One less fee for drivers

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Accident charge repealed

By Jim Clark

There's been a lot of talk the past few years about cities and counties charging accident victims for the response of emergency personnel to their mishaps.

Williston went round and round about it some time ago, and Chiefland implemented it.

Ocala and Belleview in Marion County have done it.

But it won't happen any more ... not in Florida.

The Legislature passed, and the governor signed, Senate Bill 2282, which took effect July 1.

Part 1 of each section, one dealing with counties and the other with cities, reads:

"A county (municipality) may not impose a fee or seek reimbursement for any costs or expenses that may be incurred for services provided by a first responder, including costs or expenses related to personnel, supplies, motor vehicles, or equipment in response to a motor vehicle accident, except for costs to contain or clean up hazardous materials in quantities reportable to the Florida State Warning Point at the Division of Emergency Management, and costs for transportation and treatment provided by ambulance services licensed pursuant to ss. 401.23(4) and 401.23(5).

"As used in this section, the term “first responder” means a law enforcement officer as defined in s. 943.10, a firefighter as defined in s. 633.30, or an emergency medical technician or paramedic as defined in s. 401.23 who is employed by the state or a local government. A volunteer law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician or paramedic engaged by the state or a local government is also considered a first responder of the state or local government for purposes of this section."

The governing bodies that have approved this method of collecting more money from accident victims' insurance companies have called this a fee, not a tax.

That's just a matter of semantics.

The fact is, they are adding a tax for a service for which they already pay tax.

In some places, only the at-fault driver's company is billed. That makes a little better sense than billing everyone, including the innocent parties. But it's still a tax.

Those who object to this type of "fee" call it double taxation, an attack on victims who are already suffering as the result of an accident, and just another "get rich quick" scheme by local governments.

Fortunately, the Legislature saw through the government's arguments and passed this bill, which was signed by the governor on June 10. It takes effect next week.

Chiefland went along and eliminated the ordinance last month.

People who cause accidents are generally going to be charged and pay fines, anyway, so the government is getting its pound of flesh. Innocent victims of accidents now won't have to worry about being billed for something that is not their fault.

We don't get many chanees to praise our governor and legislators. This time, though, they deserve recognition.