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Today's legislator to-do list: Debate property insurance, tuition rates

TALLAHASSEE — With budget negotiations still stalled, lawmakers in the House and Senate today will busy themselves with final votes on some major legislation, including bills to raise state university tuition and to remedy Florida's property insurance crisis.

The Senate, after debating the matter Thursday, is expected to pass the bill (SB762) that allows all 11 state universities to raise undergraduate in-state tuition by up to 15 percent a year.

The idea is to give the institutions more teaching resources and more money for need-based aid to students. But the full impact of the revenues won't be realized for several years, and the House and Senate remain more than $400-million apart on funding proposals for community colleges and universities.

Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Thursday that the House cuts to state universities would be "devastating" and "destructive to their work and mission."

Also today, both chambers are expected to debate the property insurance legislation establishing a so-called "glide path" of increases for state-run Citizens Insurance premiums.

Under the proposals, which have some differences, homeowners insured by the state-run Citizens Property Insurance will see their premiums rise by a maximum of between 10 and 20 percent a year.

The current three-year freeze for Citizens rates is set to expire next year, and many lawmakers worry that premiums will shoot up dramatically — as much as 40 to 55 percent, according to some estimates — if the Legislature doesn't act by approving SB1950 and HB1495.

Supporters say the state has no choice but to raise rates, given that the global recession and tightening credit markets have left Florida's Hurricane Catastrophe Fund some $13 billion short of what would be needed to cover massive property damage likely to come from "the big one."

"This is where policy trumps politics," said Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate. "I don't see, being responsible, how we cannot support this — even if it means taking some hits back home."

Letting rates for state-run Citizens Insurance gradually rise to more realistic market rates would boost the state's cash assets and reduce the need for bonds. The legislation also encourages Citizens policyholders to strengthen their homes against storms, and it slowly reduces the financial liability for Florida insurance customers should a major storm hit.

Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at scolavecchio@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Today's legislator to-do list: Debate property insurance, tuition rates 04/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 11:26am]
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