State Capital Briefs (Afternoon Edition): Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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In one of the state's most-notorious child welfare cases in recent years, the House on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that calls for paying $3.75 million in the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and injuries suffered by her brother, Victor. The House voted 114-2 to approve the bill (SB 18), which unanimously passed the Senate last week. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott. House sponsor Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, said the Department of Children and Families did not pay attention to "red flags" before the 2011 death of Nubia Barahona. Diaz said the children, who had been adopted, were "tortured." Nubia Barahona's decomposing body was found in February 2011 in the bed of her father's pickup truck on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County. Victor Barahona was convulsing in the truck, as both children had been doused with toxic chemicals, authorities said. The Department of Children and Families was alleged to have failed to prevent abuse of the children and agreed to a settlement that called for paying $5 million. It paid $1.25 million but needed legislative approval of a "claim" bill to pay the remaining $3.75 million. The dissenting votes Wednesday were cast by Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples.

With the issue appearing stuck in the Senate, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill dealing with a controversial insurance issue known as “assignment of benefits.” The House voted 91-26 to approve the insurer-backed bill (HB 1421), sponsored by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. A significantly different bill (SB 1218) was approved April 3 by a Senate committee but otherwise has not moved forward. The annual legislative session is scheduled to end May 5. The assignment-of-benefits issue involves homeowners who need property repairs signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payments from insurance companies. Insurers argue that abuses of the process, particularly related to water-damage claims, are driving up homeowners' insurance premiums. But contractors and plaintiffs' attorneys contend the process helps force insurers to properly pay claims. The proposal would make a series of changes that, in part, would seek to curb litigation about claims. Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat who supported the House bill, said people have improperly taken advantage of assignments of benefits for years and, without legislative action, rates could go up and fewer insurers might remain in the market. But Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said changes in the bill could result in more litigation. “It's going to be tied up for the next two years,” Geller said. “That's not going to keep up with the mission, which is to keep rates low.”

The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would expand registration-fee discounts for boat owners who have locator beacons. The issue stems from the July 2015 disappearance of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, two 14-year-olds from Tequesta who went missing after steering a 19-foot boat out of the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean. Lawmakers last year approved discounts for recreational boaters who have or buy "emergency position indicating radio beacon," or EPIRB, devices. The Senate voted 34-0 to approve the bill (HB 711) to expand the discounts and to make them permanent. The House last week also passed the measure unanimously, meaning it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott. Under the bill, the discounted fee for boats between 12 and 16 feet would drop from $13.77 to $11; for boats between 16 and 26 feet, the fee would go from $24.83 to $20.40; and for boats between 26 feet and 40 feet, the fee would fall from $68.56 to $57.50.


© 2017 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited.