TALLAHASSEE — House members are expected to approve their version of civil litigation reform this week, kicking off a battle between some of the state's most powerful special interest groups.
Tort reformers say this will be their final attempt to change the law. If they are unsuccessful this year, business groups say the issues may be dead for a few years to come.
Entering their first full week of work, lawmakers, however, will spend most of their time in committee as the session gains momentum and bills begin working their way up the legislative ladder.
Lawmakers will also spend a lot of time beginning to craft their respective budget proposals with the hope of having much of the work done by the end of the month.
"Gradually, the agenda will get meatier and meatier," said House Speaker Allan Bense.
Business interests want to change Florida law to do away with joint and several liability, a legal tenet in which individual defendants can be responsible for full payment of damages regardless of their degree of fault.
In its place, business groups want individual defendants to be liable only for the percentage of damages for which they are responsible, a concept known as comparative fault.
Trial lawyers counter that doing away with joint and several liability will result in plaintiffs being unable to collect damages as businesses shield themselves from exposure.
Meanwhile, in committees, the Senate backers of a plan to revise the way petitions are gathered for proposed constitutional amendments will try again to advance their cause following a failed vote last week. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will reconsider SB 1244, a proposal by Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to require paid petition gatherers to identify themselves and which tightens verification requirements.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up a proposal to bolster private property rights in the face of potential condemnations. Committee members aren't planning a vote on SB 2168 but will discuss the measure to curb local governments' ability to acquire property through eminent domain.
Senate committees will also be taking up a number of hurricane-related issues, including requiring nursing homes to have backup power generators and allowing them to be reimbursed for doing so.
Another measure would tighten building codes in northwest Florida. Affordable housing issues will work their way through committees this week, including a bill by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, establishing a Homeownership for All license plate, the collection from which would fund housing efforts across the state.
Meanwhile, in the House, the Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights will look at a series of measures to protect property owners from eminent domain, including a constitutional amendment restricting local governments' ability to condemn private property to the benefit of another private entity.
The committee was formed following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed a local government in New London, Conn., to condemn property and turn the land over to a private developer for renovation.