The Senate Appropriations Committee has 65 bills on its Thursday schedule. Some of those bills passed easily—like Senate bill 1036 by Senator Nancy Detert,(R-Venice) said the measure will extend foster care from age 18 to age 21.
“We’ve talked about business and insurance and everything else, but this bill changes lives. It extends foster care from age 18 to age 21 with practically no new money. It’s miraculous,” Detert said.
Detert called the measure the biggest foster care reform the state has brought forward in a decade. But Detert is right, a lot of the discussion in the Thursday committee revolved around insurance. Like a bill brought forward during the committee by Senator Joe Negron, a Republican from Palm City. Negron’s bill would decrease the annual cost to register a car by $12 per year, and in exchange, it gets rid of a tax credit that insurance companies can take against their premium tax liability for 15-percent of the salaries they pay Florida employees. The $12 decrease rolls back about 55-percent of an increase lawmakers put in place to fill a budget gap back in 2009. Negron said it’s a simple move that’ll help Floridians.
“The legislature and congress both have a habit of increasing fees and costs during difficult times, but then when times get better they never go off the books. So, that was really my goal, just to say that I don’t quibble with the addition of those charges. I wasn’t here, but times were tough, But times are getting better. We do have a surplus in our budget. We are going to be able to have significant reserves in this budget,” Negron said.
But insurance companies are raising concerns about the increased cost they would face under the bill. Florida Blue, one of the largest insurers in the state, said it expects the measure would cost it about $32.5 million dollars. And Senator Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, said it’s important to remember that insurance companies are businesses too.
“While we have people testifying with people referring to them as the “insurance companies,” I would say a word that’s synonymous with “insurance companies,” is “employers.” It’s my opinion that if this state is going to be business friendly, that’s determined by our actions and not by our soundbites and speeches,” Richter said.
Richter said getting rid of a tax incentive insurance companies say is important creates an environment in Florida that is less business friendly. But Senator John Thrasher, a Republican from St. Augustine, said he doesn’t think it’s a legitimate concern that the bill would lead to insurance companies leaving the state of Florida.
"I will continue to do everything I can to have a viable insurance industry in the state of Florida and I know Senator Negron will. I don’t think this is what that’s about. It’s about making policy, making a choice, can we do something to help the citizens of the state of Florida who have suffered in a downturned economic time,” Thrasher said.
The measure passed through the committee, the only Senate committee it's scheduled to be heard in this session. And while there’s no House version of the bill, it has a chance of moving forward since Senate President Don Gaetz threw his weight behind the measure Thursday when he released a statement saying he thinks the bill is important because it will “keep money in the pockets of our hard-working tax payers.”
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