Florida Record

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Arbitration under attack in Washington while Florida politicians work for real legal reforms, state Chamber says


By Karen Kidd | Sep 30, 2019

U.S. House Rep. Matt Gaetz (left), who represents Florida's 1st District, and Rep. Christopher Henry Smith, who represents New Jersey's 4th district, were the only two Republicans who voted to pass the FAIR Act | youtube.com/watch?v=xE2XqDSehFA ; chrissmith.house.gov/

WASHINGTON — Trial lawyers would have far less arbitration to deal with and more money in their pockets if legislation to get rid of arbitration in consumer contracts, which passed the U.S. House earlier this month with help from two Republicans, ever gets out of the Senate, opponents say.

"There's a reason the Wall Street Journal called it the 'Trial Lawyer Enrichment Act,' because that’s exactly what it is," Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said in a statement.

Trial lawyers are rooting for full passage of the "Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act," or the FAIR Act, H.R. 1423, which passed the House on the 20th, the Wall Street Journal said in its op-ed piece to which Wilson referred.

"Trial lawyers have never liked arbitration clauses, especially in employment contracts, because they offer companies and employees a less costly and more efficient alternative to class actions and individual lawsuits," the editorial released the day House representatives pass the legislation said. "Their latest attempt to change the law in their own interests is the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act that passed the House Friday [Sept. 20], 225 to 186."

H.R. 1423, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee almost entirely on partisan lines Sept. 10, passed a full House vote with yea votes from Republican House Rep. Matt Gaetz from Florida's 1st District and Chris Smith from New Jersey's 4th District.

Gaetz also previously was the lone Republican in Judiciary to vote to pass the Fair Act out of that committee 22 to 14.

All of Florida's other Republican representatives in the U.S. House - none of whom responded to Florida Record requests for comment - voted against passage of the FAIR Act.

Democrat Reps. Henry Cuellar from Texas' 28th district and Collin Peterson from Minnesota's 7th district voted "no."

The legislation seems unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, which currently is distracted by moves Democrats out to impeach President Donald Trump.

The legislation ought to die in the Senate, but the Wall Street Journal's op-ed piece said there's no guarantee there will and some indication that it actually might make it to Trump's desk.

"Now the anti-arbitration forces are going through Congress, and the danger is that Republicans will fall for the populist mood music," the op-ed piece said. "The Fair Act would ban private pre-dispute agreements that require arbitration of future employment, consumer, antitrust or civil-rights disputes. An added kick is that Donald Trump as a businessman used arbitration to settle many of his disputes. Sending this bill to his desk is a way of sticking it to him."

Gaetz has said he hopes the bill does end up on Trump's desk and that he hopes the President will sign it.

While arbitration is under attack in the nation's capital, Wilson noted in his statement Florida officials' commitment to reforming the state's legal climate

"The Florida Chamber thanks Governor Ron DeSantis for his leadership on legal reform, and we thank members of Florida's congressional delegation who stood up for job creators over billboard trial lawyers and their attempts to game the system in Washington," Wilson said. "As we work to make America more competitive, Florida will be a key state leading the way through job creation and economic develop."

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Organizations in this Story

Florida Chamber of CommerceU.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

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