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June 21, 2009
Originally published in The Panama City News Herald
Gov. Charlie Crist might have missed the mark with some of the bills he signed last week, but his Tuesday signing of a ban on charges for emergency response was dead on.
Across the state, several municipalities and counties, including Tallahassee and Escambia County, were charging those involved in car accidents for police and firefighter response. (Bay County and area municipalities did not.) According to the Tallahassee Democrat, fees ranged from $180 to $200 for police response and $600 to $800 for fire departments. Competitive Enterprise Institute figures placed the total accident response fee anywhere from $100 to as much as $4,000 per incident.
That's not a knight in shining armor coming to save you. It's more like a dollar sign wielding the Jaws of Life, as if facing medical bills, car repair payments and increased insurance premiums weren't enough.
Opponents of the bill cited concerns about higher taxes to other residents to cover the supplies and other costs necessary to keep emergency response units on the road, as well as possible decreases in the quality of response.
Of course, nixing a cash source for local governments already struggling to balance budgets didn't make the bill anymore palatable.
However, a legislative study conducted last summer concluded that some of the movement toward the so-called "crash tax" was driven in part by private collection agencies that earned a portion of the fees.
But Floridians already pay for police and fire response through property and other local taxes. Furthermore, the bill will not affect ambulance services or clean-up of hazardous materials.
Crist's signing takes away the ability of municipalities and counties to hit crash victims with a double whammy after an accident.