Unregulated insurance bill may be reborn
By GARY PINNELL
Published: September 13, 2009
SEBRING – Although Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed legislation earlier this year that would allow insurance companies to raise premiums, its sponsors plan to bring back the bill, and two local legislators support it.
"I am a capitalist," said State Rep. Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Park. Policyholders should be making their own decisions about whether to buy price-unregulated insurance.
"It’s their choice," Troutman said, "and I don’t want to prevent them from making their own decision."
Currently, insurance companies must seek approval from the state insurance office before raising and lowering rates. That would not end, but House Bill 1171 also would let companies sell insurance at unregulated prices – as high as the market would bear.
"I’m not sure it really will be higher," said State Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid.
If the bill becomes law, Grimsley and Troutman said homeowners who have lost their State Farm or Allstate policies could buy more cheaply from the unregulated market instead of the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.
It’s also possible that with an unregulated insurance market, the state could stop selling insurance.
"I think that would be a great thing," Grimsley said. "I don’t think the state should be in the insurance business."
With some minor tweaks, said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, the governor might sign the bill.
"In a special session we can work together to come up with a compromise, I think it’s some minor tweaks," Bennett said Tuesday.
There’s talk of a possible October or November special session because legislative approval would be needed to ratify a compact Crist signed last month with the Seminole Tribe that would allow the state to get a cut of revenue from the tribe offering expanded gambling options.
Troutman said he had talked with Speaker Larry Cretul last week, and that a special session was discussed while lawmakers are scheduled to be in Tallahassee for committees in October.
Bennett acknowledged, however, that a straight-out override of the governor’s veto wasn’t an option for evident political reasons.
"You’ve got a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor in a Senate race," Bennett said. "It ain’t gonna happen."
State Farm said it plans to pull out of the Florida market because it isn’t allowed to raise rates high enough to make a profit. It had asked for a 46 percent rate increase, and was turned down by the state insurance office.
Grimsley is a State Farm policy holder, trusts the company, and wants to keep her policy, she said.
"A lot of my constituents called me about it," Grimsley said. "They want to keep State Farm."
The bill was labeled the State Farm Bill, because it would have saved hundreds of jobs in Polk County.
"When State Farm said, "We’re out of here, the governor’s response was, ’Good riddance.’ I suspect he would like to take that back," Troutman said.
The measure passed easily in both chambers last session. Both Grimsley and Troutman voted for it.
Attempts to contact Sen. J.D. Alexander were not successful.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report. Highlands Today reporter Gary Pinnell can be reached at 863-386-5828 or firstname.lastname@example.org