Insurance Rate Decision Goes to Senate Vote Today
By Bill Rufty
LEDGER POLITICAL EDITOR
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 at 4:28 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE | The Senate will vote today on a bill that would allow 15 of the nation’s largest property insurance companies basically to set their own rates in Florida.
The legislation, House Bill 1171 in the House and Senate Bill 2036 in the upper chamber, is known to some as the State Farm bill.
Local supporters hope that its passage will persuade the company to keep writing property insurance policies in Florida and keep 500 jobs at the company’s state headquarters in Winter Haven.
The House has already passed the bill.
Insurance and Florida Chamber of Commerce lobbyists and legislative sponsors refer to it as the Insurance Choice Bill because it allows three options.
Homeowners would have a choice of using state-backed Citizens Property Insurance, medium companies whose rates are controlled by thetate or well-capitalized companies that set their ownrates, said Senate sponsor Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton.
Companies with surplus capital at $500 million or above are the only ones allowed to charge higher rates.
Supporters insist no one will be required to go with or stay with those larger companies, but those companies will be able to set what rates the market will bear.
Supporters fought off amendments, including one allowing all insurance companies to set whatever rates they choose. Another amendment aimed to prevent companies that have threatened to leave the state market from being included among those that would get to set their rates, an amendment clearly aimed at State Farm.
State Farm earlier this year announced that it would not write new property insurance policies and would do away with all property insurance in Florida within two years.
Local supporters of the bill hope that State Farm will reverse its position.
State Farm officials have not stated whether they would keep writing property insurance if the bill becomes law.
Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, had worked withRep. William Proctor, R-St. Augustine, to pass the House bill.
The bill could affect 500 State Farm employees in his district, Wood said.
"This is about our economy and keeping higher paying jobs in our community and state,” he said.
If the Senate approves the bill today, it will go to Gov. Charlie Crist.
[ Bill Rufty can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7523. ]