Sunday, May 7, 2017

Turn out the Lights, the 2017 Session Over

Babe Ruth said "every strike brings me closer to the next home run." We learn from failure. We hopefully grow from what we learn, and we persevere. Billy Jean King said "champions keep playing until they get it right." As the end of Florida's 2017 legislative session sinks in, people can perhaps ponder these, and look to the future. 

There will be questions and conjecture in days and weeks to come. The Florida Legislature adjourned on Friday, May 5, 2017. That is a admittedly little confusing to some because despite their adjournment they will meet Monday for another vote. That "extension" of the session resulted from the timing of the budget compromise reached last week and the time required to document all the details. Once the budget details were clear, the budget had sit for 72 hours before it could be voted upon. That is a constitutional requirement here in Florida. So, the 2017 session is adjourned officially, but one vote remains. 

Some will ask why more business could not be added to the Monday calendar. A University of South Florida blogger wrote over the weekend encouraging USF alumni and supporters to "contact your state senator and state representative." As I read it, Pat Benatar invaded my conscious, "It's a little too little, It's a little too late." (a recent commenter accused me of being an 80s nerd; granted, you got me there). The blogger wants the Legislature to make "one exception" and take up "preeminent university" legislation Monday along with the budget. Many people likely want just "one exception" Monday to revisit their passion.

There will be no revote on "preeminent university" standards Monday as the USF blogger advocates. There will be no revote on "medical marijuana," legalizing "fantasy sports," expanding gambling, allowing optometrists to perform surgery, and the list goes on and on. If I attempted to document all of the bills that did not pass in the 2017 session, this post would be pages and pages long. Lots of people leave Tallahassee disappointed each year. 

When I read the USF blog cited above, I read the term "tl;dr." That one threw me and I hit the Urban Dictionary"tl;dr." means "too long; didn't read." Apparently that shorthand is all the rage amongst those who comment on blog and other posts - pointing our we are long winded (don't even think about it - I am watching you). So, we cannot list all the bills that did not pass in 2017 or list the people who are disappointed, tl;dr. 

But, one with which many will be familiar was the conflict regarding Florida workers' compensation reform. It was a topic into which hundreds of legislative hours were poured this session. The history of workers' compensation 2017 was documented last week in The 2017 Session is Ending - What will be the Final Word. Now we know the final word, that there will not be reform in 2017. 

What no one can say is that legislative reform failed for lack of effort. I spent a great deal of time in recent months watching legislators, their staff, lobbyists, groups, task forces, and citizens discuss and debate where Florida workers' compensation stands today, and where it might go. Credit has to be afforded to a few by name, without in any way discounting the zeal and commitment of others. 

Senator Rob Bradley led the Senate effort, He sponsored SB1582. Representative Daniel Burgess led the House effort, sponsoring HB7085. Both obviously committed to their efforts. There were committee meetings in both chambers, with lots of discussion and proposals. There was no doubt that Florida workers' compensation was being evaluated, discussed, and studied. And, study is a key word. 

One of the key points of which this last session reminded me came out during a Senate floor debate Friday. I did not act quickly enough (make a note) to now credit the statement. But, the effect of the statement was essentially a Senator's recognition of Senate colleagues for working so hard on this subject in 2017. The Senator noted that workers' compensation is complex, and that few understand it. He was complimentary of his colleagues and their efforts through debate and committees, and study to understand it. It is difficult to understand. 

I was also struck by the variety of perspectives on workers' compensation. When I wrote The 2017 Session is Ending - What will be the Final Word, on the morning of the second-to-last day, the prediction was that the Senate would take up HB7085, and discuss the amendments proposed by Senator Bradley and Senator Brandes. Before the end of that day however, there were also amendments filed by Senator Rodriguez and Senator Farmer. 

When the bill came up for a vote, Senator Bradley's amendment (which moved the Senate closer to the House Bill provisions) was amended, to essentially state the original contents of SB1582. Note that, the sponsor of SB1582 was seeking to move away from that bill, and toward the HB7085 language. But, the Senate instead passed Senator Farmer's amendment, which substituted the language of SB1582 upon which Senator Bradley had spent so many hours of effort and study.

Upon passing Senator Farmer's amendment, the bill went back to the House. Representative Shaw, as he had in some committee meetings, had some interesting questions. The House passed an amendment to that proposal (essentially SB1582), which instead resubstituted the language of HB7085, albeit with a change in the maximum attorney fee amount from $150.00 per hour to $180.00 (an amendment offered by Representative Burgess). And thus the bill returned to the Senate for its consideration again. 

But, On May 5, 2017 Florida's legislative debate over workers' compensation ended with that House vote, and the bill "died in messages" (when a chamber passes something that is different than what it was sent, the bill is sent back to the other chamber in "messages" for its consideration).  Essentially, the clock ran out on this topic in 2017. 

Across the state, in days to come, people who were watching a long list of legislative proposals and bills will play the Monday morning quarterback role. They will "what if" and "if only." They will place blame and commiserate on a variety of subjects, their respective, unsuccessful, legislative hope(s) for 2017. We may hear the laments and conjecture, the "would have," "could have," and "should have." Whether they wanted "fantasy sports" legislated or did not want something that passed, they will discuss what "might have been."

Many will celebrate that their 2017 project did succeed, The hours and effort dedicated to a cause will have been rewarded.

But for workers' compensation, perhaps what the market can value in 2017 is the process. Perhaps in recent weeks, some who did not understand workers' compensation have come to understand it better. This is a very important system, which provides a significant protection for the vast majority of workers and employers in Florida. It can be a complex topic, with nuance and implications. It is always intellectually challenging and I treasure the many hours I have spent trying to understand it and educate others about it. 

I will be the first to admit that workers' compensation is not perfect. It is, after all, the result of many perspectives, legislative sessions, compromises, and conversations. Having been around this statute and this legislature for many years, one thing is clear: there are many passionate people involved in this debate. One may disagree with individuals, but we must all respect each passionate perspective. Regardless of what drives that particular perspective, Florida is fortunate to have so many people who are passionate about workers' compensation. The commitment and drive of those Representatives, Senators, staffers, groups, and citizens assures a thorough debate and discussion. We are all the better for their presence, personalities, and commitment to their goals. 

After I quoted Tom Petty's The Waiting last week in discussing the 2017 session, I received an email suggesting that perhaps his Mary Jane's Last Dance would be a more appropriate reference (a hat tip to the reader who suggested it). As we close the door on Tallahassee for 2017, remember when Tom said "I feel summer creepin' in, and I'm tired of this town again." 

Perhaps a fair few feel that way at the end of Session 2017. As we head into summer, this market will continue to discuss Florida workers' compensation. Ideas and criticisms about our law will be voiced. And in a few short months, the Session 2018 committee process will begin anew, and the question will perhaps then be "what will the legislature do for workers' comp in 2018?"

As a side-note, I add the 2017 "Best Blog" banner. I am incredibly humbled to have been nominated, and frankly flabbergasted to have been chosen. Thank you all for reading.

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