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Windshield repair bill hits roadblock

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that supporters contend would help crack down on alleged fraud in the auto-glass repair industry, particularly along the Interstate 4 corridor, failed to pass an evenly split Senate committee Tuesday.

In a 4-4 vote, with Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, joining three Democrats in opposition, the Banking and Insurance Committee put the brakes on a bill (SB 312) that would prohibit repair shops from offering rebates or other incentives, such as gift cards, in exchange for motorists making insurance claims for windshield repairs or replacement.

Lee said he opposed the bill because sponsor Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, wouldn’t commit to not reviving parts of an amendment that Lee and the Democrats had also opposed.

“When the senator that sponsored the bill said she was going to continue to consider all these things we just killed in committee … we’ve spent three meetings on this bill already and now she’s going to take this stuff forward and have it reconsidered in other committees. It was the wrong answer,” Lee said after the meeting.

Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, sought a commitment from Stewart not to revive parts of the amendment, which included imposing windshield “calibration” requirements on glass repair shops.

“I don’t like to make commitments about what will happen next,” Stewart replied to Taddeo. “As you can tell, there’s a lot of concerns here on both sides and I think we should continue to talk about that.”

After the meeting Stewart said she would try to revive parts of the bill.

With the 2020 legislative session beginning Jan. 14, parts of the bill could come back in other bills now being drafted that are closely linked to property and casualty insurance.

At least part of the debate is rooted in assignment of benefits, a longstanding practice in which policyholders sign over benefits to contractors who ultimately pursue payments from insurance companies.

The practice has become controversial in recent years. Insurers have complained about fraud and litigation, while plaintiffs’ attorneys and other groups argue so-called AOB helps make sure claims are properly paid.

Also, independent auto-glass shops have objected to the bill by saying it would benefit large industry players.

The Florida Justice Reform Institute, which regularly lobbies for bills aimed at limiting lawsuits, issued a study that contends 90 percent of auto-glass assignment of benefit lawsuits have come from 15 companies, with most of the lawsuits filed in Orange and Hillsborough counties.

Lawmakers during the 2019 session revamped assignment of benefits for claims dealing with homeowners’ insurance but did not make changes related to windshield repairs. The homeowners-insurance changes, in part, limited attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurance companies.