TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — (AP) — Florida lawmakers advanced sweeping GOP legislation Monday to shore up the state’s struggling home insurance market during the year’s second special session devoted to the topic.
The proposal would create a $1 billion reinsurance fund, reduce legal costs and force some customers to leave the state-created insurer of last resort and join the private market. It would also force insurers to respond to claims more quickly and strengthen state oversight of insurers’ conduct after hurricanes.
The bill has been approved by a Senate Banking Committee and is expected to pass through the Republican-dominated Legislature this week.
“We will continue to focus our efforts on fair costs and strong consumer protections while adding reasonable safeguards for insurance companies against frivolous litigation and fraudulent claims that drive up rates for everyone,” Republican Senate Speaker Kathleen Passidomo told lawmakers.
The 123-page home insurance bill was tabled Friday evening. During the special session, which is expected to last three to five days, lawmakers will also consider property tax relief for Hurricane Ian victims and road toll reductions for frequent commuters.
Florida has struggled for years to rein in soaring home insurance premiums and retain private insurers in a market where devastating hurricanes weigh heavily on the cost of doing business. Six insurers left the state this year.
Hurricane Ian, which hit the southwest coast in late September and caused extensive damage to homes and businesses across the state, caused between $40 billion and $70 billion in insured losses.
The GOP’s insurance bill seeks to build on legislation passed in a special session in May, but legislative leaders warned residents not to expect rapid rate cuts from either set of reforms.
Democrats said they weren’t included in the drafting of the Republican proposals. On Monday, Democrats reiterated concerns that the market was getting too expensive for some homeowners and that the GOP proposal didn’t do enough to immediately lower rates.
“Home insurance in Florida is becoming unaffordable, so much so that some people are unable to move forward with their American dream of buying a home. Because even if they could afford the home, they couldn’t afford home insurance,” said House Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell.
Lawmakers will vote to speed up the claims process and eliminate state assignment of benefits laws, in which homeowners assign their claims to contractors who then handle proceedings with insurance companies.
The Republican proposal would also require people with state-created citizens’ property insurance policies to pay for flood insurance and would require moves to private insurers if they offer a policy up to 20% more expensive. than citizens.
“There are things in this bill that I think are good, but I don’t know if the good outweighs the bad,” said Sen. Bobby Powell, a Democrat, noting the citizens’ provision.
The legislation would remove ‘one-way’ attorney fees for property insurance, which require property insurers to pay attorneys’ fees for policyholders who successfully sue for claims while protecting policyholders from paying these costs to insurers when they lose.
It would also provide $1 billion in public funds for a program to provide carriers with hurricane reinsurance — coverage purchased to ensure they can pay claims. It would offer “reasonable” rates in a market where companies complain about rising costs.
Republican Senator Danny Burgess said the market is in crisis and desperately needs major changes.
“Although we may be putting in place some measures that we have tried to avoid in the past, recognize that we are here today because it is the one thing that we have not tried and nothing other has worked well enough to solve this problem,” he said.
Lawmakers are also considering another bill to provide property tax relief to people whose homes and businesses were rendered uninhabitable by the storm and a proposed 50% refund to commuters who pay more than 35 highway tolls. in a month with a transponder. Both measures should pass.
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