THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Sink, McCollum both mum on workers’ comp, other issues facing Crist

May 29, 2009


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 29, 2009…..Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink may want to be the state’s next governor, but they’re not quite ready to take a position on some of the biggest issues facing the current governor.

Both McCollum and Sink – who could wind up facing each other in the 2010 election – are avoiding taking any stances on controversial bills, chief among them a workers’ compensation insurance bill that Gov. Charlie Crist must act on by Saturday.

The two Cabinet officers – who along with Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson oversee the state office that regulates insurance – have not sent Crist any letters or correspondence urging the governor to sign or veto any pending legislation.

When asked earlier this week, Sink acknowledged that she has not asked Crist to use his veto pen on any bill.

“I haven’t really formulated enough of an opinion to ask the governor for a veto at this point,” said Sink.

Crist this week signed bills hiking the cigarette tax by a $1 a pack and boosting fees on drivers and there are still a handful of controversial measures that await a final verdict by the Republican governor, including those dealing with health insurance networks (SB 1122) and growth regulations (SB 360).

One of those is the workers’ compensation bill (HB 903) which would restore caps on attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. The legislation is a response to a state Supreme Court case that concluded there were contradictory requirements for fees adopted in the 2003 overhaul of the workers’ compensation system. The court ordered the payment of $16,000 in attorney fees instead of the $648 ordered by a lower court – and nullifed a statutory fee schedule.

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty earlier this year ordered a 6.4 percent increase in workers’ compensation rates in the wake of the ruling. Crist who can sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature has signaled he may sign the measure, saying he prefers to keep insurance rates down.

The Florida Justice Association -which represents the state’s powerful trial attorneys – as well as the Florida Police Benevolent Association have asked Crist to veto the bill. The PBA contends the legislation will hurt police officers who are injured in the line of duty.

But business organizations such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida are strongly in favor of the bill and called it one of their top priorities during the session. Those groups contend employers battered by the recession cannot afford higher workers’ compensation insurance rates.

When asked about the bill this week, a spokeswoman for McCollum said that the attorney general has no plans to render an opinion on it.

“He’s not weighed in on it and he’s not going to,” said Ryan Wiggins.

Before McCollum and Sink jumped into the governor’s race this past month, they did weigh in on some pending legislation. Sink supported scaling back the exposure of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which was included in a bill signed by Crist this week. She also backed a measure designed to make it easier for families to remain enrolled in the state’s subsidized children’s health program. Sink opposed a bill that would grant liability protections to SunRail and another measure that could open Florida waters to offshore drilling.

Sink was also unsuccessful in convincing lawmakers in the waning hours of this year’s regular session to keep alive funding for the My Safe Florida Home program, which provides grants to help homeowners bolster their homes against hurricanes.

McCollum pushed for several bills, including one that will allow the Attorney General to seek civil penalties and restitution for victims of securities fraud. During this week’s Cabinet meeting McCollum urged Crist to sign the measure into law.