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New Fla. law permits headlight flashing warnings

A major overhaul of the state's no-fault insurance law — which insurers have said could cut motorists' rates by 25 percent or more — will take effect today, one of a handful of new laws that will go on the statute books.

Others new laws provide more protection and shelter for sexually exploited children, require mortgage lenders to provide loan information to others besides a property's primary owner, and make it legal for drivers to flash their headlights to alert oncoming motorists of a police speed trap ahead.

The provision legalizing such speed trap warnings came after Erich Campbell, a St. Petersburg College student from Land O'Lakes, was cited for violating an existing law that says "flashing lights are prohibited on vehicles" except for turn signals.

A Pinellas County judge dismissed Campbell's $115 ticket, and the Florida Highway Patrol ordered state troopers to stop issuing tickets for high-beam flashing after being hit with a lawsuit on Campbell's behalf.

The change to personal injury protection insurance, the state's no-fault auto insurance that pays up to $10,000 in health care expenses and lost wages caused by a car accident regardless of who was at fault, comes after PIP rates have soared — claims went from $1.45 billion in 2008 to $2.45 billion in 2010. Insurers point to rampant fraud by lawyers, doctors and health-related professionals including massage therapists and acupuncturists as the reason for the increase.

Part of the new law went into effect in July, but most of the major changes are just coming now.

Among them: Accident victims must seek treatment within 14 days — preferably at a hospital emergency room — and only "emergency" medical conditions would warrant the full $10,000 worth of treatment reimbursed by PIP. Otherwise, doctors can charge only up to $2,500. PIP also will not pay for acupuncture or massage therapy.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who pushed for the changes with Gov. Rick Scott, has publicly urged companies to lower rates.

"It is the CFO's firm belief that Florida consumers should see the benefits of the reforms through premium savings," said Atwater spokeswoman Anna Alexopoulos.

If insurers don't drop PIP rates by at least 25 percent, they must provide an explanation to the state — as most did in October when the bill asked for a 10 percent rate cut.

Then, most companies said they couldn't justify lower rates until the new law took full effect.

Other changes going into effect today include:

The Florida Safe Harbor Act

The measure, HB 99, provides more protection and housing for children who have been sexually exploited. It requires law enforcement to turn over children who are picked up for prostitution to child welfare authorities for evaluation and further treatment, though it allows law enforcement to decide whether the child should be prosecuted. It also allows the Department of Children and Families to place these children in a safe house for treatment if one is available.

Mortgage disclosure

The new law, SB 1050, will allow mortgage lenders to give out information about a loan to people who are not on the property title. An analysis of the law says people who may have a legitimate financial interest in knowing the loan details include an heir, a surviving spouse who was not on the note or a lienholder. Currently, such details legally can be provided only to the person named on the loan.

Vast array of options for drivers

A new law will create specialty tags for Vietnam War veterans and those who have won the Combat Infantry Badge. And besides license tags, specialty driver licenses and ID cards honoring public and private universities, professional sports teams and all branches of the military will be created, available for an additional fee of $25. The new law also creates plates for retired governors and federal and state lawmakers; and repeals a provision that says school buses can go no more than 55 mph even if the speed limit is higher.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

New Fla. law permits headlight flashing warnings 12/31/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 9:50pm]

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