TALLAHASSEE — Heavy lobbying by massage therapists temporarily derailed one of the major issues of the legislative session: the high level of fraud in Florida's no-fault car insurance program.
The Senate's Budget Committee on Tuesday postponed discussion on a measure to reform personal injury protection, or PIP. Debate was bogged down by a series of amendments that would have added acupuncture and massage therapy back into the array of treatments authorized under the system, but the amendments failed.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said he was against including those service providers in the PIP system but welcomed the discussion — even if it meant that a vote on the bill wasn't taken. The committee will take up the issue again during a special meeting today.
"I applaud Chairman (JD) Alexander for making sure we have enough time to hear everybody's point of view," Negron said. "So I'm very happy with how things are going."
Even if the Senate manages to come to an agreement and approve changes to PIP, it still must reach a compromise with the House. That chamber takes a different approach to fixing the system.
Reforming PIP is a critical piece of Gov. Rick Scott's 2012 legislative agenda. Scott has expressed support for the House proposal, which requires people injured in an auto accident to be treated by medical professionals within 72 hours, eliminates chiropractors from participating in PIP and limits attorney's fees. The Senate's measure tightens regulations of pain clinics, requires long-form accident reports and creates a statewide antifraud task force.
Scott said he is staying apprised of both chambers' proposals and has talked to members behind the scenes about the importance of reaching an agreement.
"We've got to create a process that works," he said. "I'm confident that both the House and the Senate, when they come together, will pass a bill that will crack down on this fraud and will be good for all Floridians."
Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he believes that PIP reform can be done during the regular session, but others have suggested a special session may be necessary.
Time is running out if lawmakers want to avoid being called back to Tallahassee. The regular session is scheduled to conclude March 9 and lawmakers still must use much of that time to approve a budget.
Both the House and the Senate have clear ideas of what they want to see in PIP reform, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said, which could complicate matters.
"It's always tougher to pass things in an election year," said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. "I'm hopeful that in the very minimum we can get the common ground passed and at a maximum we can find some common ground on tort."