News & Updates


Capital Ideas: New ‘State Farm bill’ will test backers’ faith in the marketplace

By Paul Flemming
Gannett Florida newspapers state editor

Property insurance rate deregulation is back, as promised, before the Legislature in the spring. Sen. Mike Bennett and Rep. Bill Proctor have filed again a proposal to allow big insurers to charge what they want.

We’re not supposed to call it the State Farm bill.

It’s the State Farm bill.

Denied a statewide average 47 percent rate increase, State Farm intends to pull out of the state, dropping a million policyholders. It’s still working with state regulators about how that should happen. Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarthy continues to say he thinks State Farm will stick in the state.

Bennett and Proctor’s bill was passed by the House and Senate earlier this year, then vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. He said Floridians couldn’t take the chance of sky-high rates in a crippling recession.

The bill would allow companies such as State Farm to charge what they think the market will bear. It would be a grand experiment.

Republicans, and some Democrats, are fond of extolling market forces. Run government like a business.

That’s been a less-popular mantra after the collapse of the markets and government bailouts of financial firms and car makers. But it was always a ruse, anyway. Business decisions are political, too. Politics is making values decisions.

The state properly has a role to play in regulating insurance companies for financial soundness and fair treatment of policyholders. Beyond that, it’s politics.

“Last session, 85 percent of the members of the Senate and House voted in favor of this bill,” Bennett said. “Next session, the Legislature needs to again pass the Consumer Choice bill, and this time the governor should join with us.”

Crist as governor vetoed, on behalf of policyholders. Crist the candidate might sign, on behalf of voters.

Drawing lines

Redistricting, the once-a-decade jigsaw exercise of drawing new lines for political districts, is soon upon us. and the burner is already turned to high.

Senate and House committees are already formed to start the process that follows new census numbers in 2010. Both met this week and spent their time talking not about what the law is, but what the law might be.

Drawing the boundaries of state House and Senate districts along with Congressional district lines is, as you might expect, political. has proposed constitutional amendments – and its proponents are feverishly gathering and submitting signatures in an effort to make the 2010 ballot – to add criteria to how those lines are drawn.

Politicians have to adhere to one-person, one-vote standards, follow the Voting Rights Act and draw districts that are contiguous. FairDistricts would add criteria, including that districts neither favor nor disfavor an incumbent or party.

On Wednesday, House and Senate members held committee meetings to discuss the work ahead. Senate members expected representatives of FairDistricts to show up. They didn’t show. This displeased several senators, including Sen. Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican and chair of the committee.

“Are we supposed to be mind readers here? Why won’t they show up? I just find it incredible they can’t come here and explain this,” Haridopolos said.

Ellen Freidin, campaign chair for FairDistrictsFlori, said her group is focused on getting the 676,811 signatures it needs before February to make the ballot. On Thursday, the Secretary of State reported they had 397,794 signatures verified. Freidin said she’s confident they’ll make it.

“I think this was a lot of theater,” Freidin said of the senators’ outrage that no one from her group showed up. “I don’t think what bothered them is that we didn’t show up. I think what’s bothering them is that we’re going to get these on the ballot and that we’re going to win. They’re against having limits put on their now unfettered power.”

Haridopolos asked staff to look into petitioning the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider FairDistricts’ ballot question, certified by the court in January 2009, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a North Carolina case.

Freidin said that’s ridiculous and outside the bounds of the state’s highest court’s review. But it’s a good preview of what’s to come. More time in court.