Why ‘unintended consequences’ spur today’s Citizens insurance change

When it comes to the costliest claims not caused by hurricanes, Florida’s second largest home insurer acknowledged “unintended consequences” behind a change approved by the board of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Wednesday.

Chris Gardner (left), chairman of the Citizens board, and president Barry Gilway meet with the Post Editorial Board to discuss issues last year, (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The revision to the language in Citizens policies comes after the company launched its “managed repair” program last year to give consumers incentives to use company-approved contractors for certain repairs. Citizens maintains these claims are often inflated in a way that drives up costs for everybody

The program, criticized by contractors outside the company’s program as well as attorneys who sue insurers, aims to limit payment on non-weather-related water losses to $10,000 if homeowners are not using company-approved contractors.* Such claims often involve, say, a broken pipe or a leaking water heater.

It also established a $3,000 limit on water mitigation services, meaning initial clean-up, unless Citizens approves more. But company officials concluded that, whoops, that opened the door to the kind of lawsuits it says are driving up rates.

“The flexible provision has had the unintended consequence of increasing the potential for litigation,” a Citizens statement said. “Under the new language, additional water mitigation exceeding the $3,000 limit would be completed by Citizens managed repair contractors at no cost to the policyholder.”

Meeting Wednesday, Citizens officials portrayed the change as a fair way to address the problem.

“We believe this is the most customer-centric approach to address the abuse and anticipated rate increases tied to non-weather water claim abuse,” said Steve Bitar, Citizens chief of consumer and agent services. “Again, our overriding goal is to ensure that every Citizens customer has choices and access to full coverage.”

The new policy language is set to take effect Aug.  1.

Contractors not in the company’s managed-repair program have argued it artificially restricts consumer choices and can lead to inadequate or unfair insurance payments. Sometimes damage from real-life claims does not conveniently stop at a company-imposed limit, they said.

“This is a huge problem and is more of the continued effort to have Citizens and the other carriers control the whole restoration process and not allow the free market and the policyholder to make choices,” David J DeBlander, president of Pro Clean Restoration and Cleaning in Pensacola, told The Palm Beach Post last year.

Update: Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters president Jimmy Farach said Wednesday the program still works against consumer interests.

“Citizens (is) taking away their policyholder’s rights to receive full compensation unless they agree to let the Insurance company’s pet contractors do the job,” Farach said in a statement. “This will take away any ability for checks and balances.  Instead of having a contractor that will perform a full and fair repair, Citizens will hire contractors that will do the cheapest repairs possible, without regard to the quality of the repair.  If the contractors hired by Citizens don’t make the repairs cheaply, Citizens won’t continue to hire them. This is really bad for Citizens policyholders.”

* An earlier version of the blog has been revised to reflect when the $10,000 limit would take effect. A Citizens spokesman notes while the managed repair program and $3,000 flexible cap has been in place since last year, “the $10,000 cap on non-weather water claims has yet to kick in.” The company expects that provision to go into effect Aug. 1, 2018  if state regulators approve. 

 

 

Title insurance: Shocking numbers should kill merger, group tells DOJ

Industry executives in Florida sing the merits, but the Consumer Federation of America says a proposed merger of two of the top four U.S. title insurance giants represents bad news for home buyers from West Palm Beach to Walla Walla, Wash.

CFA wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Justice and state regulators urging them to stop the marriage of Jacksonville-based Fidelity National Financial, the nation’s largest title insurance concern, with No. 4 Houston-based Stewart Information Services. The combined corporate families would control about 44 percent of a nearly $15 billion market, according to 2017 industry figures.

“The combined entity would control almost half of the title insurance market and make an over-concentrated, excessively-priced market even more expensive and abusive to American home buyers,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance. He is a former Texas insurance commissioner and past adviser to Florida regulators.

In announcing the planned merger March 19, Fidelity National said it “intends to achieve at least $135 million in operational cost synergies” and boost earnings. The deal is subject to Stewart stockholder approval and federal and state regulatory approvals. If it is approved, closing might not come until the first or second quarter of 2019.

FNF Chairman William P. Foley II said in a statement “we see tremendous potential” to grow the Stewart brand “as part of our long-time, successful strategy of operating multiple title insurance brands under the FNF umbrella.”

There’s no mention of potential benefits or savings to home buyers in the release, but FNF CEO Raymond Quirk noted “we believe there are significant operational efficiencies we can bring to bear by leveraging FNF’s shared services infrastructure that will provide meaningful long-term value creation opportunities for our shareholders.”

Hunter, who testified before Congress on the issue more than a decade ago, argues the deal threatens to make matters considerably worse in an industry he says has long fleeced consumers.

So what is title insurance again? Not many home buyers give it a ton of thought before they see it in papers to be signed at closing. It’s a kind of insurance designed to defend and compensate buyers and lenders in case of challenges to the title ownership, involving records that show who has rightful legal claim to the property.

Though consumers are typically the ones paying for this insurance, they often leave it to real estate professionals to arrange it. The rare home buyers who try to buck the system and shop around may find it no simple task to locate dramatic price differences, as title insurers wearing a whole raft of different brand names operate in a handful of corporate “families.”

This much seems clear: Premiums are growing fast, to $14.8 billion in 2017  from $9.4 billion in 2011, according to data The Palm Beach Post requested from an industry group, the American Land Title Association. That included more than $1.4 billion in premiums in Florida last year.

Yet the share of premiums spent to cover insured losses has been falling steadily. Only four cents out of every U.S. premium dollar paid in 2016 went to insured losses, down from nearly 11 cents in 2011. Hunter called that “shockingly low.” Loss ratios in other kinds of insurance such as home, car and health often run closer to 80 percent.

ALTA vice president of communications Jeremy Yohe said CFA’s account misses the mark about a business that is different in many ways from other kinds of insurance. Title insurance premiums typically cost 0.5 percent of the purchase price of the home, he said.

“This is far from excessive and in line with the cost of protecting a buyer’s property rights in Europe and other industrialized nations,” Yohe told The Post. “Unlike other types of insurance, title insurance companies deliver for their customers by spending time and money uncovering and fixing potential claims before closing. The low loss ratio is due to the search and exam, and curative process that’s done prior to issuing a policy. This work not only leads to appropriately low claims rates but also better serves home buyers.”

That’s not the tale Hunter weaves. His March 26 letter to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim says growing market concentration only compounds problems of “reverse competition.” He says title insurers pay virtually no attention to consumers who actually pay for the products and the real game is to get real estate professionals to steer business to the title insurers.

What CFA calls “huge kickbacks, expensive gifts, and other inducements from the insurers to real estate professionals” raise the price of title insurance to “absurdly high levels.”  According to the group, a $500,000 title policy that costs $2,700 in New York sells for only $110 in Iowa, which years ago changed the way its title insurance system works.

Industry officials dispute portrayals of a systemic problem, but records show recurring tangles with regulators and government agencies. Fidelity reached a $4.5 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2011, The Post reported. HUD claimed the company “engaged in a widespread and years-long campaign to pay real estate brokers kickbacks.” Fidelity denied wrongdoing in the settlement.

“We call upon your department to undertake careful analysis of this merger,” Hunter’s letter to DOJ says. “We believe it should be stopped.”

U.S. Title Insurance Market

Premiums:

2011: $9.4 billion

2012: $11.2 billion

2013: $12.5 billion

2014: $11.4 billion

2015: $12.8 billion

2016: $13.9 billion

2017: $14.8 billion

Claims

2011: $1.02 billion

2012: $908 million

2013: $828 million

2014: $680 million

2015: $693 million

2016: $587 million

2017: Not available yet

Loss Ratio:

2011: 10.9%

2012: 8.1%

2013: 6.6%

2014: 6.0%

2015: 5.4%

2016: 4.2%

2017: Not available yet

Source: American Land Title Association

 

Ringless voicemail: Florida breaks ground with new law

The phone never rings. But somehow you have a voicemail. It’s a business selling something, even though you’re on the Do Not Call list. Is that legal?

Not in Florida as of July 1. This week Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 568, which expands the Do Not Call list to include direct-to-voicemail sales calls.

That puts the state at the forefront of blocking such messages, said William E. Raney, a Kansas City attorney whose firm, Copilevitz & Canter, advises clients on telemarketing laws.

“As far as I know, it’s unique,” Raney said. “Florida is the first state legislature I know of that has explicitly said that.”

Technology often gets out ahead of regulation in such matters. A petition by telemarketing concerns to ask the Federal Communications Commission to rule such messages are not subject to Do Not Call rules — because they never ring — was withdrawn last year without a ruling under a cloud of adverse publicity.

But it’s already out there. One consumer filed a lawsuit against a Naples, Florida car dealer for using such tactics. The case has since been settled without a court ruling, a Florida Senate staff analysis noted.

Three states not including Florida raised a stink about the FCC petition made by a telemarketing concern called All About The Message, The Palm Beach Post reported last year.

“Granting companies a free pass to push ringless voice messages to consumers’ phones just adds more robocalls and causes significant financial harm to those who are charged for checking their messages,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

It’s a move that can defeat many call-blocking apps, states argued. Some phone plans have limits or charge fees for storing and checking messages. Unbridled, it could leave consumers with virtually no control over technology that can pump out such calls literally by the billions.

Consider: An estimated 2.8 billion robocalls, or automated calls of all kinds, were made to U.S. consumers in the month of December alone. In 2017, the FCC received 155,282 consumer complaints about robocalls, including federal Do Not Call List violations, call spoofing, and solicitations made by an automated recording, the staff of the Florida Senate’s rules committee noted.

Attempts  to seek comment from an industry group, the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, were not immediately successful. But some in the business make the case such messages are less disruptive than regular calls.

“The act of depositing a voice mail on a voice mail service without dialing a consumers’ cellular telephone line does not result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer’s life — dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times or delivery charges to consumers,” All About The Message argued in its FCC petition.

Florida’s law does not mean you will never receive a ringless voicemail if you are on the Do Not Call list, however.  First, some scofflaw telemarketers ignore Do Not Call for all sorts of messages. They are often based in other countries or using fake or “spoofed” numbers, and they know it’s hard to police them in an age of global calling by way of the Internet. At best they are using questionable methods to steer leads to legitimate businesses. At worst they’re outright scams trying to steal money or personal information.

But there’s also this: the law allows certain calls by schools, non-profit and charitable groups, or people taking surveys. Florida law says the Do Not Call restrictions do not apply to “a charitable or political organization that is seeking donations,” according to the Senate staff analysis.

Speaking of politics, the Republican National Committee filed a brief with the FCC arguing ringless voicemails, even by commercial advertisers, should be OK. Why? With no ring, it “does not constitute a call” that is subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the RNC’s brief said. The RNC further expressed concerns an adverse ruling could inhibit free political speech protected by the First Amendment.

While the dust settles on what is legal for political direct-voicemailers, there’s also the practical question of  whether it’s a smart marketing play at this point. Publicity over the FCC petition — which set the stage for Florida’s law — suggests not everyone views ringless voicemails as a delightful surprise to brighten their day.

To get on the Do Not Call list, go here:

https://www.donotcall.gov/

 

 

 

Boca case leads to $10 million in FTC refunds. Are you due a check?

Federal officials said this week they are ready to mail more than 36,000 checks totaling more than $10 million in a case involving a Boca Raton tech support company.

The money comes from a settlement with Inbound Call Experts LLC, doing business as Advanced Tech Support, and other defendants. The Federal Trade Commission called it a scam that used high-pressure sales tactics  to market products and services by falsely claiming to find viruses and malware on consumers’ computers.

Average refund: $277.44.  Deposit or cash the check within 60 days, officials advised. Also: Never pay money or provide account information to receive a refund check.  Questions? Call the FTC’s refund line at (877) 793-0908.

Other defendants in the case, which goes back several years, include PC Vitalware LLC, Super PC Support LLC, Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman and Justin M. Wright. Defendants neither admitted nor denied allegations in agreeing to the settlement, according to a court order.

Inbound Call Experts appears to be still in operation, or at least maintaining a phone line under that company name. A call this week was not immediately returned.

 

Gas prices jump 4 cents on spring break, Palm Beach prices top state

Spring break got gas prices moving. Florida prices climbed four cents in two days and Palm Beach County pumps dispensed the state’s costliest go juice, averaging $2.65 a gallon.

The statewide average of $2.53 on Sunday is 26 cents more than this time last year, according to AAA The Auto Club Group.

“Demand in the southeast — especially in Florida— is strong, as Americans hit the road for spring break,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins on Monday.

Crude oil prices remained steady but gasoline supplies contracted as refineries switched between seasonal blends, he said. After prices fell early last week, they picked up by Thursday and Friday, officials said.

The market including West Palm Beach and Boca Raton led the way, followed by Naples ($2.59), and Miami ($2.58).

To keep things in perspective, Florida’s average on Sunday was a penny lower than the national average  and well under the highest price on record, $4.08 on July 17, 2008.

 

Florida lawmakers kill credit-freeze fee after Equifax breach

The Florida House voted unanimously to eliminate a $10 fee for state residents to put a freeze on their credit reports in the wake of the Equifax data breach, sending the legislation to the governor.

“Today’s unanimous vote comes in the midst of National Consumer Protection Week and I’m proud Floridians will be able to more easily protect themselves from fraud,” state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis  said Wednesday.

Four other states had banned the fee before the session started, and at least two cabinet members associated with consumer agencies pushed for Florida to join that group.

“Protecting consumers’ hard-earned money from criminals is a top priority, and this legislation that removes the fee to freeze credit reports makes it easier for consumers to protect themselves from fraud,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

Last fall Equifax acknowledged a data breach that exposed the personal data of more than 145 million U.S. consumers, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and more.  Equifax emerged as the most complained-about company in the state in 2017,  in gripes to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Bills SB 1302 and HB 953 make it easier to freeze and unfreeze credit without a fee.

In recent years the region including West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami has ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally in identify theft complaints per capita.

Industry officials had expressed concerns about killing the fee.

“We in general oppose the removal of all fees from credit freezes,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents credit reporting agencies. “This is a process that costs the credit reporting agencies money. They have to have call centers and staff to do that.”

Despite moves at the state level, some consumer advocates criticized Congress for a lack of action.

Congress is considering three bills that would let credit bureaus “off the hook,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “For all this talk about action after the Equifax breach, Congress hasn’t done anything in six months but is now moving to make things worse.”

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, is a notice placed in your credit report at your request that prohibits a reporting agency from releasing information in it. Agencies cannot release a credit report, credit score or other information to most third parties without the express authorization of the consumer.

This does not eliminate all fraud but makes it harder for a crook to open new credit in your name. Drawback: You may have to unfreeze your credit to buy things.

How can I tell if my data was exposed by the Equifax hack?

Enter your information in the “Am I impacted?” section here:

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

How can I place a freeze on my credit?

You must request the freeze with major credit reporting agencies such as:

Equifax 1-866-493-9788

Experian 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

Innovis 1-800-540-2505

Is there a fee?

Bills heading to the governor would end the fee as of July 1. Florida law allows a credit reporting agency to assess up to a $10 fee to place, temporarily lift or permanently remove a security freeze.

The fee can be waived if you are age 65 or older or have been a victim of identity theft and have documentation stating such from a law enforcement agency.

Payday lenders spend $8 million, get bills they want in Florida

More than $8 million in Florida political contributions and lobbying spending from payday lenders since 2007 has set the stage for bills the industry wants to pass as the legislative session enters its final week, a report from groups opposed to the legislation says.

Legislation to double loan amounts to $1,000 and create new lending products passed the Senate Saturday (SB 920) and stands close to the finish line in the House (HB 857).

“Payday lenders trap Floridians in a cycle of debt while draining billions from our state’s residents,” said Bill Newton, deputy director of Florida Consumer Action Network. “Instead of supporting tools and products that would promote financial capability, these lawmakers appear to be doing the bidding of an industry filling their campaign coffers while hurting our communities.”

Opponents characterize the loans as predatory, often charging the equivalent of more than 200 percent annual interest.

Top payday lender donors in Florida, according to a report by the Florida Consumer Action Network and Every Voice Center.

Attempts to reach industry officials for comment were not immediately successful, but an executive told The Palm Beach Post last month that new rules are needed to update for inflation a $500 limit that has been in place for nearly two decades. And there’s another motivation: To give the industry more flexibility to operate in Florida under federal regulations that have been put on hold in the Trump administration, but have not been formally resolved.

“One million people in Florida use this product every year,”  Ian A. MacKechnie, executive vice chairman of Amscot Financial Inc., said then. “The safe thing is assuming the (federal) regulation is going to be effective.”

MacKechnie and others say the industry provides an important source of credit in communities that don’t always have easy access to other kinds of lending.

Top individual recipients of political contributions from payday lenders, according to the report.

Amscot led political giving in the state with nearly $1.7 million since 2007, according to the report by opponents.

“A wealthy industry using campaign cash to buy policies that harm vulnerable communities is the perfect example of a political system out of balance,” said Tam Doan, research director at the Washington, D.C.-based Every Voice Center.

The industry has spent more than $5 million on lobbying in Florida over the years, his group said.

The top recipient of payday-industry political contributions since 2007 in Florida is the Republican Party of Florida, which has received more than $1.1 million, the report said. The state’s Democratic Party received more than $400,000.

Top individual recipients? State senators Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Senate president, with $10,000 or more each, according to the report.

PIP repeal killed in Senate as sponsor says foes ‘lying’ about rates

A Florida Senate panel voted down repeal of the state’s no-fault car insurance system Wednesday as opponents warned of massive rate hikes and the bill’s sponsor, a former chamber president, bluntly accused them of “lying through their teeth.”

Sen. Tom Lee

“These people don’t care about the rate increases that they’re lying through their teeth are going to happen,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. “I think a lot of the information you’re hearing today is not really honest.”

Instead this became a proxy fight about lawsuit reforms that have stalled for years in the legislature, not about repealing Florida’s no-fault system, Lee told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on health and human services.

The Florida House passed 88-15 a  bill that repeals the state’s requirement drivers buy $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection to cover the driver’s own injuries in an accident. HB 19 requires drivers to buy bodily-injury liability coverage, as all but two other states do.

A state-commissioned actuarial study found House-style repeal would save drivers $81 per car or 6.7 percent on average overall bills.

Florida drivers pay among the nation’s top six average premiums and PIP rates rose up to 54 percent among the state’s top 25 insurers in 2017, and on average 35 percent faster than overall premiums, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Though PIP was designed to avoid litigation, PIP lawsuits rose to a record of more than 60,000 in 2017, jumping close to 50 percent in one year, the Post reported. Lee mentioned that statistic Wednesday.

But the 6-1 vote in the Senate panel all but extinguishes repeal hopes for another year.

The Senate version, SB 150, required drivers to buy $5,000 of medical payments coverage, which doctors and hospitals wanted but opponents called recreating PIP under another name and wiping out driver savings. Still, keeping alive the Senate bill offered a chance to negotiate with the House.

Brad Nail, a senior manager for insurance and public policy for ride-sharing company Uber, said states that persist with no-fault systems are consistently “plagued with higher costs.”

“Voting for the bill keeps alive the hope for consumers of a better auto insurance system,” Nail told senators.

Insurance and medical lobbyists found an ally in Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

“We are respectfully and regretfully opposed,” Altmaier said.

Asked by a legislator who said she heard rates would go up 71 percent in Broward County after repeal, Altmaier let that assertion stand. He spoke exclusively about a subset of drivers that represent about 7.6 percent of drivers in the county, according to the Pinnacle Actuarial Resources Inc. report. They buy only the state-requirement minimum including $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection to cover a driver’s own injuries in an accident, meaning they have no coverage to take responsibility for injuries they cause to others.

“It’s a reasonable assessment,” Altmaier said.

He chose not to mention savings the Pinnacle study projected for the vast majority of drivers under the House bill or any savings from eliminating recurring PIP fraud in a system designed to make payments almost automatic. Most Florida drivers have health insurance such as Medicare or employer plans that means they do not need PIP in the first place, yet they are forced to pay for its rate increases each year.

“PIP is worthless,” driver Leo Solar of West Palm Beach, who has Medicare, said. “It’s just like throwing your money away.”

The six-month PIP premium Solar paid last November was $249.30, the Post reported, It has climbed more than 40 percent from the $175.46 he paid in November of 2015.

But to hear insurance lobbyists talk, the real problem was what would happen if PIP were repealed.

Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, representing insurance companies covering about 4 million Florida drivers, asserted even the Pinnacle study projected higher rates.

“Everyone concludes there will be some rate increase for Floridians,” Carlson said.

So the news for Florida drivers was forget about relief from paying some of the nation’s highest rates, as a roomful of industry lobbyists converged to smother repeal hopes.

Lee said he felt like a man who had to managed to “kick the top off an anthill.”

 

Uber says repeal PIP the House way

A ride sharing company like Uber has to think a lot about car insurance and how it works in different states for the company and its drivers. It’s a fundamental business and safety issue.

Uber’s Stephanie Smith

That’s why it’s worth noting a top Florida official with the company on Monday backed repeal of the state’s no-fault insurance system under a bill the state House passed 88-15. The bill is projected to lower consumer rates while ending Florida’s lonely vigil, virtually alone among the states, in failing to require drivers to buy bodily-injury liability insurance to take basic responsibility for harm to others.

“If enacted, this bill (HB 19) would make our public roadways safer and would lower premiums for the average Floridian statewide by more than 8 percent for mandatory coverage,” wrote Stephanie Smith, Uber Florida’s senior public policy manager, in floridapolitics.com.

A bill that a Senate committee may hear Wednesday, SB 150, is forecast to raise rates by recreating a form of the current Personal Injury Protection system that forces drivers to buy medical insurance on their car insurance policy.  Currently, motorists must buy $10,000 of PIP to cover a driver’s own injuries regardless of who is at fault in an accident. The Senate bill would require BI but also $5,000 of “medical payments” coverage.

Smith wrote, “PIP is a vestige of the 1970s insurance reform movement that has failed to accomplish what the academics who dreamed it up believed it would do. The goal of PIP was to eliminate lawsuits over minor injuries and lower overall auto insurance rates.”

Here is what really happened:  PIP lawsuits exploded to a record of more than 60,000 in 2017, The Palm Beach Post reported Monday.

Florida’s top 25 insurers raised PIP rates up to 54 percent in 2017 and on average 35 percent faster than overall rates, according to state records the Post requested.

“The reality is PIP continues to be a cottage industry devoted to extracting money from insurers, even when there is no merit to the claims,” Smith said.

She continued, “After an initial wave of PIP laws in the 1970s, no state has enacted a no-fault system like PIP again, and several states have wisely abandoned PIP due to the cost and the fraud inherent in the system.”

 

Texting and driving: Tougher rules appear dead in Senate

Update Wednesday: A House bill is positioned for formal passage of tougher enforcement of texting while driving Thursday but the measure appears unlikely to become law as a committee chairman won’t let the Senate version come to a vote.

State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach

Senate SB 90 sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, told the News Service of Florida he continues to push for the bill but appropriations chairman Rob Bradley has indicated the proposal likely won’t come up before the legislative session ends next week.

“All I can do is push as hard as I can on getting stuff done,” Perry said.

House co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray, offered a response to Sen. Bradley’s stated privacy concerns with HB 33.

The House bill “strikes the proper balance between privacy rights and safety,” she said.

“In addition, texting while driving is already against the law, but it’s only enforceable as secondary offense,” she continued. “Since it has taken effect, violations have been issued and I have not heard any drivers complain about Law enforcement officers attacking the privacy rights of drivers who have been cited under the current ban.

“We are elected to represent the best interests of the people we represent. It is critical that do all we can to ensure that we do not lose another life on Florida’s roadways to a texting driver.”

Original post: A Florida Senate committee’s last chance to authorize police to pull over drivers for texting on cell phones comes Tuesday and a House representative from Palm Beach County is imploring its chairman to “do the right thing.”

Florida is one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning cops cannot cite it unless they pull someone over for another infraction like speeding. At that point it brings a $30 fine, plus local add-on fees.

Records requested by The Palm Beach Post showed crash reports listing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016, and injuries associated with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has expressed concerns SB 90 gives police too broad a pretext to stop motorists, and opens the door to invasions of privacy in the course of seeking proof on phones. The bill’s last chance to be heard in a scheduled Senate committee meeting comes Tuesday, meaning it’s near death for the 2018 session without prompt action.

The House version, HB 33, is expected to reach the floor of that chamber Wednesday and has the House Speaker’s support.

“I implore Sen. Bradley to do the right thing and bring SB 90 up for a vote in the Appropriations Committee as soon as possible,” said co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach. “I also urge all Floridians to contact their local legislators and urge them to support HB 33 and SB 90.”

The bills would make texting while driving a primary offense.

Bradley, a former prosecutor, said a tougher law brings worrying considerations such as “increasing the likelihood of pretextual stops” and increasing “government-citizen involvement tenfold potentially.”

Bill supporters say Florida has some of the weakest penalties in the nation for texting, sending all the wrong signals.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers,” Slosberg said.  “Primary enforcement of texting and driving laws decreases fatalities—most significantly among teenagers. ”