I will never qualify myself as any politico, so take this news for what it is, not what it could be.

The Florida House of Representatives passed through committee a new bill that would remove the word “reasonable” from the section 440.34(3).  This is an obvious attempt to overturn the Emma Murray v. Mariner Health decision, which the Florida Supreme Court statutorily interpreted the use of the word “reasonable” to mean that that a Judge of Compensation Claims can award an hourly fee above the guideline.  (See my post on the decision here.)

HB 903 was passed through the General Government Policy Council by a vote of 14-4.  The next step is the floor of the House for a vote.  However, the St. Pete Times does an excellent analysis of the bill and its ramifications.  Apparently, there is a Senate version of the bill as well, but it is not moving as fast through committee, the Senate being the more liberal of the two legislative bodies. 

Does this mean Emma Murray is kaput?  I have no idea.  It does seem surprising though how quickly this is gaining steam through the House when the decision is barely six months old.  The Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) quickly approve a 6.4% increase in Workers’ Comp premiums, effective April 1, based soley on Emma Murray.  How can they know what the effects are of one decision when the courts have yet to feel the impact of the decision? 

Also, the OIR approved six consecutive rate decreases since 2003, when the amended chapter 440 tried to remove hourly fees.  How is one hasty increase after six consecutive decreases create an insurance crisis in Florida? 

Throw in the worst recession this state has ever seen, a budget deficit that is dependent on federal stimulus dollars, and a governor who is no friend to the insurance lobby, color this blogger skeptical.   I have to say this about the bill being passed into law: I’ll believe it when I see it.

As for changing the statutory language to work around the Emma Murray decision, keep in mind the Florida Supreme Court purposely held back from ruling that the 2003 changes were unconstitutional.  They still could rule that way–with the right case–should this bill pass. 

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