April 21, 2022

Podcast: Discussing the 2022 Regular Legislative Session with Beth Vecchioli

Florida Capital Conversations Podcast Series

In the tenth episode of our "Florida Capital Conversations" podcast series, Senior Policy Advisor Beth Vecchioli joins to discuss Florida’s 2022 Regular Legislative Session. She highlights the big ticket items that were on the table during session and shares details about what bills ended up passing as well as those that fell short. As she points out during the conversation, the Legislature spent a good amount of time on topics related to property insurance, auto insurance, consumer data privacy and several COVID-related bills. There was also a focus on condominium legislation, as a result of the Surfside condominium collapse in the summer of 2021. The discussion also notes the status of the budget passage, which is the primary responsibility of the Legislature.

This Tallahassee-based podcast series takes a look at the many different aspects of state and local government through the lens of experienced legal professionals. Hosted by attorneys Nate Adams and Mia McKown, these candid conversations offer a seat at the table to everyone who listens.


Podcast Transcript

Nate Adams: Welcome to our Florida Capital Conversations podcast series. Today, our subject is the 2022 regular legislative session in Florida and our guest is Beth Vecchioli. My name is Nathan Adams, my co-host is Mia McKown. We are so pleased that you have joined us today to consider another important issue associated with state government affecting the business community and our daily lives as Floridians. There's none better than Beth Vecchioli to kick off our discussion. Mia?

Mia McKown: Good afternoon, Nate. Thank you so much, Beth, for joining Nate and I today for our capital conversations. And as Nate indicated, what goes better with capital conversations than recapping the legislative session. It's a little strange to be talking to you in mid-April, because session's already over. So that's a little bit different this year. I know the governor just made a decision today on redistricting. So I know that's probably one of the highlights of the legislative session. But could you kind of give us maybe an idea just of what you think the big issues were and then we can dove into each topic?

Highlights of the 2022 Regular Legislative Session

Beth Vecchioli: Sure, yes. Thank you, Mia. First, I thought I would start with just some facts about the session that just ended. It was our 2022 regular session, started January 11th, ended March 14th was actually supposed to end March 11th, but they could not let the 72 hour cooling off period on the budget didn't expire until Monday, March 14, so they had to extend session one day in order to pass the budget, which, as everyone knows, that's the only thing constitutionally that they're required to do during session. This, as you mentioned Mia, this session was earlier this year because 2022 is an election year and in even numbered years, our session runs January through March and next year in 2023, it's not an election year, so our session will start March 7th and end May 5th. So it's a 60 day session. The leaders of the 2022 session, Chris Sprowls speaker of the House and Wilton Simpson, Senate president. Next year, those leaders will, their terms will have expired and they will be termed out. So we will have two new leaders next year will be installed House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. So we will see, I'm sure they will bring different insight into the policies and the issues that the Legislature has to consider. So we'll see what happens next year.

Mia McKown: I mean, the budget, is their one job, right, Beth? If there was one substantive issue, usually the Senate and the House have pushes right that they're pushing for? Was there anything in particular that were the big ticket items substantively unrelated to the budget that you saw, whether it was in property insurance, condo legislation, privacy issues that you thought were significant this session?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, I would say the two big issues that I would like to highlight, and then there are some other smaller issues. First of all, we can't have a discussion of the session without talking about redistricting, which, as most people know, occurs every 10 years. And it's a way to address how the population has grown in certain areas of the state intended to kind of redraw the lines of each district on the map to account for the increased population in some areas and maybe a decrease in other areas. So of course they had to pass redistricting maps not only for the Legislature and legislative position, but also the congressional positions. The congressional maps have to be approved by the governor. The governor did veto the congressional map, and so now a special session has been called, which will start April 19th in Tallahassee for about three days to redraw the congressional map and then send that to the governor, which hopefully he can approve.

The governor did veto the congressional map, and so now a special session has been called, which will start April 19th in Tallahassee for about three days to redraw the congressional map and then send that to the governor, which hopefully he can approve.

Expectations for the Special Session

Mia McKown: Beth, during the special session, is there any chance that they will address any other issues other than redistricting? Do you expect them to come back if bills didn't pass? Maybe to come back and try to pass them during special session? Or is it narrowly tailored to just redistricting?

Beth Vecchioli: Right now, it's narrowly tailored to redistricting, but Senator Brandis has submitted a letter to the Department of State because he would like to expand the call for the special session to include property insurance. He now says he has enough legislators that have signed on to also request that property insurance be included and assuming that's the case, then both chambers of the Legislature would have to take a vote on whether or not to include it in the special session, and it requires three fifths vote in each chamber in order for it to pass and be included.

Right now, it's narrowly tailored to redistricting, but Senator Brandis has submitted a letter to the Department of State because he would like to expand the call for the special session to include property insurance.

Mia McKown: That's a heavy lift, then.

Beth Vecchioli: I think it's probably unlikely, given that the way the House and the Senate disagreed at the end on that issue, I think that it's more likely to wait until next session.

Crisis in the Property Insurance Industry

Nate Adams: Can you tell us a little bit about that substantive disagreement. You know, I know a lot of people are pretty upset that their property insurers are, you know, closing up shop in parts of the states. Tell us what's going on there.

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, so the property insurance industry is definitely in a state of crisis right now. We've had in the last six months there have been at least three property insurers that have become insolvent and gone into receivership here in Florida. That is not a good sign, particularly as we're approaching, quickly approaching, the beginning of hurricane season. And the Office of Insurance Regulation has issued several data calls to find out where the problem is like what is occurring to cause all these insurers to become insolvent. In the data call, what they've seen is that the increase in litigation on claims the last year, mostly on roofing claims, has really spiked. And so the industry was trying to come up with some reforms that would address the roof claims issue. The House did not like what the Senate was proposing because they were proposing that if you needed your whole roof replaced, you would have to pay a two percent deductible, which the House contends that is basically unaffordable to most, most Floridians. So they did not agree on the bill in the final hours of session and the bill did die, but we will see, if Brandis is successful, my guess is that I don't think that he's going to get three fifths of the vote in the House. And so I would be surprised if it gets added to the call for a special session.

We've had in the last six months there have been at least three property insurers that have become insolvent and gone into receivership here in Florida. That is not a good sign, particularly as we're approaching, quickly approaching, the beginning of hurricane season.

Nate Adams: Is that his proposal again, that two percent deductible? Is that what he's trying to put before the special session?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, I mean, I think my guess if he hasn't said anything specifically about the legislation he wants to see passed, except that he wants to address roofing claims, he wants to address citizens because citizens is now approaching a million policies. And that's clearly an indication that our voluntary market is in distress. So we want citizens and the cat fund too.

Mia McKown: Beth, was citizens ever really intended to have that many policies when it was created, that just seems like a tremendous, you know, significant amount of policies.

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, you're right Mia. It was not. It's intended to be the insurer of last resort, which basically means if you can't find coverage in the voluntary market, you could try by citizens. But now that all these insurers are non-renewing policies in high risk areas are also becoming insolvent. Citizens is the only place for some people to find coverage, and that should be a concern for all of us because citizens levies assessments and those very people who can't buy coverage in the voluntary market could now be assessed if citizens had insufficient surplus to cover.

Citizens is the only place for some people to find coverage, and that should be a concern for all of us because citizens levies assessments and those very people who can't buy coverage in the voluntary market could now be assessed if citizens had insufficient surplus to cover.

Nate Adams: That's why so much roofing litigation right now. I mean, I don't. My recollection is we didn't have a major, we did not have a major hit last summer during hurricane season. So is this from prior year's hurricanes or what? What accounts for that?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, good question, Nate. A lot of the roof replacements have been from hail damage actually, and not necessarily from hurricanes. And so, you know, hail can occur in any normal thunderstorm, right? It doesn't have to be a hurricane. So I think there's some of that involved also, you know, the insurance companies think that there are some, some fraudulent roofers out there that are simply using this as a way to obviously make more money by installing and replacing entire roofs when they don't really need it. And, you know, some insurance companies might just simply be paying the claims instead of investigating further to find out whether or not it's fraudulent. The volume is so high that you can't possibly, you know, go out there and look at every single roof.

Condominium Legislation on the Rise

Mia McKown: Beth, I know when we were talking about before session started, some of the issues that we thought that you thought were going to be on the radar. And one of the things that you mentioned were condominium, legislation dealing with condominiums in light of the tragic event that took place in Miami. It looks like the Legislature did take some steps on, if I'm not mistaken, on inspections regarding condominiums repairs. Is that correct? Did I read that right or what can you tell us about that situation?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah. So, interesting, obviously, yes, that was first and foremost at the beginning of session because of the Surfside collapse, where I believe about 100 people died. A horrible tragedy. The House had a bill 7069 that actually passed the full House. It was sent over to the Senate, passed the whole Senate, except for the Senate, added a last minute strike ball amendment on the bill and passed it back to the House and then the bill died. So the House clearly did not like the changes that were in the Senate's amendment, but they were trying to address issues such as required inspections to occur more frequently, especially on buildings of a certain age. There was provisions in there to address disciplinary action against board members of condos that don't take the right action. They were increasing the requirements for reserve accounts to be held by condo associations and also disclosures about the soundness of the building that would need to be made to potential buyers. So there were a lot of good reforms in there, but at the end of the day, the bill, the bill died.

There were a lot of good reforms in there, but at the end of the day, the bill, the bill died.

Mia McKown: Well, I would probably expect some of those issues to return for 2023, just based on how far it got.

Additional Bills of Note: Consumer Data Privacy and Nursing Homes

Beth Vecchioli: Yes, I would agree with you. A couple other topics that I just wanted to talk real quickly through. There was a consumer data privacy bill, and normally this bill wouldn't be like, you know, a real high priority type bill that we would discuss. But it was a priority of Speaker Sprowls, and this was the second year he was trying to get it over the finish line and it also died at the end. It's possible that if property insurance gets added to the fall for special session, that there could be a deal worked out between the legislative leaders - that Speaker Sprowls also gets his desire to see consumer data privacy passed because for two years in a row now, it has failed. So I just bring that bill up because there's a possibility that could be linked or traded with property insurance.

Mia McKown: What is he trying to add? Is he trying to add some additional layers of protections for consumers with different people using their data and information? Is that where he's going with that?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, exactly. He says that most consumers aren't even aware that when they maybe go on a website or fill out some information or subscribe to some membership, that that entity now has personal data of yours. And in some cases, that entity might be able to sell your data to someone completely unrelated and you wouldn't know about it. And then they market you for some other product that you haven't signed up for. So he was trying to implement some reforms, which would give consumers the right to say, No, you can't. You can't share my data, that you can only share it with my consent. Give them the right to sue the company that shared their data without their permission. And so you know the bill was a little controversial, but I mean, in most industries, because just about every industry these days collects data and they may be sharing it not necessarily for profit, but they may be sharing it with vendors they do business with that might have to help them with their operations. So, there were a lot of nuances that everyone in the lobbying community was concerned about. But yes, it was intended to put some reforms around what a company can do with your data.

Most consumers aren't even aware that when they maybe go on a website or fill out some information or subscribe to some membership, that that entity now has personal data of yours. And in some cases, that entity might be able to sell your data to someone completely unrelated and you wouldn't know about it. And then they market you for some other product that you haven't signed up for.

Mia McKown: I know we're going to come back around and circle back around to the budget. I always find it interesting during the legislative session, what doesn't pass. And frankly, I think people would be surprised at how many bills are filed and what actually makes it to the finish line. It sounds like there were quite a few battles in certain areas, but are there other bills that you that you think that were significant that were able to make it at least through the legislative finish line? And now they're going to the governor that you think or that were interesting or things important that you were working on during this past session?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, sure. And to your point about how many bills are filed versus past a couple of statistics: for this past session and there were 3735 bills filed. Guess how many passed.

Mia McKown: 180

Beth Vecchioli: Close, 267. So less than 10 percent of the bills that are filed actually make it over the finish line, and that's a pretty consistent number. You know, it varies, of course, a little, but it's pretty consistent from year to year. So there are a lot of bills that fail or never even get heard. But, a couple other bills that I just wanted to bring to your attention in the healthcare space: there was a big nursing home bill. The reason I bring this up is because I'm sure we've all heard about stories that nursing homes are finding because of the whole great resignation debacle that we went through with COVID. Nursing homes are having a hard time finding qualified care, you know, to work in their homes, so they expressed concern to the governor and the Legislature about that. And there was a bill on nursing homes that actually will now reduce staffing requirements to have certified nursing assistants can be replaced in some cases with other aides that are not, that don't have the same level of qualifications. And basically that was to give nursing homes the ability to hire others, that could do the same work, but maybe with less qualifications. It was controversial, of course, because everyone you know, nursing homes are usually where are frailest are residing. And so, you know, it's hard for you to think of your grandmother having less quality of care, right? But in the end, I mean, it's kind of needed legislation in order to properly staff these homes.

It was controversial, of course, because everyone you know, nursing homes are usually where are frailest are residing.

Mia McKown: And frankly, Beth, I think this issue on I'm going to call this to some extent, a little bit of scope of practice with within the different levels of healthcare service. I think you're going to see this happening more with nurses doing more physician assistants doing more. Our population has just exploded and we don't have the practitioners to take care of everybody. So I think this is just one example of the of a talent shortage that we have in the healthcare space. That's my opinion. For what it's worth.

Nate Adams: I'm not even sure that I have a primary care physician. They say that I do, but I've never actually met the person.

Mia McKown: I mean, it's I mean, we have grown so much and we were on track growing so much even before COVID. And just the number of people that have moved to Florida over the past two years is just incredible as well. So I would expect these type of turf wars, so to speak - this was just a precursor of other issues that are probably going to come our way in the next sessions.

Beth Vecchioli: Yup. Another bill kind of somewhat related in the healthcare space. You know, this year, fortunately, we weren't really dealing with too many COVID issues since we're hoping COVID is in our rearview mirror. But there was a bill that I think we originally passed, if I recall correctly in 2021 got extended in 2022. Again, this was the COVID liability protections for healthcare providers. That bill did get extended through sometime next year. I think it's perhaps July 1st of 2023 since we are still dealing with some remnants of COVID. There was a need to extend that so that healthcare providers are not liable, except in the case of gross negligence. You know, for patients care either dying of COVID or contracting COVID. So that was pretty important and that bill was one of the first bills that actually passed this session.

Auto Insurance Legislation

Nate Adams: Going back to insurance, what's happening in the auto insurance area?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, auto insurance, you know, we seem to talk about that every year and nothing ever gets across the finish line. You know, we're I think one of four states left in the country that still has personal injury protection required as part of your auto coverage in the state of Florida. It's rampant with fraud. It's driving up costs. You've probably seen your auto insurance rates going up every year as you get your new policy. So they've been trying to do away with the current system we have and replace it with a bodily injury and property damage system. That bill was our last session. It was heard this session again. And again, it failed, didn't make it over the finish line. You know, I feel like we're going on nine years straight now trying to trying to get this bill over the finish line. So I don't know at some point they might give up. But there was nothing, nothing significant that changed in the auto insurance space this session.

So they've been trying to do away with the current system we have and replace it with a bodily injury and property damage system.

Nate Adams: What is the major obstacle to getting that bill through? What's the major argument that keeps foiling it?

Beth Vecchioli: Well, you know, the insurance industry contends that you if you create a whole new system without addressing tort reform issues, then you're just creating PIP 2.0. And there's also the contention that replacing PIP with a property damage and bodily injury system could potentially raise rates. And there are many people in our state that likely would not be able to afford those higher rates and therefore would probably go uninsured and would be driving on our roads uninsured, which is actually worse than buying a minimum $10,000 PIP policy. So instead of fixing the problem, it kind of makes it worse. So the Legislature has, the House and the Senate have been unable to agree on the bad faith liability issues or tort reform issues that are inherent in the system.

Status of the Budget

Mia McKown: Well, Beth, the one job they have is the budget. So we're kind of circling back to that. I think I've told you this before. My my dad always had a saying that we need to maintain our integrity, remember, the only person that really loves us is our momma, and it's all about money. And that's the one job the Legislature had to do. And the budget is big. What can you tell us about the budget and some of the, you know, the interesting things that you were aware of or some of the debates that were going back and forth on that this past session?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah, good question. Glad you asked. So very interesting. The governor has to propose his budget and then the chambers propose their budget and then the chambers have a conference to agree on what the final budget looks like, that the Legislature will pass and then get sent to the governor. So the governor's budget was $99.6 billion dollars and what he proposed, which was actually a $2 billion decrease from last year's budget. The Senate originally proposed a budget of about $108 billion. The House was at about $105 billion. But after they conferenced, the final budget they passed was $112 billion dollars. So it's basically $12 billion dollars higher than what the governor proposed. So my sense is that he's going to use his line item veto pen in many places in the budget because he was looking at a decrease, not a $12 billion increase. So we will see what happens. He obviously has not taken up the budget yet or acted on the budget. Some other interesting facts - out of let's say, let's take the Senate version $108 billion, almost $48 billion of that, so more than a third of that budget goes to Health and Human Services. That's the largest piece by sector in our budget every year. Second behind that is education. And then, of course, we have our criminal justice and corrections system and our natural resources and transportation. But the two biggies, of course, are education and Health and Human Services.

The final budget they passed was $112 billion dollars. So it's basically $12 billion dollars higher than what the governor proposed. So my sense is that he's going to use his line item veto pen in many places in the budget because he was looking at a decrease, not a $12 billion increase.

Mia McKown: When do you expect the budget? Is there usually, is there a deadline for that process to be completed?

Beth Vecchioli: There is, of course, the budget takes effect June 1st, so the governor has the

Mia McKown: July 1st. Is it July?

Beth Vecchioli: I'm sorry, right, July 1st. Yes. So clearly he has to act on it before then. You know, he's made some comments. He's still reviewing it. He and his staff are closely reviewing it. Obviously, he has some of his priorities he wants to see in there and the Legislature have their priorities. So my sense is that he's being very diligent about it and doing a thorough review, and we've got a special session coming up. So I would guess we're not going to see anything until May or June.

Obviously, he has some of his priorities he wants to see in there and the Legislature have their priorities. So my sense is that he's being very diligent about it and doing a thorough review, and we've got a special session coming up. So I would guess we're not going to see anything until May or June.

Mia McKown: If you had to recap, you know, give us an elevator speech, so to speak, on the 2022 session, what would be the biggest winners and losers, so to speak of this session on the issues? Beth's greatest hits?

Beth Vecchioli: Yeah. Well, so it depends on what the governor does, of course, but I would say that teachers and law enforcement are probably in the category of winners.

Mia McKown: Is that because of the increase in pay and bonuses that were provided?

Beth Vecchioli: Exactly. And when I say law enforcement, I'm talking about corrections, you know, juvenile justice. All of that. You're right, there's like a $5,000 signing bonus for new police officers. They're adding the Legislature wants to add about 2,600 positions to the law enforcement sector, so including the Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, etc. So they are getting a huge, assuming the governor agrees, they're getting a lot of new positions in the area of law enforcement. So, between that and education, I think those are the winners for sure. Losers, I mean, obviously, you know, I think the two big issues going into session were property insurance and the condo collapse and neither of those issues made it across the finish line. So they're probably in the loser category.

Mia McKown: I think the single issue in our home that got lots of applause, my daughter Ava, was very excited that the FSA is going away. I think that was passed as well so she considers that a win for high school students, for sure.

Beth Vecchioli: Yes, I understand that that test was not, well-liked.

Mia McKown: Well, Beth, it sounds like the session a lot of times in election years, it's a little bit quieter, but it seems like things were perking and moving right up until the very end. And we appreciate you sharing with us your thoughts and kind of some of the, you know, we hear these things, why things pass or why didn't they pass? And it's kind of nice to hear the background story as to what was going on and what prevented things from getting over the finish line. And I assume we will likely see a lot of these issues again next year as well.

Beth Vecchioli: And stay tuned for the special session.

Mia McKown: And what he strikes in the budget, right? I mean, that will be interesting to see too, what he does once the budget gets to him what his line item veto works with. So we may be talking to you again and again, Beth.

Beth Vecchioli: Well, thank you for having me.

Nate Adams: All right. Well, thanks to Beth Vecchioli for this informative and interesting commentary on the 2022 regular legislative session. Thanks to Mia McKown for some great questions today. Great input. And most of all, we want to thank you for joining us today. Please plan to join us for our next Florida Capital Conversations podcast. Have a great day!

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