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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Accusations fly during Senate sinkhole insurance debate

7

February

A Senate banking and insurance committee meeting got heated today during debate over sinkhole insurance reforms. First, Sen. Mike Fasano said he expected all of his consumer-friendly amendments to the bill to fail and said he has been told that. Sen. Joe Negron took offense, saying he wasn't told how to vote any of the amendments, prompting a veiled apology from Fasano.

But Fasano was right. Most of his amendments are failing. Most significantly today, an amendment that would have defined sinkhole damage as greater than a 1/16-inch crack, went down. Fasano introduced the amendment as way to limit frivolous claims but require insurance companies to pay for more than just a house that collapses into a sinkhole. All along, he has been arguing that because the bill removes a requirement that companies offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance, no one will offer it and claims will only be paid in extreme cases.

Things got testy when Fasano's amendment requiring that homeowners receive an engineer's report after repairs are made came up. Sen. J.D. Alexander argued against the amendment, starting out by speaking broadly about the problems with sinkhole insurance claims and then charging that Fasano's amendment was probably written by a plaintiff's attorney.

Fasano shot back that he didn't need to be lectured on the sinkhole insurance issue, and wondered why nothing benefiting homeowners was included in the bill. "I could easily suggest this whole bill before us was written by the insurance industry," he said.

The committee had planned to vote on the bill today, after hearing 10 minutes of public testimony. But bill sponsor and committee chairman Sen. Garrett Richter backed off that schedule after hearing from a Pasco County serviceman about to be deployed to Afghanistan who said he can't get his insurance company to pay for sinkhole damage to his home, and he can't sell the home as long as it's damaged.

"This is a complicated issue," Richter said. Discussion of the bill will continue at a future hearing.

Asked after the meeting if he received input from any consumer groups while crafting the bill, Richter said, yes, he met today with R. Terry Butler, the state's consumer advocate. At the last hearing, though, Butler basically said it's a bad bill and agreed with Fasano that it would mean no one would offer sinkhole coverage.

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[Last modified: Monday, February 7, 2011 4:26pm]

    

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