The Republican-led Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that lawmakers say will keep Florida’s property insurance market from collapsing, but it won’t help homeowners right away who are facing huge premium hikes and canceled policies.
The House passed the same bill that the Senate had passed the day before by a vote of 84 to 33, split along party lines. Bruce Antone, a Democrat from Orlando, and Alison Tant, a Democrat from Tallahassee, did not vote.
The House also voted unanimously for a $750 million disaster relief program that gives tax breaks to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by natural disasters. The program also includes a $500 million toll-road discount program for people who drive a lot.
Rep. Tom Leek, who wrote the House version of the insurance bill, said, “This bill gives me hope and a plan to make sure we are doing everything we can to fix a broken property insurance market.” “When we make things more stable, we can do more.” The special session of the Legislature was over by Wednesday afternoon, so the lawmakers went home.
The bills are now in front of Gov. Ron DeSantis to be signed. No one from his office could be reached to say anything. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, is the speaker of the House. He told reporters that the governor and his team were fully involved in making the law and “opened the door to all stakeholders.”
The session was called after Florida was hit by two strong hurricanes in a row: Ian, which was one of the worst in history, and Nicole, which was not as bad but still caused thousands of claims. It also happened when seven companies said they were going out of business or leaving Florida.
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Republican lawmakers said that the insurance bill builds on changes that have already been made to stabilize the market. For example, in May, a special session cut lawyer fees and set up a $2 billion reinsurance fund.
But even Republicans said that these changes were just tinkering with the edges. Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, said, “We all see some problems in the bill, but there are some things we’re not going to fix.” “It’s the way people are.”
The latest bill gives another $1 billion from taxpayers to insurance companies so they can buy reinsurance, which protects them against hurricanes and other disasters.
It also went after trial lawyers and roofers who have sued on behalf of homeowners but didn’t do anything about companies that don’t pay legitimate claims or take too long to do so. It gets rid of lawyers’ fees that only go one way and the “assignment of benefits” law, which lets homeowners pay their contractors directly from their insurance benefits.
It also makes more people leave Citizens, the last-resort insurance company backed by the government, whose policyholders have more than doubled in the last two years to 1.1 million. And it gives the Office of Insurance Regulation $1.7 million to look into bad-faith insurance companies, but it doesn’t force the agency to enforce insurance laws.
Proponents of the changes say that they will bring stability to the market and reduce what they say is the main reason why insurance rates are going up in Florida: the hundreds of thousands of lawsuits that have been filed over claims that Republicans call fraudulent and opportunistic. They think that rates will go down for consumers in the long run.