Gov. Rick Scott signs sweeping property insurance changes into law

TALLAHASSEE — The insurance industry celebrated Tuesday after Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping property insurance bill into law.

Consumer advocates lamented the move, which came just six days after the governor received the bill. He had until May 26 to sign it.

"No one is shocked that Gov. Rick Scott would sign an anticonsumer bill that raises rates and hurts our economy, but his eagerness is telling," said Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida. "There was growing and overwhelming opposition to this bill, which is probably why the governor rushed to sign it into law, to avoid more bad press about rate impending rate hikes in a bad economy."

Among other things, the bill allows insurance companies to pass on reinsurance costs to policyholders, shortens the window for filing sinkhole and storm-related damage claims, and limits claims for damage caused by sinkholes to primary structures.

From May 6 to 12, the Governor's Office received nearly 400 phone calls, e-mails and letters on SB 408, nearly every one of them opposing the measure.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, fought the measure throughout the legislative session. Some of the provisions he opposed — such as freeing insurance companies from a requirement to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage altogether — were removed from the bill.

But until the end he objected to the bill in part because of its potential to lead to rate increases.

"Big business has triumphed over the needs of the consumer," Fasano said Tuesday. "Insurance companies will only get richer because of this legislation, while policyholders will have to pay more of their hard-earned money for what will amount to less coverage."

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, sponsored the legislation.

Business and insurance groups heralded the bill-signing as an important step toward increasing competition in the insurance marketplace.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce called Scott's move a bold act of leadership.

"Despite what the critics say, signing this bill into law is the first step toward stabilizing Florida's property insurance market," said chamber chief executive Mark Wilson. "It will increase competition by attracting insurance companies that currently do not write property insurance policies in Florida."

Michael Carlson, executive director of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, cast the bill as good for consumers, commending the governor for recognizing the "value and importance of a vibrant private insurance market in Florida."

Scott signed the bill without ceremony, issuing a brief news release afterward that said the signing followed through on his "campaign promise to allow competition that gives consumers more insurance choices."

He characterized the bill as "addressing cost drivers associated with burdensome regulations, and confronting the sinkhole crisis."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

>>Fast facts

Highlights of the new law

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed SB 408 into law. Among other things, the law:

• Allows insurance companies to limit sinkhole coverage to primary structures.

• Allows insurance companies to increase rates by up to 15 percent to cover reinsurance costs.

• Shortens the window for filing windstorm and hurricane claims from five years to three years after a storm hits.

• Allows insurance companies to hold back replacement value payments on home damage until after repairs have been made.

Gov. Rick Scott signs sweeping property insurance changes into law 05/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:45pm]

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