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Florida Politics

Paul Renner

Christine Jordan Sexton - February 19, 2024

Government shouldn’t have a right to hurt your kid in a negligent action and there’s no recovery whereas a private sector company can hurt your kid and pay reasonable compensation.”

A closely-watched legislative battle over sovereign immunity caps may not be over.

The proposal’s fate appeared to be settled after the legislation stalled in a House committee last week amid a push to merge it with another contentious bill regarding the third-party financing of civil lawsuits.

However, House Speaker Paul Renner has opened the door ever so slightly by saying he saw merits in the bill.

Renner said he supports increasing the amount of damages that can be collected from state and local governments that are sued. Rep. Fiona McFarland’s bill (HB 569) would double the current amount of $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident to $400,000 per person and $600,000 per incident.

“I support something on sovereign immunity,” Renner said late last week. “I think that the government shouldn’t have a right to hurt your kid in a negligent action, and there’s no recovery, whereas a private sector company can hurt your kid and pay reasonable compensation.”

But Renner stopped short of predicting that the legislation would ultimately pass. He said the fate of the sovereign immunity caps, as well as other litigation-related bills, is based on whether there are enough legislators behind them — a suggestion that House Republican leadership isn’t going to push members to back the bills.

“The members are going to decide where those go,” Renner said. “The question is, then, do the members want to hear a sovereign immunity bill by itself and move that to passage? So I’ll be interested in how that turns out.”

The sovereign immunity caps bill — closely watched by public hospitals — has cleared two House committees, while the Senate version (SB 472) has made it through one committee in that chamber. 2

The bill stalled in the House Judiciary Committee after Rep. Tommy Gregory — the chair of that panel — had suggested combining the caps bill with his legislation requiring the disclosure of third-party groups that help finance lawsuits. That bill (HB 1179) is a top priority of groups such as the Florida Justice Reform Institute. But it is vehemently opposed by those aligned with Florida’s trial lawyers. The measure has been unable to make it out of its second stop — the House Justice Appropriations subcommittee — and has been temporarily postponed twice.

Gregory did not take action on the proposed merged bill after it became apparent that there were not enough votes to get it out of the House Judiciary Committee. One source told Florida Politics that only four legislators on the 23-member panel were willing to vote in favor of the merged bills.