Legislators Challenge Fees For Traffic Crashes
By KYLE MARTIN
Published: March 20, 2009
BROOKSVILLE – Florida’s legislators are pushing to outlaw the practice of collecting fees for public safety services at traffic crashes.
Protecting that practice is worth a 240-mile trip for Brooksville’s fire and police chiefs.
Tim Mossgrove and George Turner, the fire and police chiefs respectively, took a road trip to Tallahassee on Tuesday to voice their opposition to S.B. 2282.
The bill, which has cleared the Banking and Insurance Committee, would quash the burgeoning trend of billing insurance companies for traffic collisions.
The city of Brooksville approved an ordinance in October that aims to collect the costs of a public safety response to a crash caused by a person living outside the city limits.
Turner estimates 70 percent of last year’s roughly 700 crashes in the city were caused by out-of-towners. Under those guidelines, the city could recover up to $150,000.
Advocates reason the person responsible doesn’t pay the ad valorem taxes that fund a police officer’s salary and a fire engine’s maintenance. To recoup the costs, they charge the insurance company. The insurance company typically passes that on to the customer.
Critics counter that it amounts to double taxation and that the collection causes insurance companies to raise their premiums.
A legislative study last year concluded the movement was pushed in part by the private collection agencies that earn up to a 10 percent fee for their services.
To date, the city has collected $1,182 through the cost recovery program. The police department has outstanding bills for January and February in the amount of $11,964.
The money is pooled into a specific public safety fund and will be applied to items such as traffic cop and fire department equipment, according to the chiefs.
Brooksville is among a number of Florida agencies, including Ocala, Tallahassee, West Melbourne and Escambia County, that are charging for public safety response to collisions.
State Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, introduced the bill and it is accompanied by H.B. 1043.
"I know that local governments have had out-of-control spending in the past," and are now looking to make up some of the lost revenue, he told the Bradenton Herald.
Mossgrove argues insurance premiums do not go up because of the cost recovery program. It’s the accident itself that’s causing the premium to rise, he said.
Asked if the fee drives business or tourists out of the city for fear of being charged for an accident, Mossgrove replied that people shouldn’t be driving if they think they’ll cause a crash.
In a letter to the Banking and Insurance Committee, Turner wrote that fees allow the city to provide "quality emergency service."
Information from the Tallahassee Democrat was used in this report. Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.