The 2017 Florida Legislative Session officially gets underway on Tuesday, March 7th. The Session lasts 60 calendar days, and unless extended will adjourn on May 5th.
AFSA-FL set three top legislative priorities during the joint Board meeting in January: preserving the hi-rise retrofit requirement, preserving the current building code adoption mechanism, and restoring workers’ compensation rate stability. In addition to these issues, AFSA-FL must normally deal with a host of other bills filed by legislators that AFSA-FL may support or oppose.
Here is a list and discussion of issues AFSA-FL is working on for you this Session.
Condominium association interests are taking aim at the hi-rise sprinkler retrofit law that finally took effect December 31, 2016.
HB 653 by Rep. George Moraitis (R-Ft. Lauderdale) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00653 and SB 744 by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00744 would extend the opt-out and installation deadlines two years each to December 31, 2018, and December 31, 2022, respectively. The bills also allow condos to opt-out of the Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS) alternative as well, in addition to sprinklers, thereby avoiding any retrofit requirement entirely. Finally, the bills specifically define “hi-rise” appropriately. These provisions are wrapped into lengthy omnibus bills dealing with various condominium-related provisions.
AFSA-FL has been working closely with our partners in the fire safety community, including the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association, Florida Fire Marshals & Inspectors Association, Florida Fire Chiefs Association, and the State Fire Marshal to meet with legislators and argue in favor of maintaining current law. We are also reaching out to other groups that may care about the legislation. Meanwhile, our opponents have also been lobbying legislators, describing the cost to retrofit with sprinklers and/or perform an ELSS as being in the tens of millions of dollars. Our opponents have also used the media to describe this issue as “a huge fight against the special interests that profit from this requirement and those that have little evidence that installing an ELSS is necessary for the safety of residents.”
AFSA-FL is using the 2009 legislative cost study to show the real amounts associated with a retrofit, and also reminding legislators that both former Governors Bush and Crist vetoed legislation that would have further delayed implementation. Still, we are facing strong headwinds against a well-funded opponent. AFSA-FL members should take the opportunity to contact their local legislators and tell them to oppose HB 653 / SB 744, which could leave some condo residents and first responders exposed to the life safety risks of an uncontrolled hi-rise fire.
Building Code Adoption
SB 7000 by Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/07000 and HB 091 by Rep. Stan McClain http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00901, supported by the homebuilders, reverse the process for revising the Florida Building Code. Current law requires the Florida Building Commission to automatically adopt the International Code Council (ICC) codes every three years, and the Commission then may make Florida-specific modifications.
Instead, the bills set the upcoming 6th Edition of the Florida Building Code, tentatively set to take effect on December 31, 2017, as the new base code. The Commission may then review but is not required to automatically adopt new ICC codes on the three-year cycle. In addition going forwards, previously adopted amendments and modifications remain in effect when a new edition of the Florida Building Code is published.
AFSA-FL is working with other concerned interests to explain the problems with this legislation, including how over the long-term, Florida could fall behind in the area of fire safety. Property insurers, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), and the Building Officials Association of Florida have all also weighed in with their concerns.
Several Florida Supreme Court decisions in the past year, especially related to attorney fees, have resulted in a 14.5 percent current year average increase for workers’ compensation insurance premiums. AFSA-FL is a committed partner to the larger business community that is working to restore the stability and low premiums Florida has enjoyed since the 2003 legislative reforms took effect.
Workers’ compensation is historically one of the toughest issues for the Legislature to address, as it affects so many interests including employers, employees (including unions and first responders), insurers, doctors, lawyers, hospitals and many others, as well as subgroups of those larger interests. At this time, the business and insurer coalition continues to work on drafting an approach that would solve the attorney fee problem yet pass muster with the courts, a seemingly high bar given recent court decisions. Meanwhile, those interests who suffered from the 2003 reforms, namely lawyers, are using the opportunity of having workers compensation on the table to raise long dormant issues and shift the advantage back to their favor.
At this time, the main workers’ compensation legislation appears to be SB 1582 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/01582, while the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee appears likely to release a Proposed Committee Bill.
Other Issues: Water Utility Tap & Meter Fees
Some local water utilities have required the installation of a separate or commercial water tap, and payment of the associated fees, when a homeowner chooses to install a residential fire sprinkler system. Both the American Water Works Association and NFPA design standards recognize that small residential fire sprinklers installed under NFPA 13D may use the same water line tap as domestic water, and that a separate tap is not necessary. AFSA-FL and FFSA have language in HB 1021 by Rep. Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/01021 and SB 1312 by Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/01312 to prohibit a water utility from requiring a separate water tap for a fire sprinkler system if the existing connection meets the hydraulic demand, and further prohibits requiring a larger, more expensive water meter.
Other Issues: Construction Defect
HB 377 by Rep. Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00377 and SB 204 by Sen. Passidomo http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00204 add greater specificity to the statute of repose for construction defects, so that claimants and their lawyers cannot play “gotcha” with the date of payment for work and the time to file a claim.
In its first hearing in the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee on February 9th, the bill was amended with language agreed upon between construction coalition interests and trial lawyers in the hopes of finding a compromise that could pass. That language is:
“Completion of the contract means the latter of the date of final performance of all the contracted services or the date that final payment for such services becomes due without regard to the date final payment is made.”
Other Issues: Public Works Projects
SB 534 by Sen. Perry http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00534 and HB 599 by Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Pace) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00599 would prohibit local governments and other government entities from mandating that contractors staff or pay minimum wages or benefits as a condition of participating on “public works projects.”
Other Issues: Affordable Housing
SB 854 by Sen. Jeff Brandes (St. Petersburg) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00854 and HB 1013 by Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg) http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/01013 establish a task force to look at making affordable housing more affordable. Specifically, the task force is charged with looking at several factors that could yield savings, including a review of building codes. AFSA-FL believes that fire sprinkler and other life safety requirements may likely become factors for this task force to review.
Other Issues: Agriculture / Firesafety
HB 325 by Rep. McClain http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00325 exempts certain agricultural buildings with attached residences from having fire sprinklers. Specifically, the bill says:
“The installation and maintenance of an automatic fire sprinkler system in a nonresidential farm building, with attached living quarters separated from the nonresidential farm building by a firewall, is not required.”
The bill does not yet have a filed Senate companion.
Please contact AFSA-FL if you have any questions.