Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Florida property insurance changes pass Senate committee

TALLAHASSEE — A bill brimming with enticements for the private property insurance industry — while forcing homeowners to pay higher rates to reinvigorate a tepid market — passed its first committee in the Florida Legislature on Thursday.

The proposal, SPB 7018, is a massive insurance reform effort that targets state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., but also includes costly side effects for homeowners with private insurers.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who chairs the Banking and Insurance Committee and is backing the bill, said it went a long way toward reducing Florida's exposure and shrinking government-run insurance.

"No longer will Citizens be undercutting private insurers in the state of Florida," he said.

Consumer advocates — who say the bill will certainly hike rates on Florida's homeowners — complained that the committee took only a few minutes of public comment before voting on the massive bill.

Bill Newton, executive director of Tampa's Florida Consumer Action Network, said he was "appalled" by the most anticonsumer process he's seen in many years of lobbying in Tallahassee.

"If we were getting heard that would be one thing," he said. "But you don't even get a chance to talk. Hardly anybody did."

Several proposals within the bill allow insurance companies to jack up rates higher and faster, while giving them access to Citizens' $6 billion cash surplus and the company's most lucrative policyholders, who would be kicked out of state-run insurance.

The bill passed 11-1, with Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, opposing the measure.

The vote showed rare agreement on what has been a contentious issue in the past. Insurance reform proposals are politically difficult in the Florida Legislature, where Democrats and coastal Republicans have joined together in recent years to kill proposals that would raise insurance rates on vocal voters.

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report.

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