State Politics

‘Crash Tax’ bill heads to Fla. governor

TALLAHASSEE — A bill is headed to the governor that would ban local agencies from charging people who cause car accidents for emergency response services.

Critics of the so-called “crash taxes” say they’re unfair and not always covered by insurance. Six other states already prohibit the practice.

Lawmakers say residents already pay property taxes to cover emergency services and shouldn’t face additional fees if they’re in accidents.

But cash-strapped municipalities said the fees are more necessary now than ever, because of declining property taxes and tighter overall budgets.

The bill (SB 2282) passed the House 102-15 on Friday and had already passed the Senate.

Growth management bill passes

TALLAHASSEE — A compromise growth management bill that modifies a sprawl-causing clause in existing law is going to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Both legislative chambers passed it Friday after changing some House provisions the drew opposition from the state’s chief planning official.

Present law requires roads and other transportation facilities to be in place before development can occur. That was expected to limit sprawl. Instead, it encouraged development in outlying areas where roads are less traveled and cheaper to build.’

The bill (SB 360) would lift that requirement in the most densely populated areas.

Needy gets easier insurance

TALLAHASSEE — Florida may soon make it easier for children to get state-subsidized health insurance.

The House sent Gov. Charlie Crist a bill (SB 918) on Friday that would streamline the Florida KidCare program. It was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill would shorten the time families have to wait before switching to KidCare after losing their private coverage. It also would allow a family that had KidCare but was dropped for failure to pay to get back into the system more quickly.

Disputed workers’ comp bill

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would negate a Florida Supreme Court ruling and restore a cap on attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases is headed for the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist after being passed by the Senate on Friday.

The bill (HB 903) passed on a 22-16 vote, effectively trumping the high court’s decision last fall that struck down the cap on lawyer fees. The justices ruled attorneys should be paid reasonably for representing injured workers.

The new legislation passed Friday was hailed by the business groups who believe it saves small business owners from higher workers’ compensation rates.

Trial lawyers, however, argued the bill prevents injured workers from having the representation needed to fight insurers that refuse to pay doctor bills.

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty signed off on a 6.4 percent increase on workers’ compensation rates in January that took effect April 1, which was estimated to cost Florida business owners $170 million.

Gator graveyard OK’d

TALLAHASSEE — University of Florida alumni may soon be able to R.I.P. at their alma mater.

The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that would let the university and others build a structure to house the ashes of alumni on campus. Other universities would also be allowed to build what is called a columbarium, but the University of Florida has been the school behind the measure.

School officials needed the approval of the Legislature to get the graveyard. The bill (SB 926) still needs the governor’s signature.

Clean energy bill dies

TALLAHASSEE — One of Gov. Charlie Crist’s top priorities died as lawmakers failed to take up a clean energy bill before going home Friday with plans only to return to vote on a budget next week.

Crist wanted a law that would require power companies to generate 20 percent of their electricity through clean sources by 2020. The Senate was able to pass a measure (SB 1154), but the House refused to consider it.

“I’m disappointed because we put so much into it,” said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who noted that the utility industry and environmentalists both supported the bill.

The House earlier this week passed a bill that would have opened Florida waters to offshore oil and natural gas drilling. That measure (HB 1219) would let the governor and Cabinet approve drilling leases in state-controlled water three to 10.5 miles from shore.

Failing to pass the measure means losing out on the opportunity to draw new business to Florida, such as solar energy companies, said Florida Audubon lobbyist Eric Draper.

Zero-tolerance more tolerant

TALLAHASSEE — School’s zero-tolerance policies would be more tolerant if Gov. Charlie Crist signs a bill passed by the Legislature.

Children would no longer would be arrested for insignificant violations such as petty theft, bringing plastic butter knives to school, drawing pictures of guns, throwing an eraser or vandalizing property.

The bill’s sponsor, Jacksonville Republican Sen. Stephen Wise, says it would save money and prevent kids from unfairly having criminal records. t also would require schools that allow corporal punishment to review their policies at meetings every three years.

The House passed the bill (SB 1540) 119-0 on Friday. It passed the Senate 39-0 two days earlier.

— Herald wire reports