Florida Senate OKs changes for Hurricane Catastrophe Fund
But there’s still a divide with the House plan for state-backed insurers.
By Brandon Larrabee
TALLAHASSEE – The clock is ticking for property insurance changes championed by lawmakers who want a broader role for the free market.
The Senate on Tuesday approved its version of a series of sweeping changes to two key state-backed cogs of the insurance market: Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which provides coverage for residents who have trouble finding affordable insurance on the free market, and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.
As a reinsurance plan, the CAT fund provides coverage to private insurers, helping them cover claims if a storm hits.
The insurers will have to raise rates, particularly Citizens. Critics say the state-backed company has left premiums artificially low and that they should be put on a "glide path" to covering Citizens’ costs and losses in a storm.
The House would limit premium increases to a maximum of 20 percent for each policy holder; that number is 5 percent in the Senate measure. The upper chamber also would make it harder for private insurers to raise rates as they try to replace some of the coverage they will lose when the CAT fund sheds some of its coverage under the plan.
"In my opinion, that is wrong," said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who worked to amend the plan in the Senate.
Senate bills stalled
Because of the first set of meetings by House-Senate conference committees, the Senate didn’t move forward with several bills that still have to be approved twice by the upper chamber before they can go to the House for approval.
That includes a measure that would allow some insurance companies with large reserves to offer property coverage free of state premium regulation. The House has already approved its bill but would have to agree to any differences between the plans.
Also stalled: a proposal by Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, to require all privately owned utilities to draw 20 percent of their energy from nuclear or renewable fuel by 2020. That bill is a major priority of Gov. Charlie Crist, but faces long odds in the House.
And those measures aren’t expected to benefit from the prolonged session caused by the budget. House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said only the budget would come up after the session’s scheduled ending Friday. With conference committees just beginning negotiations Tuesday evening, lawmakers won’t be able to finish the budget by the end of the week.
Voters can OK sales tax hike
The Senate did approve on a 38-0 vote a measure that would allow a half-cent sales tax in Duval County to cover the cost of caring for low-income patients at the county’s hospitals. The tax would have to be approved by county voters in a referendum or by a super-majority of the Jacksonville City Council.
Other counties the same size as Duval are able to levy the tax, but some of the law’s requirements exempted only Duval County from the measure. The bill passed Tuesday changed that.