AAA: Gas prices could rise another 50 cents per gallon this year

Palm Beach County’s average gas price leads Florida at $2.93 per gallon, and a rise of another 50 cents this year is a real possibility, says motorist group AAA, citing partners at the Oil Price Information Service.

“OPIS believes oil prices could reach as high as $90 per barrel before the end of the year,” AAA said in a statement early Monday. “While that high is not guaranteed, gas prices would be 50 cents higher, if it happened.”

Florida gas prices remain at their highest levels in three years, and a full tank costs an average of $42, an increase of $8 from this time last year, AAA said. The per-gallon price is still below a high of $4.08 in 2008, but prices above $3 are already appearing at some local stations and could become the norm as the year progresses.

Heading into the unofficial start of the summer driving season Memorial Day weekend, the average family is expected to pay a total of $200 more for gasoline this summer than last year, and $250 more than in the summer of 2016, the group said. At the same time, U.S. producers are increasing their output, and that’s taking the edge off for now. State and local average gas prices stayed within a penny of where they were a week ago.

Still, gas inventories are dropping as international tensions increase, fueled in part by President Donald Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which is expected to result in sanctions that effectively limit the supply of Iranian oil on world markets.

In West Palm Beach, prices on Sunday ranged from $2.70 per gallon at five stations to $3.24 at Texaco on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, according to price-tracker GasBuddy.

In Jupiter, the cheapest gas was $2.75 at Mobil on Indiantown Road and Alt. A1A and Circle K on W. Indiantown Road and Orange Road. Four stations tied for the highest at $3.09.

In Wellington, the lowest price was $2.79 at Shell on US 441 near Southern Boulevard and the highest was $3.09 at Shell on Southshore Boulevard, according to GasBuddy.

 

 

 

 

JUST IN: Florida drivers face nation’s top risk with unfixed airbags

Florida drivers who own 1.3 million vehicles with a recalled Takata airbag that was never fixed are taking the biggest risks in the nation, new statistics suggest.

Florida leads all U.S. states and territories with three deaths and 83 injuries related to the airbags, and injuries in the state have jumped almost 400 percent since the end of 2014.

Yet only 45 percent of recalled airbags in Florida have been replaced, according to information provided Friday by the state’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. He is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate commerce committee, which oversees automakers.

On Wednesday, the Senate commerce committee is scheduled to examine the nomination of Heidi R. King to be administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees recalls among other duties.

As a deputy administrator with the agency, King warned earlier this month of low compliance rates with a “do not drive” warning affecting 2006 Ford Rangers and Mazda B-Series trucks.

“I cannot stress strongly enough the urgency of this recall – these airbags are dangerous,” King said. “Every vehicle must be accounted for now.”

Limited supplies of replacement parts have delayed some fixes, while in other cases drivers who bought used cars, for example, might never have been notified. In many instances, a letter or postcard can easily get lost in a pile of junk mail.

“These numbers show that we still have a huge problem with getting these dangerous airbags replaced and off our highways,” Nelson said. “Consumers should heed the recall warnings and get their vehicle repaired as soon as possible. Failure to do so could result in death or life altering injuries.”

Florida’s high humidity seems to create conditions that make the airbags more likely to malfunction over time and spew dangerous metal fragments when deployed, researchers say. Drivers of seven Honda and Acura models made between 2001 and 2003 face a particularly high risk.

Unsure if your car is affected? Call your manufacturer or dealer or check here:

http://www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/takatalist.html

Or enter a car’s vehicle identification number in this look-up tool:

https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/

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.

Texting while driving: Tougher enforcement advances in Florida House

On the opening day of Florida’s legislative session Tuesday, a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense unanimously cleared a state House committee where it died last year.

Texting behind the wheel has become a huge cultural problem where it can seem like “everybody does it,” but “as the state of Florida we must start sending the right message,” said HB 33 prime co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

After years of gridlock, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee passed 14-0 a measure that this session has the announced support of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Florida is one of four states that do not make texting while driving a primary offense.

That means police can not cite it unless they pulled a driver over for another offense such as speeding.

Similar legislation in the Senate has won early committee approval as well. It still has a long way to go in both chambers, but the effort is off to a much stronger start this session as more families lose loved ones on the road to distracted drivers, and troubling statistics have made the issue harder to dismiss.

Florida crash reports citing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016, and injuries associated specifically with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post reported in June about in-depth data it requested.

“The fact that Florida is one of many states experiencing double-digit spikes in distracted driving-related crashes and is only one of four states that hasn’t already made texting while driving a primary enforcement law is mind-boggling,” said Logan McFaddin, the Florida-based regional manager for an insurer association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.  Making it a primary offense, she argued, will “save lives.”

Under current law, an officer cannot pull over a driver solely for texting even if he or she witnesses the act, Slosberg said. Now police can take much more direct action, she said.

“Law enforcement can stop it when he sees it, immediately,” said Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. “That’s what we’re doing here.”

No one among more than two dozen speakers at Tuesday’s hearing, including several people who lost family members, spoke in direct opposition to the bill. But even in support, several legislators voiced concerns, either that it does not go far enough or that it raises unintended problems.

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, expressed qualms it could give police one more reason to pull over minorities. Too often “that doesn’t end well,” Newton said.

Slosberg said data on enforcing laws requiring seat belt use, for example, suggested citations were not disproportionately handed out based on race.

Even supporters acknowledge texting behind the wheel is often difficult to prove and it’s only one of several ways drivers can be distracted. Few drivers voluntarily admit texting. But sponsors argue it’s critical to send a much stronger message than the current law allows.

The bill strengthens the current ban on texting, emailing, and instant messaging while driving, by changing the current enforcement of the ban from secondary to primary.

The bill protects civil liberties by requiring a warrant to access a driver’s phone, sponsors say. It also requires a law enforcement officer who stops a motor vehicle for a violation of the ban to inform the driver of his or her right to decline a search of the phone.

At the same time, a phone search might not be required for a citation if the officer witnesses the offense, according to a law enforcement official speaking at the hearing.

Many features of current law would remain in place, including that the ban does not apply to stationary vehicles, first responders or people reporting emergencies, or the use of navigation systems, according to a House staff analysis.

A first violation remains a nonmoving violation that carries a $30 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $108.

A second or subsequent violation committed within five years is a moving violation that carries a $60 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $158, with three points added to the driver license record of the motor vehicle operator.

Any violation of the ban that causes a crash results in the addition of six points to the offender’s driver license record.

 

 

Tax cuts: Why 600,000 in Florida risk paying more, not less, AARP says

More than 600,000 Floridians who deduct medical expenses on their taxes risk taking a nasty shot in the wallet, senior advocates say  — depending on what happens in a House-Senate conference committee that meets Wednesday to nail down a final bill on tax cuts.

Stephen Burns

It is one piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle advertised as more than $1 trillion in tax relief for companies and people, but folks like Stephen Burns figure it could actually raise their taxes by thousands of dollars a year.

Burns, 72, a retired psychiatrist who lives in Naples, said in an AARP conference call he estimates he would have owed about $1,400 more in taxes on a retirement income of about $37,000 in 2016 without being able to deduct medical costs. They added up to more than $12,000 for medicines and other expenses for himself and his wife, he said.

“It means a great deal,” he said.

Some lawmakers think a deal can be reached by week’s end, with a final version approved by both chambers as early as next week. Crunch time has arrived for details like this one.

The House version eliminates several itemized deductions including medical expenses while increasing the standard deduction. Sponsors emphasized the big picture, defending the package on the House Ways and Means website by saying it means “a typical family of four earning $59,000 (the median household income) will receive a $1,182 tax cut.”

“Our bill lowers the tax rates and increases the standard deduction so people can immediately keep more of their paychecks – instead of having to rely on a myriad of provisions that many will never use and others may use only once in their lifetime,” a Q&A from House sponsors says. “This tax relief will give families the flexibility to use their paychecks for what matters most to them every year.”

But AARP says the House plan disproportionately hurts seniors, especially those who pay for things like costly medication or long-term care. About 70 percent of  the seniors who take the deduction make $75,000 or less per year, advocates say.

“If Congress imposes a health tax, millions of seniors would struggle to afford their medicine, and be forced to dip into their hard-earned retirement savings,” said AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson. “Older Floridians depend on the health tax deduction so they can afford to pay for their prescription drugs, doctors, hospitals, hearing aids and more.”

In 2014, more than 634,000 Floridians claimed the medical expense deduction, the group says.   Savings on tax bills averaged $1,500 to $2,500 a year among those in modest income brackets, officials said.

The Palm Beach Post requested a calculation of the likely “net effect” of the House bill on such seniors, factoring in elements like a higher standard deduction, and AARP officials said they were still working on that.

As of 2017, taxpayers who itemize can deduct qualified medical expenses exceeding 10 percent of their income.

The Senate bill preserves the medical deduction, even temporarily lowering the threshold to expenses exceeding 7.5 percent of income.

Any attempt to rewrite the tax code is likely to produce winners and losers, but the ouster of medical deductions hasn’t won unanimous support from taxpayer advocates.

“We definitely prefer the Senate version” on that issue, said Robert Romano, vice president of public policy for Fairfax, Va.-based Americans for Limited Government. The final bill “must include the medical deductions,” he said.

 

 

Florida drivers still pay twice for health insurance in Senate plan

Florida drivers  could save up to $81 per car by ending the state’s no-fault car insurance system, research shows, but a state Senate bill discussed Tuesday neutralizes most of the savings as a 2018 showdown shapes up.

SB 150 would “protect hospitals frankly,” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, told his chamber’s banking and insurance committee.

State Sen. Tom Lee talks about his PIP repeal bill Tuesday.

That’s by requiring drivers to buy $5,000 in medical payments coverage to cover injuries in accidents, no matter how much health insurance drivers already have from Medicare, employer plans or other policies. Lobbyists for hospitals and doctors have argued that is necessary to make sure drivers have at least some coverage in an accident, though legislative proposals they favor would make everyone buy it, not just those who cannot demonstrate they already have health insurance.

A House bill that repeals the no-fault system without requiring medical payments coverage is headed for the chamber floor when the session opens in January.

The Senate panel adjourned Tuesday in mid-discussion, but officials said a vote was likely at its next meeting in a few weeks.

Since the 1970s, Florida has made drivers to buy $10,000 worth of Personal Injury Protection coverage for injuries in minor accidents regardless of who is at fault. Sponsors of both Senate and House plans agree it’s a fraud-plagued and flawed system and Florida should join nearly every other state in requiring bodily-injury liability insurance, which most of  the state’s drivers already carry anyway. But the bills differ importantly on how to get there.

Florida drivers pay among the five highest car insurance premiums in the nation, for some of the lowest required coverage amounts, a state Senate panel heard last session. Florida lets unsafe drivers avoid responsibility for what they do while safe drivers are forced to pay the bill through rising PIP rates, repeal supporters say.

Paying twice for health insurance is “like double taxation,” as one Delray Beach driver has put it.

Young drivers cause more crashes around Thanksgiving on Florida turnpike highways

Young drivers are more likely to be involved in traffic crashes on Thanksgiving weekend on highways in Florida’s Turnpike system, according to data from Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.

As a result of a startling report from the federal government last year that showed fatal crashes saw their highest spike in nearly five decades, turnpike engineers conducted their own analysis of traffic data to find trends and possible causes on turnpike system highways, which include the main turnpike, the Sawgrass Expressway and hundreds of miles of other tolled roadways throughout Florida.

>>RELATED: Thanksgiving travel – Local airports brace for busy week

 

Florida's Turnpike Enterprise is targeting younger drivers with this holiday message encouraging motorists to slow down and pay attention. (Florida's Turnpike Enterprise Twitter, @fl511_turnpike)
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is targeting younger drivers with this holiday message encouraging motorists to slow down and pay attention. (Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise Twitter, @fl511_turnpike)

During the Thanksgiving weekend — Wednesday through Sunday — in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the percentage of crashes on the turnpike system caused by drivers ages 16 to 24 jumped from 24 percent during non-holiday months to 37 percent during the holiday weekend. In addition, more than half of turnpike system crashes on the Thanksgiving weekend were caused by careless or negligent drivers.

» RELATED: Older teens at higher risk when it comes to fatal crashes, new report says

In comparison, the next age group is drivers ages 36 to 45, who cause about 22 percent of wrecks on Thanksgiving weekends, turnpike engineers found.

To stem the tide of young drivers involved in crashes around Thanksgiving, the Turnpike Enterprise is doing more community outreach targeted at young drivers who might need a reminder to put down their phones and pay attention to the road.

The electronic turnpike message signs will feature reminders with a “non-traditional approach,” said turnpike spokesman Chad Huff.

For Thanksgiving, drivers will see, “Don’t be a turkey. Slow down, save a life.” Coming up for Christmas: “Nobody likes a holiday crasher. Put down the phone.”

Turnpike officials also will target young drivers via social media, including posts on Twitter and Facebook.

“We’re trying to communicate with drivers, reaching that demographic,” Huff said.

>>RELATED: The best and worst times to drive and fly this Thanksgiving

>>RELATED: Thanksgiving 2017: Best ways to show gratitude 

 

 

PIP repeal: House panel votes to overturn no-fault plan in Florida

A drive to repeal the state’s no-fault car insurance system after nearly half a century cleared an early hurdle in a renewed run Tuesday.  Its next stop: The House floor when the 2018 session starts in January.

Rep. Grall advocates for PIP repeal in the House commerce committee Tuesday.

HB 19 sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall,  R-Vero Beach, repeals the state’s Personal Injury Protection law in place since 1971 and replaces it with required bodily-injury liability coverage, which nearly all states require and most Florida drivers already have.

The 18-7 vote offers hope to drivers who are fed up with the current system. They stand to save up to $81 per car or nearly $1 billion annually according to actuarial studies — by no longer having to pay for a form of car insurance long plagued by fraud and high costs.

“Why should they have to buy more health insurance but only for their car?” Dale Swope, president of the Florida Justice Association, said before the committee. “It makes no sense to our older drivers and veterans.”

For that matter, the same question applies to the vast majority of Florida drivers who have health insurance from employer plans or other sources.

Groups representing doctors, emergency providers and others in the medical industry voiced opposition. Whatever its problems, PIP provides  coverage providers can count on for medical expenses after accidents, said Fraser Cobbe, representing the Florida Orthopedic Society.

“We are very concerned about components of the bill,” Cobbe said, indicating he will continue to talk with sponsors about including mandatory coverage for medical payments.

But supporters of medical-payments coverage typically want everyone to be forced to buy it, not just those lacking health coverage.

Representatives of insurers including Allstate and Progressive chose not to speak but indicated opposition to the bill. Some industry groups said they want lawmakers to reform Florida’s “bad faith” laws they say drive up costs in lawsuits.

The Personal Injury Protection system is designed to provide $10,000 to cover injuries in minor  accidents regardless of who is at fault. Reform attempts in 2012 reduced  “non-emergency” benefits to $2,500 and barred acupuncture and massage, but that was followed by a spike in the percentage of claims that purported to be for emergency care.

A string of reforms have failed to prevent rising premiums for coverage that duplicates health insurance most drivers already have from Medicare or other health plans, bill supporters said.

The bill is nearly identical to legislation that passed the state House last year, 81-29.

A Senate version requiring $5,000 “medical payments” coverage, to help make sure emergency medical providers receive at least some reimbursement, did not reach a vote in the full chamber last spring. Supporters of the House bill say required “medical payments” coverage just renames PIP and wipes out most driver savings on car insurance.

Florida drivers pay among the five highest car insurance premiums in the nation, for some of the lowest required coverage amounts, a state Senate panel heard last session. Florida lets unsafe drivers avoid responsibility while safe drivers are forced to pay the bill, repeal supporters say.

Florida is one of two states that do not require bodily-injury liability coverage, Grall has pointed out.

Two dozen states have dropped no-fault systems in recent decades, leaving Florida among a dwindling number that retain them. Colorado drivers saved 35 percent on their overall car insurance premiums after dropping a no-fault system there.

Drivers like Dick Natalizio of Palm Beach have called Florida’s system a “joke” as PIP premiums have shot up an average of 25 percent since the start of 2015. Even drivers who never get in an accident are forced by state government to buy it.

“I have Medicare,” he said. “They force me to buy PIP. It’s so ridiculous.”

Flood claims: Fla. CFO asks FEMA to rethink timing of vendor switch

A day after one of Florida’s U.S. senators expressed concerns about 90 percent of Hurricane Irma’s early flood claims being denied, another state official asked the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reconsider the timing of a switch in third-party vendors to manage certain policies before hurricane season is over.

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said in a letter to FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long he is worried the upcoming vendor transition could delay the processing of federal flood claims in the state.

Patronis asked for a transition plan that ensures no pending claims face delays, encouraged making the plans public and requested consideration of a delay in the transition until the end of hurricane season in Nov. 30.

Patronis said he is “concerned that an upcoming vendor transition within a critical federal program may present a roadblock to Florida’s current progress,” impacting 600,000 policyholders including many in Florida.