Senate proposal calls for workers' comp changes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After two closely watched Florida Supreme Court rulings and a 14.5 percent rate increase for businesses, a key Senate Republican filed a proposal Friday that would revamp the state's workers' compensation insurance system.

The proposal (SB 1582), filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, addresses major issues such as attorney fees and rate filings with the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

The Florida Supreme Court last spring found two parts of the workers' compensation system unconstitutional, including strict limits on fees paid to attorneys who represent injured workers.

Those rulings helped lead to regulators approving a 14.5 percent rate increase that started taking effect Dec. 1.

Bradley's 39-page bill, for example, would allow judges of compensation claims to award fees up to $250 an hour to attorneys who represent injured workers.

The judges could look at a variety of factors in determining the fee amounts, such as the time and skill required in cases and the difficulty of the issues that are involved.

The bill also would change the rate-making process, which has long involved the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, filing rate proposals for the industry.

Bradley's bill, in part, would require each insurer to "independently and individually file with the office the final rates it proposes to use."

The workers' compensation system will be a heavily lobbied issue during the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

Business groups want to hold down insurance rates, while trial lawyers and labor unions say lawmakers need to protect the rights of injured workers.