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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House passes sweeping property insurance bill

Now that the House has passed its property insurance package, the question is: Will the Senate back it? The two proposals differ greatly. One of the biggest differences: The approach to rein in claims for sinkhole damage that insurers say are draining their coffers and driving up rates for all policy holders.

The House proposal still requires property insurers to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage for an additional cost, but only requires that they cover structural damage to primary structures. The bill also strictly defines structural damage to minimize what have been characterized as frivolous claims for such things as hairline cracks in driveways. The Senate bill would free insurers from offering comprehensive coverage, and require only that they cover damage caused by "catastrophic ground cover collapse." That represents about 1 percent of claims. People who need comprehensive coverage would have to get it from the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

The House voted 85-33 in favor of SB 408, which was amended yesterday to replace the Senate language with the House's. It now goes back to the Senate for a vote.

Supporters of the House bill, sponsored by John Wood, R-Winter Haven, say it will lower costs for all policy holders by curbing costs for insurers.

"The state of the property insurance market in FLorida is of great concern to many of us in this room. The questioin we're faced with is how do we fix this market," Wood said. "This is a first step."

Opponents of the measure say it's anti-consumer and a gift to the insurance industry.

"If this bill passes a victim of a tragedy or loss will have less rights and less opportunity to recover for their damages," said Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg. "You better hope that the only thing falls into the hole is your home."  If your garage, swimming pool, or outdoor kitchen is destroyed by a sinkhole, he said, "You're out of luck."

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 4:25pm]

    

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