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Sides battle over Florida insurance bill as it awaits Gov. Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — With a sweeping property insurance reform bill awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature, supporters and opponents of the proposal continue to battle.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who throughout the legislative session labeled the bill "anticonsumer" and fought many of its industry-friendly provisions, last week urged people to contact the Governor's Office and tell him to veto the measure.

"Quite simply, the bill on Gov. Scott's desk is not designed to benefit you," Fasano wrote. "It will instead increase your rates and increase insurance company profits."

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America responded, calling Fasano's efforts to get the bill vetoed a "crusade."

"Floridians understand what Sen. Fasano seemingly doesn't — that Florida's property insurance market is broken," said William Stander, the group's assistant vice president, in a statement.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, calling passage of the bill one of its top priorities.

And the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida argued in favor of SB 408, saying it moves the industry toward a goal of creating "as much competition in the private market for property insurance as there is in the private market for household goods."

"We look forward to the day when insurers doing business in Florida can compete against each other just as Wal-Mart and Target compete against each other. Consumers can only benefit," wrote Michael Carlson, the organization's executive director.

Then on Sunday, bill sponsor Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, released a statement accusing Fasano of "intentionally misleading the public."

"I cannot simply watch from the sidelines as a 17-year career politician mischaracterizes and demonizes badly needed public policy reforms," Richter wrote.

He argued that the bill doesn't guarantee that rates will increase 15 percent. The increases related to reinsurance costs still need approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation, he said. Richter also rebutted Fasano's claim that the bill requires homeowners to pay for some repairs in advance and hope to be reimbursed.

"In fact, the bill specifically states that an insurer is prohibited from requiring the policyholder to advance payment to replace property," Richter said.

For dwelling repairs, the insurer is required to pay actual cash value up front, and cover the cost of repairs as the work is finished.

The bill also gives consumers the option of buying a higher-priced policy that would cover replacement value up front, instead of actual value.

On Monday, Policy Holders of Florida joined the fray, defending Fasano.

"I commend Sen. Fasano for standing up for consumers," said Sean Shaw, a former insurance consumer advocate and the group's founder. "The Legislature bowed to insurance lobbyists, which is nothing new, so now the only thing standing between rate hikes and consumers is Gov. Rick Scott. He should do the right thing and veto this bill."

As of May 12, the Governor's Office had received nearly 400 e-mails, telephone calls and letters.

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

.Fast facts

SB 408 provisions

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

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

• Limits sinkhole coverage to primary structures.

What's next

Gov. Rick Scott has until May 26 to veto the bill, sign it or let it become law without his signature.

Sides battle over Florida insurance bill as it awaits Gov. Rick Scott 05/16/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 16, 2011 9:55pm]
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