Property insurance bills seemingly collapse in Florida Legislature
Posted: April 21, 2010 – 8:19pm
By Brandon Larrabee
TALLAHASSEE – Efforts to ease regulations on property insurance premiums appeared to collapse Wednesday, with both the House and Senate postponing votes on measures that would overhaul insurance rules.
But a key House lawmaker said some changes could still gain approval before the legislative session ends April 30.
The most robust deregulation provisions were left for dead after Gov. Charlie Crist reiterated his opposition to any measure that would allow rates to increase. Crist continued that opposition Wednesday but stop short of declaring victory.
“I take very seriously the duty of trying to protect the consumers of the state, and if that’s had a good impact on the Legislature in terms of not allowing those rates to be increased on their backs at this time, especially in this economy, then I’m very happy about that,” Crist said. “We’ll see. … Sometimes that industry can be very tenacious and those things can arise in different forms, so I think we have to be very mindful as this session comes to a conclusion.”
Crist didn’t specify any changes that would lead him to sign an insurance bill.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, a major supporter of the insurance bills, said Wednesday the governor’s opposition to the bills likely had something to do with the decision by Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, to pull the plug on his deregulation measure. Bennett’s bill would have gone further than the proposal postponed Wednesday.
Alexander, who supports easing rate regulations, has been a consistent critic of Crist’s position on insurance regulation.
The bills that were set aside Wednesday varied significantly in their impact on rates. The House measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, would have essentially allowed insurers to raise premiums 20 percent on an individual policy and 10 percent statewide without getting approval from state regulators.
The more narrow Senate bill would have allowed for more flexibility to raise rates for specific costs, provisions that are in the House bill on top of the other increases.
Proctor said after the session Wednesday that he postponed the House bill so that he could see what provisions cleared the Senate. He conceded that it looked unlikely that the bill would have the stronger premium language.
“Until it gets here, I’m not going to make a definitive statement,” Proctor said.
Proctor pointed out that the bills make other changes aimed at strengthening the insurance market, including a boost in the required surplus an insurance company must hold and changes for rules on sinkhole claims and mitigation discounts — and that those are worth preserving despite what happens to the rate regulations.
“We also had a number of provisions in this bill that I want to retain,” he said.
But Proctor conceded he didn’t know if the governor would sign a bill containing even the narrower cost recovery in the Senate bill.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee concluded its final scheduled meeting Tuesday without voting on Bennett’s measure, which more closely resembled the House on premiums. Bennett asked for the bill to be delayed, and reportedly said Wednesday that the measure was dead. He left the Senate floor after Wednesday’s session before reporters could speak with him.
Alexander warned after that committee meeting that failing to give insurers more power to raise rates could endanger the companies’ ability to pay for claims after a major hurricane.
“It’s just one more straw on the camel that one day that back’s going to break when we have a storm,” he said.
Lawmakers could still bring the bills back up before the session ends, and House members continued to meet into Wednesday evening.