The claim bill process is unique and often thought to be complex and confusing. This manual is designed to assist in navigating through the claim process.
Suggested Procedures for Legislators:
● Advise the claimant or the attorney of the sequence of events in the filing of a claim bill.
● All Senate claim bills, whether companions or those filed only in the Senate, must be filed by August 1 in order to be considered by the Senate in the following regular session.
● A House claim bill that does not have a Senate companion bill timely filed in the Senate will not be considered by the Senate.
● Make sure that the claim is ready to be heard by the Special Master when the Special Master schedules the hearing.
● Check with the staff of either chamber to determine whether the claim has been filed in a prior year, and if so, obtain a copy of any available previous report.
● Ask the claimant or attorney to provide you with an information packet containing the major documentation and a summary of the highlights of the claim.
● Submit the information to the bill drafting office for preparation of the claim bill.
● Each chamber will have its own Special Master assigned to review and report on specific claim bills; however, to minimize travel and to avoid unnecessary repetition, the Special Masters usually hold joint hearings. You are invited to attend the Special Masters’ hearing, if you care to; however, attendance by the bill’s sponsor is not required.
● Follow the bill through the regular committee process once the Special Master’s report is published. Majority approval in both chambers of the Legislature is required for passage.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Section 768.28(5), F.S., provides that the state or an agency or subdivision thereof may agree, within the limits of insurance coverage provided, to pay a claim made or an excess judgment rendered against it without further action by the Legislature.
Pursuant to section 11.065, F.S., no claims against the state shall be presented to the Legislature more than 4 years after the cause for relief accrued. Any claim presented after this time of limitation shall be void and unenforceable. Further, all relief acts of the Legislature shall be for payment in full. No further claims for relief may be submitted to the Legislature in the future.
Rule 4.81 of the Rules of the Florida Senate requires that all claim bills be filed with the Secretary of the Senate on or before August 1 to be considered by the Senate during the next regular session. Newly elected Senators have 60 days from the date of election to file a claim bill. Rule 5.2 of the Rules of the House of Representatives requires that general and local bills be filed with the House Clerk by noon of the first day of the regular session.
Rule 5.3 of the Rules of the House of Representatives prohibits members from filing more than six bills for a regular session. Rule 5.3(b)(1) of the Rules of the House of Representatives provides that local claim bills do not count toward a member’s six bills. There is no corresponding limit in the Senate. Senate Rule 4.81(2) prohibits consideration of a claim bill that lacks a House companion.
A general law is an act intended to have statewide application. For claim bill purposes, if the respondent of the claim is a state agency, which situation would require an appropriation from the state’s general revenue or from an executive agency’s budget, then the claim is a general bill.
A local or special law is any legislative act that: 1) applies to an area or entity that is less than the total area or population of the state; and 2) contains subject matter that entitles those to whom it is applicable to the publication or referendum required by Section 10 of Article III of the State Constitution. Generally, if the respondent is a county, municipality, school board, district, local constitutional officer, or other subdivision of the state, then the claim is a local bill.
Section 10 of Article III of the State Constitution prohibits special laws unless notice of intention to seek enactment thereof has been published in the manner provided by general law.
Sections 11.02, 11.021, and 11.03, F.S., provide the requirements for publication of the required notice. The notice must contain the name of the claimant, the nature of the injury or loss, and the amount of the claim.
Rule 5.5(c) of the Rules of the House of Representatives requires that all local claim bills be accompanied by an affidavit of proper advertisement, securely attached to the original bill ahead of its first page. Similarly, Rule 3.3 of the Rules of the Senate requires that all local bills be accompanied by an affidavit of proper advertisement. The form may be obtained from the Secretary of the Senate. Furthermore, the Senate requires that all local bills requiring publication have proof of publication securely attached to the original copy of the bill, when introduced, and the words “Proof of Publication Attached” clearly typed or stamped on the Senate side of the bill jacket.
Once a claim bill is filed, the presiding officer of each house of the Legislature may refer the bill to a Special Master, as well as to one or more committees, for review. The Special Masters of each house conduct a joint hearing to determine liability, proximate cause, and damages. Rule 4.81(3) of the Rules of the Senate requires those hearings to be conducted pursuant to reasonable notice, with discovery governed by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and the Florida Evidence Code, as applicable. The Special Master will administer an oath to all witnesses, accept relevant documentary and tangible evidence properly offered, record the proceedings, and prepare a final report containing findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations. Special Masters are not bound by stipulations entered into by the parties; further, once filed, claim bills are subject to the amendatory process of each house as provided by rule. Though not bound by the Senate Rule, House Special Masters generally follow the same process; however, a House Special Master may file a summary report regarding settled claims. The House must have a settlement agreement signed by all parties before the claim is considered “settled.”
House Rule 5.6(c) and Senate Rule 4.81(6) provide that the Legislature will not process a contested claim bill until the claimant has exhausted all available administrative and judicial remedies. However, both bodies may consider a bill in which the parties have executed a written settlement agreement. Under Senate Rule 4.81(6), this policy does not apply to a bill addressing a claim based on wrongful incarceration.
Section 768.28(8), F.S., provides that no attorney may charge, demand, receive, or collect, for services rendered, fees in excess of 25 percent of any judgment or settlement. The Florida Supreme Court has held that the Legislature has the authority to limit attorney’s fees in a claim bill, despite the fact that an attorney had contracted for a higher amount. Gamble v. Wells, 450 So.2d 850 (Fla. 1984).
Furthermore, the Florida Supreme Court has determined that the statutory 25 percent limitation on attorney’s fees applies to all situations involving waiver of sovereign immunity, whether it be the underlying $100,000/$200,000; or the excess part awarded by the claim bill; or the result of a settlement and voluntary payment in any amount made by a governmental respondent or by its in surance carriers. Ingraham v. Dade County School Board, 450 So.2d 847 (Fla. 1984).
Fees contingent upon the outcome of any specific legislative action are generally prohibited by section 11.04(2)7, F.S., except in the case of claim bills. Further, it is considered a conflict of interest for a legislator to file a claim bill if that member, or the member’s law partner, would receive a fee for services. See Committee on Ethics, House Opinion 69-009 and 71-016 in the Appendix of this Manual.
OTHER ISSUES IN DRAFTING A CLAIM BILL:
Distinctions Between General and Local Claim Bills
There are two important characteristics that distinguish a local claim bill from a general claim bill: the “relating to” clause in the title of the bill and the appropriation sections that follow the enacting clause.
The “relating to” clause in the title of a local claim bill should always cite the name of the county or the local governmental entity from which money is being sought. In other words, the “relating to” clause of a local relief act – for example, “An act relating to Seminole County”; “An act relating to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department”; “An act relating to West Volusia Hospital District” – always indicates that the bill is local in nature.
The “relating to” clause for a general claim bill should always be styled as “An act for the relief of John Smith and Mary Smith” (naming the claimant or claimants seeking relief under the act).
Payment of Statutory Limits of Liability
One of the most common omissions in the submission of proposed claim bills is an indication of whether the governmental entity from whom relief is sought has paid the claimant or claimants the requisite amounts due under section 768.28, F.S., Florida’s sovereign immunity statute, which sets the limits of liability of the state and its political subdivisions. To avoid confusion, a clause stating whether the respondent has already paid the underlying amount should be included at or near the end of the “WHEREAS” clauses, followed by a statement of the remaining amount of the claim.
Apportionment of Claim Among Multiple Claimants
Another omission that sometimes occurs in the submission of proposed claim bills is the apportionment of the amount of a claim when there are multiple claimants. The Legislature requires specification of the exact amount each claimant is to receive.
Claim bills with multiple claimants may require a separate appropriation section for each claimant, and are usually apportioned in direct proportion to the jury award or settlement amounts.
Medicaid Reimbursement Provisionswhere Medicaid reimbursement is owed, use the following language:
Section __. The governmental entity responsible for payment of the warrant shall pay to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration the amount due under section 409.910, Florida Statutes, prior to disbursing any funds to the claimant. The amount due the agency shall be equal to all unreimbursed medical payments paid by Medicaid up to the date upon which this bill becomes a law.
Should this language be the subject of an amendment to a claim bill, an accompanying title provision is needed. “Providing for repayment of Medicaid liens” would be a sufficient title proviso for such a section.
Award of Claims to Minors and Incompetents—Establishment of Trust or Guardianship
An essential piece of information is whether the claimant is currently a ward, and whether the claimant was a ward at the time of the incident which gave rise to the cause of action upon which the claim is based. If the claimant is a ward and will be a ward at the time of the prospective passage of the claim bill, it is essential to disclose whether a trust or guardianship estate has been established for the ward.
The following are guidelines for effective dates of claim bills:
1. If the Legislature intends funds for payment of a claim to be appropriated from the current fiscal year’s budget, use an effective date of no later than June 30.
2. If the Legislature intends funds for payment of a claim to be appropriated from the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, an effective date later than July 15 should be used.