Governor, House post victories

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Auto insurance reform is coming. There’s more money for education and a 12th state university in Lakeland. There will be tax cuts, Medicaid cuts and job cuts.

Those are some of the major pieces of the $70 billion state budget for 2012-13 that the state Legislature finally passed late Friday night on the 60th and final day of this year’s lawmaking session.

It was a resounding victory for Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida House, who had insisted on revamping the state’s personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, adding an extra billion dollars for K-12 education and trimming corporate taxes.

It was the House that cleared the path for the PIP legislation, which aims to reduce fraud. Its compromise bill sailed through that chamber, and then the Senate debated long and hard into Friday night before passing it with a five-vote margin, 22-17.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who heads the Insurance and Banking Committee, was adamant in his support of the bill.

“We have to eliminate fraud,” Richter said. “We cannot take a weak swing at it.”

Some experts estimate that there is $1 billion a year in fraudulent claims made, which they say drives up insurance rates needlessly.

The bill will require patients to seek care within 14 days of a crash and prescribes what type of care. The legislation also blocks out chiropractors unless patients are referred to one by a physician. Acupuncturists and massage therapists would not be allowed to tap into PIP payments.

“All in all, I’m really pleased with the outcome,” said Gary Aubuchon, a Republican from Cape Coral who is the House’s Chairman of the Rules Committee. “We passed a balanced budget …. not raising taxes and fees, which was the No 1 priority.”

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, echoed Aubuchon.

“From the 10,000-foot view, we balanced the budget again in a tough time,” he said. “We were able to put another billion into K-12 education. Our top priorities were the budget, education and PIP. We passed them all.”

Caldwell said the longest argument of the session in the House was over PIP.