Florida lawmakers hope to aid ailing home insurance market

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers on Monday began considering ways to shore up the state’s struggling home insurance marke t in the year’s second special session devoted to the topic.

Lawmakers are considering legislation to help keep private insurers solvent by creating a $1 billion reinsurance fund, reducing litigation costs and compelling some customers to leave the state-created insurer of last resort and rejoin the private market. It also would force insurers to respond to claims more promptly and boost state oversight of insurers’ conduct following hurricanes.

The Senate and House GOP bills are identical, meaning the measure should sail through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on fair costs and strong protections for consumers while adding reasonable guardrails for insurance companies against frivolous litigation and fraudulent claims that drive up rates for everyone,” Republican Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told lawmakers as she opened the session.

The 123-page bill on home insurance was filed late Friday. During the special session, which is expected to last three to five days, lawmakers also will consider property tax relief for Hurricane Ian victims and highway toll reductions for frequent commuters.

Florida has struggled for years to curb surging home insurance premiums and hold on to private insurers in a market where devastating hurricanes weigh heavily on the cost of business. Six insurers have left the state this year.

Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the southwest coast in late September and inflicted widespread damage to homes and businesses across the state, caused an estimated $40 billion to $70 billion in insured losses.

The GOP insurance bill seeks to build on legislation passed during a special session in May, but legislative leaders have warned residents not to expect swift reductions in rates from either package of reforms.

Democrats have introduced their own insurance legislation and said they were not included in the drafting of the Republican proposals. On Monday, Democrats reiterated concerns that the market was becoming too expensive for some homeowners.

“Property insurance in Florida is becoming unaffordable, so much so that some folks are not able to move forward with their American dream of purchasing a home. Because while they could afford the home, they couldn’t afford property insurance,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell.

Lawmakers will vote on speeding up the claims process and eliminating the state’s assignment of benefits laws, in which property owners sign over their claims to contractors who then handle proceedings with insurance companies.

The Republican proposal also would force people with state-created Citizens Property Insurance policies to pay for flood insurance and require moves to private insurers if they offer a policy up to 20% more expensive than Citizens.

The legislation would remove “one-way” attorney fees for property insurance, which require property insurers to pay attorney fees of policyholders who successfully file lawsuits over claims while shielding policyholders from paying such fees of insurers when they lose

It would also provide $1 billion in taxpayer funds for a program to provide carriers with hurricane reinsurance — coverage bought to help ensure they can pay out claims. It would offer “reasonable” rates in a market where companies have complained of rising costs.

Another bill to be taken up during the special session would provide property tax relief for people whose homes and business were made uninhabitable by the storm. As with the home insurance proposal, the House and Senate have submitted identical legislation.

Lawmakers also will look to provide 50% refunds for commuters who pay more than 35 highway tolls in a month with a transponder.