FILE - Kathleen Passidomo

Florida state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples

(The Center Square) – A key Senate panel unanimously advanced Tuesday a proposed no-fault auto insurance repeal bill that would replace Florida’s personal-injury protection (PIP) system with mandatory bodily injury (BI) coverage.

Adopting a no-fault auto insurance repeal bill has been an elusive goal for years in Florida, with bills outlining transitions from PIP to mandatory BI foiled in 2018 and 2020 by disagreements over amendments addressing “bad faith” lawsuits and other provisions.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 54, co-filed by Sens. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and is the 2021 legislative attempt to repeal the state’s 50-year-old no-fault law.

In sending SB 54 along to its next hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, the panel also approved a 13-page amendment with a bad-faith provision, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.

While adopted with little opposition, the bad-faith amendment was acknowledged by committee members and several speakers as yet another poison pill in derailing no-fault repeal, including by one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“I am voting for the bill but not without some reservation,” Rouson said, unsure whether bad-faith measures such as “very proscriptive demand-for-settlement" letters would lead to only “more litigation” and benefit insurers, not consumers.

“I have been part of this movement for mandatory BI for years. It is time Florida joined the other states in requiring it,” Rouson said. “I’m voting 'yes' with an asterisk because I have an expectation that we can make some changes to benefit the consumer.”

Supporters say repealing PIP no-fault and replacing it with mandatory BI would save Florida’s 16 million licensed drivers, on average, $81 each annually. Florida’s 16 million licensed drivers pay the nation’s third-highest cost in premiums, according to an Insure.com analysis in 2019.

Opponents argue installing BI would do the opposite, raising premiums by as much as $143 too $350 a year and put more uninsured drivers on the road. An Insurance Information Institute study estimated in 2019 that 26.7% of Florida drivers are uninsured.

SB 54 does not have a House companion for the 2021 session, which begins March 2.

Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law requires owners maintain PIP coverage of $10,000 in medical, disability and funeral expenses, without regard to fault, and subject to a $2,500 limit for nonemergency medical care.

In exchange for providing PIP coverage, under Florida’s law, vehicle owners are immune from tort claims.

SB 54 would require drivers to secure BI liability coverage of at least $25,000 for death or injury of one person, $50,000 for injury or death of two or more people and $10,000 for property damage by Jan. 1.

SB 54 also repeals the law’s recovery limitation on pain and suffering damages, requires insurers to offer medical payments coverage with $5,000-$10,000 limits to cover the insured’s medical expenses and provide a “new framework” to govern “bad faith” claims.

Consensus over “bad-faith” claims has been elusive, but SB 54 “creates a new framework for handling bad-faith litigation that provides a clear set of standards to govern the conduct of both parties in the claims handling process.”

The House voted 88-15 in 2018 to replace PIP with mandatory BI, but the measure only advanced through one Senate committee before the session adjourned.

Last year, House Bill 771, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, passed three House panels but died on the floor. Its Senate companion stalled before its second committee hearing.