Fla. senator lobbies for deregulated insurance bill
By Paul Flemming
Florida Capital Bureau
Sen. Mike Bennett on Thursday lobbied to an audience of one for his bill to allow rate-deregulated homeowners insurance.
This morning the Bradenton Republican will meet with Gov. Charlie Crist, who holds veto power over the legislation passed by the House and Senate and soon to be on the governor’s desk.
Crist did not seem enthusiastic about the legislation on Thursday. He’s sparred with insurance companies since first taking office and criticized them for high rates.
"I’m going to give him some further study," Bennett said Thursday afternoon in a meeting with the editorial board of the Tallahassee Democrat.
He toted with him a thick binder of Florida insurance consumers canceled by their current carriers and facing an expensive no-choice migration into state-run Citizens Property Insurance.
Bennett himself had State Farm Florida property coverage canceled this year. With State Farm, he said he paid $3,800 a year. A Citizens rate quote, he said, was $7,700. Bennett said he’d like the opportunity to negotiate a price to stay with State Farm.
Under the bill, the state would still regulate property insurance, except for the top end of rates. Only well-capitalized companies would be eligible to sell the policies.
That will require national insurance companies, not Florida-only "pups," to write the deregulated policies, Bennett said, assuring financial stability.
"If they’re going to play this game, State Farm national is going to have to step in," Bennett said.
State Farm is not the only company that could offer the policies. But State Farm, the largest private insurer in Florida, is leaving the state after regulators rejected a 47 percent average statewide increase.
Mark Delegal, a lobbyist for State Farm, has said the company is not saying whether it would sell the unregulated policies but does favor a change in regulatory policy.
The bill includes requirements for consumer notification of the deregulated rate, offering a competing quote to policyholders and providing information on the state’s rate-comparison Web site.
Bennett said all concerns about protecting against gouging can’t be addressed, a previously stated issue for Crist.
"There’s nothing any of us can do about the, quote, dumb consumer," Bennett said.