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Citizens bill in holding pattern as lawmaker looks for consensus on rate hikes

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is the sponsor of the Citizens overhaul bill. The bill has been delayed on the floor of the Senate three times in the past two weeks.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2012)

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is the sponsor of the Citizens overhaul bill. The bill has been delayed on the floor of the Senate three times in the past two weeks.

TALLAHASSEE — A scheduled vote on a major insurance overhaul was again postponed Wednesday, indicating that fear of skyrocketing rates is weighing down the bill in the Florida Senate.

Bill sponsor Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said last week that he has enough support for the bill but wanted more time to make amendments and build more consensus.

Simmons pulled the bill from the agenda right before its first scheduled vote last week. The same thing happened Wednesday, when the bill was "temporarily postponed." After cruising through the committee process, the bill has been delayed on the floor of the Senate three times in the past two weeks. It has been amended nearly 40 times.

Simmons said he would amend the bill to address concerns of lawmakers who are worried about the pocketbook impact on their constituents.

The 100-page bill seeks to shrink the level of risk carried by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by raising its rates and forcing its policyholders into the private market. The rate hikes are mostly focused on new policyholders at the state-run Citizens and those who have high-risk "wind-only" coverage.

Simmons defended his bill Wednesday, saying that the changes he had made would protect all current policyholders from any rate hikes.

"All I'm saying is let's dig ourselves out of this hole," he said, adding that he would present the bill for a vote today. "We're not raising anybody's rates."

Still, he said, some lawmakers were reluctant to vote for any insurance reform, given the sensitivity to rates.

"As soon as someone hears the possibility of rate hikes — even if it's just one person — some legislators run for the door," he said.

Citizens president Barry Gilway said earlier this month that the bill could lead to rate hikes of 60 percent or more in 11 counties across the state. Many of those large increases would be for the wind-only homeowners.

Homeowners, who have already seen insurance costs increase in recent years, generally oppose additional rate hikes. Lawmakers, including the Senate's 14 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans in districts where Citizens is a top insurer, are also wary of rate hikes. To pass, the bill (SB 1770) must garner at least 21 votes in the 40-seat chamber.

Simmons said last week that he would remove a provision of the bill that forces Citizens to charge rates that are higher than the top 20 private companies in a particular area. That concession could soften some of the rate hikes included in the bill. Gov. Rick Scott has already weighed in by stating that the bill should protect current homeowners from rate hikes greater than 10 percent per year.

A less aggressive House version of the insurance reform bill is scheduled to reach the floor soon.

Citizens bill in holding pattern as lawmaker looks for consensus on rate hikes 04/24/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 9:52pm]
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