Of more than 2,000 bills filed this year in Florida’s House of Representatives, how do we know which ones matter the most?
One way to measure a bill’s importance is to count the number of lobbyists who are actively working on its success or failure. Lobbyists who are registered on a specific bill are, theoretically, involved in whether that bill gets approved in some form or not. Lobbyists don’t come cheap, so it’s fair to say the more registered on a bill, the more money riding on its outcome.
But how to count the lobbyists on a bill? Luckily, there’s a lobbyist registry maintained by the Florida House. In 2016, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, announced new House rules requiring public records on lobbyists’ involvement, which he said would give the public and press “unprecedented insight into who is seeking how much from taxpayers.”
Using this publicly-available data on more than 6,000 records of lobbyists and clients, we identified the bills from this session with the most lobbyists registered to speak on them.
So which bills were most popular?
As of Tuesday, four of the top five bills affect insurance or health care. Such bills draw lobbyists like flies, because they typically affect many related industries — including hospitals, pharmaceuticals, drugstores — with deep pockets, said Ronald Book, one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists.
“They’re always going to generate multiple lobbyists, multiple firms and multiple firms throwing lots of their staff at an issue,” Book said.
In these bills, the largest companies and organizations have several people — as many as 21 — lobbying legislators on their behalf, indicating they anticipate serious consequences for their members or bottom line.
T-4. HB 37 - Direct primary care agreements are not health insurance
In a direct primary care (DPC) agreement, a person pays doctors a flat monthly rate for a list of medical treatment options, like a buffet. Providers often offer check-ups, lab tests or treatment for injuries that don’t require surgery. All this is done without filing insurance claims.
HB 37 would clarify that DPC agreements are not health insurance, shielding them from any oversight by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
Doctors like that they can offer care to patients through a DPC agreement for less money and without having to handle or track insurance claims. But the arrangement doesn’t cover treatment for more serious injuries or illnesses.
The Florida Health Care Association has had 19 people file to lobby the bill. Other top clients include the Florida Association of Health Plans, the AIDS Institute, the Florida Medical Association and health insurers Aetna and Anthem.
T-4. HB 459 - Making trade secrets public records
Under current law, public records can be kept private if they contain “trade secrets.” HB 459 would change that, which could be a big deal for organizations with a lot of what they consider proprietary information.
If passed, any contract or agreement between a public agency and another party would be a public record, and all exemptions for trade secrets would vanish.
Readers may remember that world-famous Miami rapper Pitbull’s legal team argued that his contract with Visit Florida was a trade secret in 2016, amid a Richard Corcoran-led probe into the deal. Scott then called for laws to expand the trade secret exemption, which passed.
HB 459 would render that expansion moot.
Electric utilities, represented by the Florida Municipal Electric Association, and tech companies MorphoTrust, Microsoft and Veritec have the most lobbyists registered for the bill, along with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
3. HB 7009 - Limiting workers’ compensation attorney fee payouts
Florida has tinkered with workers’ compensation insurance laws time and again in the last few years, inspiring two separate state Supreme Court cases. A 2009 law that limited how much workers can win in attorney fees was found to be unconstitutional. If lawyers know they can’t make that much money taking up workers’ compensation cases, fewer will want to do so, the court decided.
In the year after that limit was overturned, companies’ insurance premiums rose by nearly 15 percent.
HB 7009 takes another shot at limiting those payouts to workers’ lawyers. It also has measures that push workers and employers to settle disputes outside of a formal petition.
Workers and corporations in dangerous fields lobbied the bill heavily. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, Associated Builders & Contractors of Florida, and Florida Associated General Contractors Council hall had several registered lobbyists. So did McDonald’s.
The bill passed the House, 74-30, on Jan. 12, but an equivalent has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
2. HB 19 - Getting rid of PIP car insurance
This bill would repeal personal injury protection (PIP), an insurance for medical, disability or funeral expenses that’s required for Florida drivers. Instead, Florida would go to a fault system, where drivers do not need to purchase PIP but can be held liable for injuries they cause.
When Colorado made a similar move, average insurance premiums dropped considerably, according to state analysts. But drivers who do not already buy bodily injury insurance, perhaps because they can’t not afford it, will now have to.
Legislators have considered similar bills before. In March, sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach told the Times/Herald, “I would say the original premise of PIP has in fact failed.”
Several lobbyists registered for State Farm, Professional Insurance Agents of Florida, Aetna and Uber, as well as for the Florida Hospital Association, Florida Medical Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.
The House passed the bill, 88-15, on Jan. 12.
1. HB 21 - Rick Scott’s opioid bill
The number one House bill for lobbyists is a perfect storm of health care, insurance, pharmaceutical and criminal justice interests.
It’s the kind of legislation that affects insurers, hospitals, drug stores, drug makers, counties and more, Book said.
Gov. Rick Scott announced in September that he wanted a new bill to take on the opioid epidemic in Florida. He proposed limiting opioid prescriptions for acute pain to three-day supplies and expanding monitoring of doctors. Chronic pain patients would not be limited.
All that and more is in HB 21.
Under the new bill, doctors would need to check patients against a database before prescribing them opioids, and could only prescribe schedule II drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl in three-day amounts, with exceptions. That would keep with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations but has made doctors hesitate.
Health care and pharmaceutical companies are interested, to say the least. The Florida Health Care Association has had 21 lobbyists give appearance notices. The Florida Medical Association, Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare, the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics and drug companies Daiichi Sankyo and Orexo are all heavily represented.
Other clients with several lobbyists for the bill include the governor’s office, Christian Prison Ministries and Aetna.
Not every bill has so many people clamoring for influence. Some listed with just one lobbyist are small appropriations bills, like HB 4461, which would set $1 million for a Deep Creek channel drainage project in St. Johns County, or HB 4453, which would give Florida International University’s Marine Research Hub $500,000.
Number of lobbyists who filed notices of appearance for each bill by noon on Tuesday. Records come from the House’s Lobbyist Disclosure and Information page. A small number of lobbyists are noted to have withdrawn representation since filing. Lobbyists can register on multiple bills and for multiple clients on a particular bill.