More Than Ideology At Play

Under The Hood

The Legislative Session has begun Tallahassee, which means 60 days of anything-can-happen lay ahead. But the greatest uncertainty right now may revolve around a tort reform package carried by state Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch.

One of the most high-profile pieces of legislation in the state this year, the bill could rework the relationships Floridians hold with insurance companies, trial attorneys and even the medical field.

Gregory in press conferences has called the bill an attempt to “bring balance to the civil justice system.”

Indeed, it’s a bill that’s decades in the making, with the business and legal lobby long fighting over what truly has driven up the costs of insurance in the state. Executives and advocates for insurance companies say the litigious environment in Florida, one illustrated with attorney billboards and television ads promoting high damages won in court, has created uncertainty and expenses.

Attorneys, fully aware they make an easy political target, have tried to tell a different story. They view the legislation developed by lawmakers as an attack on consumers, one that will most hurt those plaintiffs with the strongest case against insurance companies and the parties who did them harm.

Who is truly to blame? There’s likely blame to go around, but it’s certainly worth asking if a litigious environment in Florida exists because it gives consumers the opportunity to bring legitimate action.

Politically, tort reform has always served as a bit of a political Rorschach test. Consider two statements: ‘Corporations are getting rich off exploiting poor people.’ ‘Moochers are constantly taking advantage of the system.’

You may think both statements are, to an extent, true. They are also certain oversimplifications of the complex economic and social issues facing the nation. But one of these probably resonates more deeply with you and may even prompt you to pump a fist in the air. That likely serves as a test of whether you identify, in more over-simplification, as a liberal or a conservative.

Complex issues, though, deserve more than bumper sticker logic. Fortunately, when it comes to this issue in Tallahassee, the matter seems to be deliberated in full, even as super-majorities in the House and Senate fast track a range of other conservative priorities from universal school vouchers to a six-week abortion ban.

That may be because there aren’t just two groups of people in Tallahassee. Sure there are Republicans and, rumor has it, Democrats. But lawmakers also band together in regional struggles. Sometimes you see school rivalries burst out, whether playfully or in the actual division of state resources.

And you have professional groups. The part-time Legislature has doctors, small business owners, accountants and insurance agents. But there’s one group more represented than any other— attorneys.

Of note, Gregory is both an attorney and a conservative economist. Expect him to hear from colleagues in and out of the Legislature. He agreed this week to some pretty significant concessions on claims of bad faith and allowing one-way attorneys’ fees in cases on denial claims.

Traditionally, the House in Tallahassee passes bills with more strident ideology, and indeed these changes occurred after even some Republican members of the state Senate voiced serious trepidation about the law.

This could be the bill to watch if you want a legislative process instead of passing ideological bills with little debate.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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