Florida Insurance Reform Bill Passes Senate

April 26, 2010

It’s the final week of Florida’s legislative season, and it looks like the state Senate has it’s property insurance reform bill back on track.

After the bill he sponsored (SB 2044) got hung up in debate last Thursday, Senator Garrett Richter ironed out some confusion regarding the timeline in which homeowners would be paid for losses, and also agreed to a sinkhole provision. On Friday, the bill passed the Senate in a 32-4 vote.

The Richter measure addresses insurers’ concerns regarding claims payments, but does not give them complete freedom to raise prices, although it does allow them to increase rates by up to 10 percent per year in order to pass through their reinsurance costs. In addition, the bill allows insurers to to drop some policies if keeping them would threaten their solvency. Finally, it gives regulators access to specific financial information on the companies affiliated with insurers which claim to be losing money.

The bill must now pass the Florida House, which has been working on its own, similar measure (HB 447), and then avoid a veto by Governor Charlie Crist, who had previously stated that a measure to deregulate rates – since taken off the table – would be vetoed.

Richter (R-Naples) believes his bill strikes a balance between regulators, insurers and consumers, but progress on the bill only came after its withdrew the afore-mentioned deregulation proposal. The two-year sponsor of that bill, Mike Bennett (R -Bradenton) decided that pushing the measure (SB 876) was unwise at this time, since the governor had already warned any such bill would be vetoed.

J.D. Alexander (R- Lake Wales), the Senate’s budget chief, said that Governor Crist has the “bully pulpit” as governor, and that no one wants to hand him anything he can use for political leverage.

The legislative season ends this week.