Senator files measure that would ban Florida cities, counties from charging fees in crashes

Mar 18, 2009

Florida Today--March 18, 2009

By Jim Ash
Florida Capital Bureau Chief

The Florida Senate began pushing back Tuesday against the dozens of cash-strapped local governments that have begun charging crash victims for police and firefighter response.

The measure (SB 2282) by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, would ban cities and counties from charging the fees that range from $180 to $200 for police response and $600 to $800 for fire departments.

“These fees are no more than double taxation,” Bennett said.

It passed the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee, despite the objections of police chiefs, the Florida League of Cities and firefighters. Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee voted against the bill.

Tallahassee Fire Chief Cindy Dick told committee members that her department had little choice. Budget cuts threatened to force her to take two truck companies and a tanker off the road. The city is studying a fee schedule and has yet to impose them.

“I found an alternate revenue source,” she said. “We did this out of our own dire economic need.”

Tallahassee city commissioners voted Jan. 28 to impose the fee. Escambia County, Cocoa and West Melbourne charge similar fees, according to a legislative study conducted last summer.

The study concluded that the movement was being pushed, at least in part, by private collection agencies that contract with local governments to earn a portion of the fees, as much as 10 percent.

Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers, has the companion bill (HB 1043).

“This is a consumer issue and one that needs our immediate attention this session,” Thompson said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who voted for the measure, demanded to know how crash victims could know they were being properly charged.

“What do they do, bring out a price list?” Fasano said.