Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

U.S. House overwhelmingly passes flood insurance relief bill

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday night voted to undo major provisions of a 2012 law that has caused sharp flood insurance rate increases, signaling possible relief after months of rising tension among home­owners in Florida and other states.

The bill would eliminate a provision of the law that said government-subsidized rates disappear when a person sells a primary home; provide a refund for those who already got hit under that provision; and maintain protections due to sunset for "grandfathered" properties built to code after a community adopted its first Flood Insurance Rate Map.

The legislation still allows FEMA to impose premium increases on homes built before those maps. But the change will be more manageable, bill supporters argued, ranging between 5 and 15 percent on average with a hard cap of 18 percent per year until reaching actuarial risk.

Owners of grandfathered second homes and commercial property would also be spared, but older properties of the same type built before the Flood Insurance Rate Maps are not covered by the legislation and could face significant increases.

Passage of the bill was a rare show of bipartisanship in the typically discordant House. And it came despite significant opposition from conservatives, budget watchdog groups and some environmentalists who said the 2012 reforms were needed to shore up the National Flood Insurance Program, which is more than $24 billion in debt, and to wean people off government subsidies.

The vote was 306-91 with enough Republicans joining Democrats to meet a required two-thirds majority since the bill bypassed the committee process. Every member of the Florida delegation voted yes; Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, missed the vote though supporting the bill.

"Families who were facing massive flood insurance premium increases now can breathe easier," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, called on the Senate to pass "this critical legislation, which has been endorsed by a broad coalition of homeowners, realtors, home builders and bankers."

The Senate passed a different bill in late January, but sponsors seemed receptive Tuesday to taking up the House legislation. "For the sake of policyholders facing massive rate hikes, I hope we can get a final version sent to the president quickly," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Opponents of the bill fought throughout the day to keep the 2012 law, known informally as Biggert-Waters, intact. The loss of subsidies, painful as it may be to some, is necessary to keep flood insurance solvent over the long haul, insisted a group of conservatives and environmentalists called the SmarterSafer Coalition.

The group pointed out that the Obama administration has previously opposed delaying the rate hikes, saying it would "further erode the financial position" of the national flood program and "reduce FEMA's ability to pay future claims made by all policyholders."

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the coalition would support a bill that would slow down the rate increases and offer relief to the hardest hit. "This does the exact opposite," he said. "It brings back some of the bad policies of old."

Florida has more subsidized flood insurance policies facing sharp rate hikes than anywhere in the country — 50,000 in Pinellas County alone — and some homeowners are seeing annual increases from $2,000 to $10,000 or more.

The Senate bill largely sought a four-year delay on Biggert-Waters changes. House leaders said they wanted a more permanent fix and also wanted to avoid adding to the insolvency of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The House bill allows annual increases of no more than 18 percent annually per property, down from 20 percent under Biggert-Waters but more than the 12 percent Democrats sought.

Alex Leary can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @learyreports.

Comments
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

ST. PETERSBURG — Beef jerky, mayonnaise and Altoids mints were the only edible things in view inside one of the houses. There was no running water. The refrigerator was empty. A bed sat on top of the deteriorating living room floor. Cigarette butts b...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Development of the city’s long-awaited pier advanced another step Thursday.The City Council approved a $15 million construction contract and additional money to design a waterside restaurant, build a playground and ferret out naming ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Those who use mass transit across the Tampa Bay area can ride for free on Sunday.To celebrate Earth Day, both the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will be offering free rides on Su...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

TAMPA — Developers on Thursday detailed plans for what they touted as the tallest building on Florida’s west coast, with condominiums priced in six and seven figures and a shimmering glass design they say would stand out in the skylines of New York, ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Federal regulators are poised to impose a $1 billion penalty on Wells Fargo for a number of alleged misdeeds, including forcing customers to buy auto insurance policies that they didn’t need, according to people briefed on the regulatory action. The ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

TAMPA — At the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, hotelier Ian Schrager transformed a Jazz Age building with its own rich history into a destination offering even more heady experiences — extravagant, edgy and bohemian.In Tampa, Schrager will have...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

CLEARWATER — A longtime IBM executive is becoming the new leader of Tampa Bay’s largest public company. Tech Data on Thursday named Richard "Rich" Hume as its new CEO effective June 6. Hume joined Tech Data two years ago and is currently the chief op...
Updated: 11 hours ago
LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

When LA Fitness on West Hillsborough Ave. reopens mid-summer, it will have undergone a $5 million renovation and a complete transformation. Closed since November 2017, the 10-year-old facility was completely torn down and is still undergoing construc...
Published: 04/19/18
Kids have fun and gain coding skills at Code Ninja in Westchase

Kids have fun and gain coding skills at Code Ninja in Westchase

A new program that teaches coding to kids is coming to the Tampa Bay area. Code Ninjas is a Houston-based franchise that is opening its first location in Westchase in early May. There are plans for other centers in Carrollwood, South Tampa, New Tampa...
Published: 04/19/18
Graze all day at Armature Works

Graze all day at Armature Works

TAMPA HEIGHTS— Graze 1910 upholds the comfortable and relaxing, yet elegant setting of Armature Works with its "comfort food" offerings and dedication to serving breakfast all day."It’s the way I eat. I graze all day," said owner Raymond "Ray" Menend...
Published: 04/19/18