Published: Apr 09, 2013 5:44 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A Senate bill aimed at eliminating the state's no-fault Personal Injury Protection auto insurance was met with awkward silence in the committee hearing it Tuesday.
    
Finally, the committee's chair, Sen. David Simmons, yanked the bill from being voted on. It may be irrelevant: A Tallahassee judge preliminarily ruled that the PIP insurance law as revised last year is likely unconstitutional.
    
The Banking and Insurance committee heard a brief presentation on the bill (SB 7152), after which Simmons asked whether senators wanted to debate the measure. There were none.
    
"Sen. Negron?" Simmons said. "Anyone?"
    
Negron, a Stuart Republican and Senate budget chief, authored the Senate's version of a PIP insurance overhaul last year and worked out the compromise with House leaders. But without looking up from his laptop, he deadpanned, "I'm busy working on the budget."
    
"Well, that's interesting," said Simmons, a Maitland Republican. "Interesting that this is where we are." He eventually postponed a vote.
    
The chilly reception of the bill, which would move Florida to a liability-based 'Bodily Injury' form of insurance, is emblematic of the downward spiral that PIP insurance has taken.
    
Lawmakers passed the no-fault coverage in 1972. It ensured that anyone hurt in a wreck could get medical treatment without first having to prove fault in the courts.
    
The law provides that a driver's insurance company pay up to $10,000 to cover medical bills and lost wages after an accident, no matter who's responsible. All Florida drivers are required to carry PIP insurance.
    
Over the years, however, Florida became a leading state for staged accidents, followed by phony PIP claims. Last year, Gov. Rick Scott made an overhaul bill (HB 119) a cornerstone of his legislative agenda, saying it would help tamp down millions of dollars in PIP fraud.
    
One of the changes was limiting coverage for medical treatment to $2,500 if an injured person could not show an emergency medical condition.  Another was cutting acupuncture practitioners, massage therapists and chiropractors out of PIP payments for treating accident victims. Unsurprisingly, they sued.
    
That led to a March ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that the overhauled law is probably unconstitutional. He temporarily banned its enforcement.
    
The PIP law, by taking fault-finding out of the equation, was a trade-off that provided a "reasonable alternative" to the courts, he wrote.  But the revised PIP law "pass(ed) beyond the 'outer limits of constitutional tolerance,' " Lewis said.
    
The state's Office of Insurance Regulation appealed, and the appeal acted as a hold on Lewis' order.  Simmons said a further ruling from the courts could be "a tail that would wag this dog."
    
Simmons did say he'd bring it back next week. That was also after a GEICO insurance representative had been noncommittal about how her company would respond to another new auto insurance law.
    
"I have a way of phrasing that, what people think about PIP," Simmons said. "I won't say it in mixed company."
    
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Follow James L. Rosica on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jlrosica

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