PIP Insurance Repeal Proposal Re-Emerge

January 31, 2017

Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system could be nearing the end of its road.

Legislation has again been filed to eliminate personal-injury protection coverage and require motorists to carry bodily injury liability coverage.

And lawmakers were told last week that personal-injury protection reforms — championed by Gov. Rick Scott and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater in 2012 — haven’t held.

Still, Senate Banking and Insurance Chairwoman Anitere Flores said before legislation advances through her committee that could eliminate personal-injury protection coverage — also known as no-fault — she wants to know if anything else can be done to bring down rates instead of scrapping the nearly four-decade-old system.

The Miami Republican added, at the same time, that her biggest concern going forward is that the 2012 reform effort hasn’t met expectations.

“We were promised a certain percentage of savings, and that didn’t happen,” Flores said after her committee met last week.

In the first two years after Scott signed the reform law, personal-injury protection rates from the state’s top 25 insurers dropped an average of 14.4 percent — 10 percentage points lower than desired.

Since 2015, rates have gone up 25.7 percent, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation. Meanwhile, all liability coverage has gone up 23.4 percent the past two years.

“Unfortunately, since Jan. 1, 2015 we’ve seen increasing trends across all coverages, including PIP,” said Sandra Starnes, director of property and casualty product review for the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Starnes said the increases are due to rises in medical care, costs of vehicle body work, people driving more and even an increase in distracted drivers.

Flores’ committee is scheduled to be the first of four stops for a measure (SB 156) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to replace no-fault with bodily injury liability coverage.

Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, has filed the House version (HB 461) for the 2017 legislative session, which starts March 7.

Similar efforts have failed to advance the past couple of years as proponents have argued a need to let the reform effort take hold. But since the end of 2015, Atwater has been among those saying repeal of no-fault may be needed if consumers aren’t getting the intended relief.

Under the no-fault system, motorists are required to carry personal-injury protection coverage that includes $10,000 in medical benefits, a total set in 1979.

Dale Swope, a representative of the Florida Justice Association who is opposed to keeping no-fault, said that the benefits haven’t kept up with inflation.

The 2012 reform law, which set benchmarks for insurers to lower rates, was considered a last-ditch effort to maintain the system after rates increased due to a growth in fraudulent claims. The law also required people involved in crashes to seek treatment within 14 days and allowed up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions, while putting a $2,500 cap on non-emergency conditions.

Ditching no-fault for bodily injury, which provides coverage if motorists cause accidents that hurt someone else, would put more questions of medical coverage into the courts, as injured parties would seek to recoup expenses from at-fault drivers, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

However, not everyone is ready to eliminate no-fault.

Jeff Scott, general counsel of the Florida Medical Association, said the reform effort has weeded out fraud and ensures emergency room physicians get paid when treating automobile crash victims.

He also said lawmakers should delay any effort to eliminate no-fault until the federal government determines the future of the Affordable Care Act under the new Trump administration.

“President Trump and Congress have made it clear they intend to dismantle the ACA, but they haven’t made it clear as to what they intend to replace it with,” Scott said. “We simply do not know whether Trumpcare will increase the number of uninsured Floridians or result in a higher number of high-deductible insurance policies being sold, deductibles that poor Floridians, when faced with a large emergency room bill, are simply unable to afford.”

Michael Carlson, president Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, cautioned the repeal could result in higher premiums for all drivers depending on the mandatory premium pricing for bodily-injury coverage.

“We do believe that any consideration of the repeal of the ‘no-fault’ law should be grounded in the reality that new mandatory insurance coverages will have a price effect on Floridians,” said Carlson, whose association includes Allstate, Progressive and State Farm insurance companies.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Joanna Arrington Barrow

January 31, 2017

Mrs. Joanna Arrington Barrow, 46, passed away on Monday, January 30, 2017, in Century, Florida.

Mrs. Barrow was a native of Montgomery, AL and had resided in Century, FL since 1982. She was a member of the Faith Bible Baptist Church. She is preceded in death by her parents, Hubert and Dorothy Arrington; one brother, Jesse Arrington; and one sister, Belinda Miano.

She is survived by her husband of 27 years, Pastor Robert Barrow of Century, FL; three sons, Ryne (Bethany) Barrow of Bratt, FL, Zachary (Lauren) Barrow of Century, FL and Kevin (Courtney) Barrow of Century, FL; two brothers, David (Deborah) Arrington of Flomaton, AL and Daniel Arrington of Flomaton, AL; and one sister, Bonnie (Steve) Jackson of Wrightstown, N.J.

Funeral services will be Thursday, February 2, 2017, at 10 a.m. at the Faith Bible Baptist Church with Pastor Robert Barrow officiating.

Burial will follow at Ray’s Chapel Cemetery.

Visitation will be Wednesday, February 1, 2017, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the Faith Bible Baptist Church.

Pallbearers will be Bill Hughen, David Hughen, Jeff Kelly, Tony Nolen, Jeremy Bondurant and Buck Lowery.

Petty-Eastside Chapel Funeral Homes is in charge of all arrangements.

Rachel Davis

January 31, 2017

Rachel Davis, 92 of Atmore, AL, passed away Monday, January 30, 2017, in Atmore. She was a bank teller. She was born on March 28, 1924, to the late Leon and Sudie McKenzie Davis.

She is preceded in death by five sisters, Mable Davis, Grace Lowrey, Ruby Ceil Cooper, Hazel Davis and Euleon Gates.

She is survived by her nephew, Buddy (Cathy) Lowrey and friends.

Graveside services will be Friday, February 3, 2017, at 10:30 a.m. in Oak Hill Cemetery with Bro. Robert Heard officiating.

Interment will follow in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home is in charge of all arrangements.

Nancy Allen Hollis Bartley

January 31, 2017

Nancy Allene Hollis Bartley of Walnut Hill, FL, passed away Monday, January 30, 2017, in Atmore, Alabama at the age of 88. She was born on October 4, 1928, in Gadsden, AL to E. Lamar Hollis and Grace Hooper Hollis who preceded her in death. They moved to the Walnut Hill area at an early age. She graduated from Ernest Ward High School in 1947. After graduating from high school she worked at Southland Telephone and later worked at Chemstrand. She and Ernest worked with Manna Food Bank through Council on Aging. Ernest preceded her in death in 2001. She was a member of Pine Barren Baptist Church were she was very active. She was a member of the Century Order of Eastern Star.

She is survived by two step-children, Robert and wife Nina Bartley of Walnut Hill, FL and Faye and husband, Bonnie Franklin of Fort Payne, AL; one step-grandson, Scott and wife, Brenda Bartley of Pensacola; one aunt, Diane Goodwin of Pell City, AL. Nancy had requested that her body be donated to science. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Petty-Eastside Chapel Funeral Homes is in charge of all arrangements.

Elmer Lauris Skipper

January 31, 2017

Elmer Lauris Skipper, age 71, of Cantonment, passed away with his family at his side Wednesday, January 25, 2017. He was born in Excel, AL on August 08, 1945, to the late Elmer Crawford and Sarah Elberta Skipper. Elmer graduated from Excel High School in 1963, after which he served two years in the U.S. Army. He was the youngest of four children. Friends and family knew him as “Snake Eye.” Elmer relocated to Pensacola in 1975, where in 1980, he married the love of his life, Charlotte. He retired after 34 years of service to Solutia in 2001.

Elmer was preceded in death by his parents; sister, Edna Earle Browning; and brothers, Marion Lee Skipper and Harold Thomas Skipper.

He is survived by his devoted wife Charlotte; children, Michael Tracy Long of Crestview, Jeffrey Lauris Long of Crestview, Staphanie Ann Jarman, and Greg Scott Skipper; grandchildren, Jason Kristian Jarman, Ian Scott Jarman and Kalleigh Ann Jarman; and many nieces, nephews and dear friends.

Special thanks to the physicians and nurses of Covenant Hospice for their comfort and care.

Visitation will be Wednesday, February 1, 2017, from 10:30 a.m. until the service begins at 11:30am at Faith Chapel Funeral Home North. Bro. Glenn Vaughn of Victory Assembly of God Church in Molino will officiate.

Interment with military honors will follow at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, FL.

Faith Chapel Funeral Home North is in charge of arrangements.

My Heart Sank: Mill Manager Speaks Out About Explosion, Future Of IP

January 30, 2017

“My heart just sank.”

That’s how Brett DeJong, mill manager at International Paper in Cantonment, described the phone call he received at home about 7:40 p.m. on Sunday, January 22.

There had been an explosion, a big explosion, at the mill.

“My first thought was the safety and well being of everyone,” he said. “It was very hard to believe.”

He immediately began the 45-minute drive from his home to Cantonment. It wasn’t until just before he arrived that he received word that all mill employees were accounted for, and there were no fatalities. And even better, there were not even any employee injuries.

DeJong wasn’t really prepared for what he saw — or for that matter, what he didn’t see as he arrived at the mill.  Cantonment’s giant was dark. Very dark. Paper mills just don’t go dark and silent, but DeJong’s mill was essentially lifeless before him, except for the emergency lights from fire trucks and ambulances.

The work began immediately to determine what had gone wrong to cause the explosion, determine the impacts of a black liquor and wood pulp mixture blown across the area, and to determine the impact on the future of the mill.

For now, there’s no official word on the cause of the explosion and the health and environmental impacts of the black liquor product have been reported as minimal.

The next major concern for Dejong and Escambia County is the future of the mill.

In late 2014, IP announced plans to reinvest more than $90 million over the next five years in their mill in Cantonment in order to increase energy efficiencies, support and enhance the work environment and strengthen its competitive position.

The mill employs more than 400 people and has been a foundation in the Escambia County area since 1941. It produces lightweight containerboard and specialty fluff pulp. From Pensacola, the mill’s containerboard products are sent to container facilities to create corrugated brown boxes. The fluff pulp is distributed to customers for diapers and other hygiene products.

The products from both lines are “sold out”, according to Dejong, so production is critical.

International Paper is vital to the local economy,with the company’s local annual average wages representing more than 200 percent of the Escambia County average wage of $37,360. According to an analysis by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the manufacturing industry sector directly contributed more than 14,500 jobs in the Northwest Florida region, with an additional gain of more than 9,700 jobs for local businesses.

IP employees were back at work less than a week after the explosion…most assigned to different tasks involving the remediation and cleanup following the explosion that caused significant structural damage to the largest pulp digester as well as the power house at the mill.

Production remains shut down.

Dejong said he’s hopeful that one of the mill’s lines can be restarted on some limited basis without and before the restoration of the digester. But that, he said, is an uncertainty.

“We are committed to reestablishing operations at this mill,” he said.

NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Sunny, Dry Week Ahead

January 30, 2017

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 63. Light and variable wind becoming northwest 5 to 10 mph in the morning.

Monday Night: Clear, with a low around 42. South wind around 5 mph.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 71. Southwest wind 5 to 10 mph.

Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 48. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 70. Light southwest wind increasing to 5 to 10 mph in the morning.

Wednesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 48. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 72. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 49. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 68.

Friday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 47.

Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 65.

Saturday Night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 50.

Sunday: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 66.

Scott Pitches Pay Raises For Corrections, Probation Workers

January 30, 2017

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is proposing to spend $45 million to boost salaries of corrections and probation workers, with the aim of cutting down on overtime expenses and increasing safety in the state’s troubled prison system.

The bulk of Scott’s proposal — $38 million — would increase base salaries for correctional workers. The governor’s plan does not include across-the-board pay hikes but would offer an 8.5 percent increase for entry-level prison guards by raising starting pay from $30,926 to $33,500 a year, according to Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis.

Scott’s plan also would hike the base pay for correctional sergeants, lieutenants and captains by 10 percent, Lewis said, and would result in salary increases for a majority of the state’s 24,000 corrections and probations workers.

The governor’s proposal, which will be part of a full budget plan released this week, also includes $5 million to allow prisons with sustained vacancy rates of more than 10 percent to offer one-time, $1,000 hiring bonuses to corrections officers, Lewis said.

Also, Scott’s plan includes $2.5 million to hike pay for correctional officers with special certifications who work in mental-health units.

“The governor believes in making investments in the Department of Corrections that allow that agency to better recruit officers and ensure that they have an experienced workforce,” Lewis said. “These investments will allow them to address vacancies and hiring challenges they have had and also work to improve officer safety at the institutions and decrease the cost of overtime.”

Since taking over as head of the Department of Corrections two years ago, Secretary Julie Jones has pushed lawmakers to boost funding for additional staff. Jones has blamed a rash of prison riots and spikes of violence in large part on staff turnover and manpower shortages.

The “unacceptably high vacancy rates … are negatively impacting the Department’s ability to fulfill its mission,” the agency wrote in a legislative budget request submitted in October.

The corrections agency’s turnover rate increased by 100 percent last year while overtime costs skyrocketed by more than 200 percent, according to the request.

“This high turnover rate has a dramatic effect on the department’s ability to manage an already difficult population,” agency officials wrote, blaming the low salary levels for the turnover and recruitment problems.

Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, called Scott’s proposal a good starting point as lawmakers prepare to craft a state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“I think that’s a really good starting offer. Of course we want to see across-the-board (raises). It’s been a while, and everybody there needs a raise. But it’s really encouraging that the governor is putting forth a plan like this. He’s getting in the direction of fixing the salaries,” Puckett told The News Service of Florida.

Scott is expected to release his full budget proposal for the 2017-2018 fiscal year Tuesday at an Associated Press annual pre-legislative session gathering of reporters and editors.

Puckett said his union will soon make known its budget wish-list, which will include across-the-board raises and will address “longevity issues.”

Corrections workers have had one raise in the past nine years, and Scott’s proposal would double the last pay hike for many prison staff.

“There’s a lot of catching up to do. But when you’re going to negotiate and everybody’s talking about pay raises and money, that’s a good sign,” Puckett said.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Today Is Voter Registration Deadline For Century Special Election

January 30, 2017

Mondaywas the deadline for new voters in Century to register to vote in an upcoming special council election.

Registration book closing for the February 28 electionwas January 30.  New voter registration applications need to be postmarked or submitted to a voter registration agency by close of business on January 30.

A special election will be held on February 28 between Luis Gomez, Jr. and Kevin Stead for Century Town Council Seat 2. The seat was left open last year by the sudden death of Annie Savage.

Voters who to request a vote-by-mail ballot should visit EscambiaVotes.com and click “Vote by Mail”, or contact the Supervisor of Elections Office at (850) 595-3900.  The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the election is 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22. To track your vote-by-mail ballot, visit EscambiaVotes.com and click “Track My Ballot.”

FDOT: Weekly Traffic Alerts

January 30, 2017

Drivers will encounter traffic variations on the following state roads in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties this week as crews perform construction and maintenance activities.

Escambia County:

·         U.S. 98 Utility Work between Palafox Street and Jefferson Street- East and westbound lane closures between Palafox Street and Jefferson Street from 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 to 5 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30 as crews remove holiday lighting.

·         Pace Boulevard (State Road (S.R.) 292) and Garden Street (U.S. 98) Intersection Utility Work- North and southbound lane closures on Pace Boulevard near the intersection of Garden Street and Eastbound and westbound lane closures on Garden Street near the intersection of Pace Boulevard from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30 through Thursday, Feb. 2 as crews perform utility work.

·         9th Avenue Utility Work at Carpenter’s Creek Bridge- East and westbound lane shift at Carpenter’s Creek Bridge from 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24 through 5 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31 as crews perform underground utility work.

·         Nine Mile Road (from Beulah Road to Pine Forest Road) Widening – Traffic will be reduced to one lane at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and Eight Mile Creek from 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30. to 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31 as crews relocate utilities. Traffic flaggers will be on site to safely direct drivers through the work zone.

·         Interstate 10 (I-10) Widening from Davis Highway to the Escambia Bay Bridge- Law enforcement vehicles will slow eastbound traffic at U.S. 29 (Exit 10) and westbound traffic, east of Avalon Boulevard (Exit 22), from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31 and Thursday, Feb. 2.   Pacing traffic in this manner will allow workers to safely replace a power line that crosses the interstate at the Ninth Avenue overpass.  

·         I-10/U.S. 29 Interchange Improvements Phase I- Westbound inside lane will be closed near U.S. 29 (Exits 10A and 10B) from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31 through Friday, Feb. 3

as crews remove barrier walls.

·         Perdido Key Drive (S.R. 292) Resurfacing from the Alabama State line to the ICWW (Theo Baars) Bridge- Lane closures will be in effect 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.  In addition there will be lane restrictions on the ICWW (Theo Baars) Bridge at the west end of the project as crews perform concrete work.  Drivers can expect delays.

·         U.S. 29 (S.R. 95) Widening from I-10 to 9 Mile Road- Alternating southbound lane closures near the Interstate 10 (I-10) interchange from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 as crews perform drainage work.  Alternating north and southbound U.S. 29 and east and westbound 9 Mile Road lane closures from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. near the U.S. 29/9 Mile Road overpass continue to accommodate for the bridge construction operations.

·         9 Mile Road (S.R. 10/U.S. 90A) Widening from Pine Forest to U.S. 29- During the week of January 30, both travel lanes of 9 Mile Road will be shifted between Stefani and Waring roads southward onto temporary asphalt. This shift will allow drainage crews to extend the box culvert under 9 Mile Road. Alternating lane closures continue on Untreiner Avenue as crews drive temporary sheet pile.

Santa Rosa County:

· I-10 Resurfacing from east of S.R. 87 to the Okaloosa County Line- Intermittent and alternating inside lane closures between the S.R. 87 interchange and the Okaloosa County line from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 through Thursday, Feb. 2  as crews perform paving operations.   Motorists are reminded the speed limit is reduced to 60 MPH within the lane closure.

·         State Road (S.R.) 87 Widening – Boater Notification – The Yellow River, beneath the S.R. 87 bridge in Santa Rosa County, will be temporarily closed Monday, Jan. 30 from 7 a.m. to noon. Crews will be mobilizing equipment for construction of the new northbound bridge across the Yellow River. Boaters are advised to avoid this area of the Yellow River during closure.

Drivers are reminded to use caution, especially at night, when traveling through the construction zone, and to pay attention for workers and equipment entering and exiting the work area.  All activities are weather dependent and may be delayed or rescheduled in the event of inclement weather.

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