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Florida lawmakers act on flood insurance, Alzheimer's research, public pensions and more

Legislative Roundup

Posted: April 28, 2014 - 4:33pm

TALLAHASSEE | After homeowners received a major scare about rate increases, the Florida House approved a bill aimed at encouraging more private insurers to write flood-insurance coverage in the state. The Senate approved the bill earlier, but the measure will have to return to the Senate because of changes made in the House.

Lawmakers began looking for ways to expand private coverage after it appeared that tens of thousands of Florida homeowners could get hit with massive increases under the National Flood Insurance Program. While Congress has alleviated those concerns, state lawmakers set guidelines for flood-insurance policies, including coverage requirements and how flood losses would be adjusted.

House sponsor Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, questioned whether the federal government and Congress would take care of flood-insurance needs. Added Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg: “It doesn’t fix the entire problem. But it’s a good step in the right direction.” But Rep. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat and insurance agent, said people should buy coverage backed by the federal government.

HOUSE OKS ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH

Pointing to the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in Florida, the House unanimously voted to create a new research program and lead to minimum performance standards for memory-disorder clinics. “This is a looming issue for our state and our nation,” bill sponsor Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said. The program would be named after Hudson’s grandparents and would help fund research at universities and research institutes into the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of the disease.

SENATE OKS PENSION SPENDING

A measure that would change the rules on how local governments can spend insurance-premium tax dollars to fund firefighter and police pensions sailed through the Senate despite indications it could get caught up in a broader debate about retirement plans for public employees. The Senate voted 36-0 to allow local governments and labor unions to negotiate over how to spend the premium tax money. If the two sides can’t reach a deal, the money would be sifted through a complicated formula.

State law currently restricts how the money can be spent. The House version of the overhaul (HB 7181) links the local changes with a proposal by Speaker Will Weatherford to revamp the Florida Retirement System. Weatherford’s plan is bitterly opposed by unions representing the state and county employees.

FOREIGN LAWS WOULD BE BANNED HERE

Florida courts would be banned from applying foreign laws in matters of divorce, alimony, division of marital assets, child support and child custody under a bill the Senate sent to the House.

If the bill becomes law, Florida will join Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee with such laws, which critics say are legally unnecessary and which unnecessarily polarize Muslims.

Republican Alan Hays insisted the bill won’t impede international trade, a prior concern of business groups.

“For those people who want to come to America we welcome them, but when you come to America you’re going to be governed on American laws and when you come to Florida you’re going to be governed on Florida laws,” Hays said. “We dare not apologize for that, folks. This is a very good bill. It’s an all-American bill.”

Though the bill does not mention religion, it is seen at targeting harsh Sharia religious law followed in such Islamic countries as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said she opposed the bill because foreign laws have never been implemented in Florida courts or any other state.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, added that the bill appears neutral but “has caused unnecessary polarization.”

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent letters to Republican lawmakers, asking them to reject the bill they claim is intended to marginalize American Muslim and other minority communities.

“If you remain silent while party organizations invite Islamophobic speakers and GOP legislators support bills driven by anti-Muslim bias, your party risks alienating one of the fastest growing groups of American voters,” Chief Executive Director Hassan Shibly wrote. “Florida now has 150,000 registered Muslim voters. The GOP cannot afford to continue to alienate a minority growing in influence, especially in a key swing state such as Florida.”

 
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