Expect efforts to revamp workers’ compensation insurance laws to return as new House and Senate leaders take over for the 2019 legislative session, according to Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.
Altamier, who has been commissioner for nearly two years, said this week “a lot of people” continue to believe that a 2016 Florida Supreme Court ruling that tossed out strict caps on attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases will “have a negative impact on rates in the long run” and that changes are necessary to prevent employers’ premiums from increasing.
Altmaier, though, conceded that the legislative will to tackle workers’ compensation will depend on several things, including proposed rates that the National Council on Compensation Insurance will file with the Office of Insurance Regulation.
The Legislature also will have new leaders, with Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano slated to become Senate president and Miami Lakes Republican Jose Oliva poised to become House speaker. The leadership change, which will formally happen after the November elections, will impact whether issues are addressed, Altmaier said.
“Just purely speculation on my part, I would imagine that workers’ compensation will be a discussion topic for the Legislature next year,” he said. “They’ll obviously have new presiding officers next year and new committee chairpeople, presumably, so what their priorities wind up being, I’m not sure at this point. It’s pretty early to tell.”
It’s not even clear that Altmaier will have the same position for the 2019 legislative session.
The insurance commissioner works at the pleasure of the governor and the state chief financial officer. Moreover, a majority of the state Cabinet also must agree to keep him in charge of the Office of Insurance Regulation.
Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam all face term limits this year, though Putnam is running for governor.
CFO Jimmy Patronis --- appointed by Scott to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Atwater, who resigned last year for a job at Florida Atlantic University --- is running for a full term and could return to the Cabinet.
Altmaier shrugged when asked whether he would be heading the Office of Insurance Regulation next legislative session.
“I have no idea,” he said. “We are focused on the rest of this year, and we’ll think about next year when next year gets here.”
PANUCCIO COULD BE IN SPOTLIGHT
Jesse Panuccio, a former high-ranking aide to Scott, has been getting national attention this week amid chatter about President Donald Trump possibly trying to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
If Trump wants to remove Mueller from the Russia-related investigation, he would first have to replace Mueller’s boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation. That has put Panuccio, the acting associate attorney general, in the crosshairs of media speculation if Rosenstein exits.Panuccio is third in line at the Justice Department, though he is only acting associate attorney general became Trump has not officially appointed a replacement for former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who stepped down from the post. An appointment also would be subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.
Panuccio served stints as Scott’s general counsel and executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which he left at the end of 2015 as he was expected to face intense scrutiny during Florida Senate confirmation hearings.
Panuccio was among 16 agency heads who failed to be confirmed by the Senate during the 2015 legislative session. Months later, he continued to face questions about problems with a state unemployment-benefits website and had lawmakers openly admonish him for displaying a "sense of entitlement" and for communications issues.
Upon his resignation, Scott called Panuccio "a loyal and trusted adviser."
RUSSIAN TROLL MONEY
Already on it, is the message from Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office to Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation.
A letter Tuesday signed by Democratic U.S. House members Alcee Hastings, Val Demings, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Al Lawson, Kathy Castor, Frederica Wilson, Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist implored Detzner to apply for $19.2 million in federal money that’s available to the state to bolster election equipment.
“While most state systems were not breached, the U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly warned that Russia will try to disrupt midterm elections in November,” the Democrats wrote.
The money available to Florida is part of $380 million included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018 to help states secure election systems.
Florida Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell said Wednesday the state had already started the process to receive the money “prior to receiving the letter from the Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation, and we were always planning to do so,” Revell said.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned of a “level of overconfidence” about the security of the nation’s elections system heading into the 2018 midterms.
The Florida Department of State received $1.9 million in the state’s new $88.7 billion budget for next fiscal year to establish a network-monitoring security program that provides automated alerts about threats, allowing county election officials to respond when data may be at risk.
The Legislature did not provide funding to fulfill the department’s request for five additional full-time employees to serve in cybersecurity positions.
KEEPING A DEAD PROPOSAL DOWN
A proposal to allow open primaries in Florida has already failed at the state Constitution Revision Commission.
But just in case it gets revived, leaders of the Republican Party of Florida voiced opposition to open primaries during a quarterly board meeting Saturday in Tampa.
Party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, a state House member from Spring Hill, said the current primary system allows political parties to elect their nominees without influence or “gamesmanship” by the opposing party.
Ingoglia earlier compared the open-primary proposal to being “akin to Burger King picking McDonald's menu items and vice versa.”
A proposal (P 62), which failed to make its way through the commission’s committee process, sought to let voters decide if they wanted to put all candidates seeking the same office --- if there are more than two candidates --- into a single primary regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters would run in the general election.
Bill Schifino, a Tampa attorney who serves on the commission, had initially proposed allowing unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in Republican or Democratic primaries.
Schifino pushed for the idea of an open primary because 27 percent of voters are registered without any party and the majority of millennials are registering without party affiliations.
AG BACKERS LOOK FOR NAFTA CARVEOUT
Florida Congressmen Vern Buchanan and Carlos Curbelo are the latest officials asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to consider Florida’s agriculture industry as he negotiates changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
In a letter, Buchanan and Curbelo urged Lighthizer to protect Florida’s specialty crop industry.
“We are extremely concerned about the unprecedented growth in imports from Mexico as a result of their unfair subsidies and illegal seasonal dumping and the impact it is having domestically,” Buchanan and Curbelo wrote.
The pair said that since 2000, Florida has experienced a loss of between $1 billion and $3 billion a year due to increased Mexican imports.
“We know a lot of farmers have benefited greatly from NAFTA, but, as the representative for South Miami-Dade, I’ve seen firsthand the story is different for specialty crop growers,” Curbelo noted in a release. “Specialty crops like tomatoes, squash, eggplants, strawberries --- pretty much anything that can be handpicked --- face a significant disadvantage when it comes to Mexican competition.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had earlier sent a letter to Lighthizer saying that “family farms in Florida and other states have found no relief from these unfair practices in our current trade laws or the current NAFTA agreement.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “I’ve been honored to serve my community in Congress. Cindy & I have decided that I will not seek re-election. I look forward to continued public service in my next chapter, where I will return to the practice of law and will pursue opportunities to increase civic education.” --- Florida Congressman Dennis Ross (@RepDennisRoss) on Wednesday.
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