, as long as they mitigate the damage by planting seagrass beds in a different area owned by the state. The bill aims to help the state’s diminishing manatee population after more than 1,000 died last year from starvation following water pollution that killed off acres of seagrass, specifically in the Indian River Lagoon. Opponents, including many environmentalists, say the measure will make the manatees’ plight worse, and the House bill sponsor faced extensive questioning and skepticism when the bill was heard in a committee in December. Both the House (HB 349) and Senate bills have two more committee stops.

Redistricting Update:

On Thursday the Senate passed new political maps for congressional districts and the state Senate. The congressional map proposal (SB 102) passed 31-4 and the state Senate district map (SB 100) passed 34-3.

The congressional map would most likely produce 16 Republican U.S. Representatives and 12 Democratic ones. However, it is likely to face challenges. Some Democrats objected to the lack of a new Hispanic district. Governor Ron DeSantis’ office has also criticized at least one district as an “unconstitutional gerrymander.” The maps now head to the House where approval is expected on the state Senate proposal, but a decision on Florida’s 28-congressional district map is still up in the air. The House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today. In a surprise twist, the DeSantis administration released it’s own Congressional map proposal this week. The 28-district map was submitted by Governor Ron DeSantis’ general counsel and accounts for the additional congressional district Florida gained during the 2020 Census. The map shows 18 districts with a Republican lean and 10 districts that favor Democrats. Although the governor has no say over new legislative maps, the Legislature’s congressional map proposals will need his approval.

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