Florida Capitol

Supporters say the proposal could prevent shady insurance claims. Opponents say it would hurt small businesses.

But after a lengthy debate Wednesday, a House panel approved a bill (HB 323) that would prevent auto-glass shops from offering cash, gift cards and other incentives to motorists to attract windshield-repair work.

House Insurance & Banking Chairwoman Cyndi Stevenson, R-Saint Johns, pointed to concerns about “bad behavior” that can result from such incentives. That includes unnecessary insurance claims that could lead to higher premiums for motorists.

“I have been offered money to fix my windshield in a parking lot and be paid for my trouble, and my windshield is just fine,” said Stevenson, whose panel voted 11-2 to approve the measure.

But some lawmakers and opponents of the bill argued it would hurt small windshield-repair businesses that compete with large corporations that have arrangements with insurance companies. Todd Palmer, a co-owner of Mr. Auto Glass in the Tampa Bay area, said offering incentives is a way for small repair businesses to compete.

“To me, this bill looks like it is going to cause a monopoly in the market because the insurance companies will pick and choose winners and losers,” said Rep. Ardian Zika, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who voted against the measure. “As a believer in the free market and consumer choice … I don’t see a sufficient amount of consumer protection here where the consumer can choose.”

The Insurance and Banking Subcommittee took up the issue amid a broader battle in the Capitol about the insurance practice known as assignment of benefits. That practice involves policyholders signing over claims to contractors who then pursue payments from insurance companies.

Insurance companies are seeking changes in assignment of benefits because they say the current system is riddled with fraud and litigation, while contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys contend assignment of benefits help make sure claims are paid properly. The so-called AOB issue initially focused on residential water-damage claims, but it also includes windshield-damage claims.

Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat who is sponsoring the windshield-repair bill, said Florida motorists who have comprehensive auto-insurance policies can get windshields replaced without paying deductibles. He said incentives are not allowed to entice policyholders to file other types of insurance claims.

“The goal of the bill is not to put people out of business,” said Stark, an insurance broker. “The goal of the bill is to prevent people from offering cash to file a claim. I mean, we don’t see it in any other part of the insurance field.”

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998. Jim came to the News Service in 2011 after stints as Tallahassee bureau chief for The Florida Times-Union, The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Health News Florida. He moved to Florida in 1990 and worked eight years for the Times-Union in Jacksonville and St. Johns County. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he graduated from Northwestern University and worked at The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, before moving to the Times-Union. Jim enjoys covering legal and regulatory issues and has extensive experience in covering health care.