Fla. lawmaker chides lobbyist during committee
By BRENT KALLESTAD Associated Press Writer
Published: Monday, April 6, 2009 at 7:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 at 7:16 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A hurricane insurance bill that would help Florida reduce its multibillion-dollar exposure in the state’s tenuous insurance market moved through a Senate committee Monday – with sparks flying.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved the bill (SB 1950) on a 7-1 vote after debating several amendments, including one by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, that led to a blistering exchange with Associated Industries of Florida lobbyist Barney Bishop.
The bill would increase premium costs for customers of state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by 10 percent annually for as long as needed until its rates reach the appropriate levels. It would also reduce the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund liability and keep money in the budget for a successful state program that encourages homeowners to make their properties more storm resistant.
"You don’t have a clue of how the little guy and gal back home is suffering today," said Fasano, whose district includes parts of Piniellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. "You’re in this Tallahassee cloud up here."
Fasano sought to add an amendment that would have maintained the rate freeze for another year on behalf of Citizens, whose solvency would be threatened quickly by a major storm hitting Florida. The amendment was defeated.
But Bishop had had his say.
"If you’re going to tell them what they can charge, no business is going to stay here," he said.
"Get away from the political manipulation of the rates," Bishop said. "As long as government is going to screw it up, it’s only going to get worse than what it is already."
He said the Legislature had managed to violate every known insurance principle when it took the state into the insurance business.
But fireworks aside, the panel moved the legislation with the only dissenting vote coming from Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.
The committee chairman and bill’s sponsor, Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the state can’t gamble any longer on dodging storms during the hurricane season – not with the unfunded $18 billion liability it’s already faced with.
"We have positioned ourselves where we have no other way out than a bailout," he said.
The committee also passed a measure (SB 2078) sponsored by Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, that provides state grants for homeowners who want to fortify their homes with hurricane safe doors and windows.
Also during the panel’s two-hour meeting, a proposal (SB 2036) moved ahead that was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and would allow highly capitalized companies such as State Farm to conduct business without any cap on its rates.
"We certainly understand what Sen. Bennett is trying to do to enable more competition in the property insurance market,’ said Ed Domansky, spokesman for the Office of Insurance Regulation. "But the result is that deregulation will more than likely lead to a dramatic increase in rates."
An amendment was approved that would prohibit borrowing from the state’s pension fund to pay for intermittent insurance, like the $224 million it paid investor Warren Buffett for a $4 billion one-time guarantee should the additional money be needed.