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Property Insurance Relief Bill Sails Through Special Session in 3 Days, Now on Its Way to the Governor for His Signature

The GOP majority in the Senate approved  SB - 2A  by a vote of 27 to 13. It is now expected to win approval in the republican controlled House as well.
Steve Cannon
On Wednesday afternoon, Florida House members voted 84 in favor, 33 opposed. On Tuesday, Florida Senators approved the measure by a vote of 27 to 13 on Tuesday.

Tallahassee - Wednesday December 14, 2022: The property insurance relief bill sailed through both chambers of the Florida Legislature during this week's Special Season. The measure is now on its way to Governor DeSantis for his signature.

Identical bills SB - 2A and HB - 1A were just introduced last Friday, following three days of deliberations, both won speedy approval in each chamber. On Wednesday afternoon, the vote in the Florida House was 84 in favor, 33 opposed. On Tuesday, Florida Senators approved the measure by a vote of 27 to 13.

Democrats have criticized the measure for providing relief to insurers, but not homeowners. Every amendment proposed by democrats in both the House and Senate were rejected, including an amendment offered by Rep. Dotie Joseph, to freeze property insurance rates and a reduction in rates of 6%.

The final bill creates the Florida Optional Reinsurance Assistance program funded with $1 billion in Florida taxpayer money that private insurers can use to backstop their business if they're facing bankruptcy or contemplating leaving the state. More than a dozen insurance companies have already stopped writing homeowner policies in Florida, including seven that recently went under.

There are no provisions in the measure that guarantee lower property insurance rates for Florida homeowners.

The bill also contains provisions to encourage homeowners from seeking a state-backed policy from Citizens insurance, and force current Citizen policy holders to find private insurance. The aim is to reduce the number of homeowners covered by the state.

In the face of skyrocketing premiums, the number of Floridians who have taken out a Citizens policy in the past two years has doubled. However many of them now face rate hikes under the measure. Current Citizens policyholders won't be able to re-new their coverage if a private insurer offers a similar plan so long as the primum is not more than 20% higher than Citizens' premium.

In a nod to consumers, lawmakers also approved a bill SB - 6A which will provide $500 million in statewide toll savings. SB -4A also passed. It provides additional relief to homeowners and communities who suffered damage during hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Senate Bill 4A grants "tax relief for owners of destroyed homes, housing assistance for displaced Floridians, funding to help local governments secure FEMA Grants, as well as funding to reconstruct impacted beaches and water infrastructure ."

READ the Wednesday news release from the Florida State House in full below:

Florida House Passes Historic Property Insurance Reforms and Financial Relief for Florida Families

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (December 14, 2022) — The Florida House today passed landmark legislation aimed at stabilizing the property insurance market and providing relief for Florida commuters and victims of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Chair Leek, Chair Rommel, Chair McClain, and Chair Busatta Cabrera provided statements on their respective legislation.

“This Special Session was all about relief,” said Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast). “I am proud of the work the House did striking a difficult but careful balance to stabilize Florida’s property insurance market and the growth of Citizens Insurance. We have created more competition in the marketplace and have taken significant measures to reduce frivolous lawsuits, all while holding insurers accountable to consumers. The House also took important steps to provide disaster relief to Florida families recovering from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole and designed a toll relief program that saves Florida commuters money.”

“I am proud of the reforms we enacted during this special session,” said Representative Tom Leek (R- Ormond Beach). “The carefully considered provisions in this legislation will expand capacity in the property insurance market, increase accessibility for consumers, and hold insurers accountable.”

“We have a tremendous amount of consumer protections in the property insurance legislation,” said Representative Bob Rommel (R- Naples). “I appreciate Speaker Renner for supporting bringing forward a robust legislative package which is a great start toward stabilizing Florida’s property insurance market.”

“The Governor and First Lady have worked tirelessly on behalf of Floridians affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole,” said Representative Stan McClain (R- Ocala). “Speaker Renner and our Senate partners have been dedicated to meaningfully adding to those disaster relief efforts. I look forward to working with our local partners across the state to understand their needs and assist in recovery.”

“Florida workers and commuters fuel our economy,” said Representative Busatta Cabrera (R- Coral Gables). “I appreciate the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Nuñez, and Speaker Renner for fighting to establish a 12-month toll relief program that will keep money in the pockets of hardworking Floridians.”

READ the Tuesday news release from the Florida State Senate in full below:

$500 million in statewide toll savings, housing relief for Floridians impacted by recent hurricanes, improvements to the property insurance marketplace for homeowners

Tallahassee — The Florida Senate today passed Senate Bill 2A, Property Insurance, by Senator Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), legislation that is designed to improve the property insurance marketplace for homeowners; Senate Bill 4A, Disaster Relief, by Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), which provides relief for Floridians impacted by recent hurricanes; and, Senate Bill 6A, Toll Relief, by Senator Nick DiCeglie (R-St. Petersburg), which provides $500 million in statewide toll savings for Florida commuters.

“The legislation we passed today brings meaningful assistance for challenges facing constituents across Florida. The toll rebates for frequent commuters and property tax refunds for those whose homes are uninhabitable following recent hurricanes provide swift, tangible relief that will make a difference in the pocketbooks of Florida families,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), who prioritized $150 million for hurricane housing assistance for communities impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. “We know we can’t rebuild a hurricane-destroyed home or lower homeowners insurance rates overnight, but the reforms passed today lay the groundwork for long-term improvements that will give people a place to live while their homes are being repaired or rebuilt as well as structural, pro-consumer changes to our property insurance market that will stabilize the market with the goal of reducing rates over time.”

Improving the Property Insurance Marketplace for Homeowners

Senate Bill 2A, Property Insurance, by Senator Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), is a comprehensive bill intended to ensure policyholders have access to quality, affordable private market property insurance. The bill requires insurers to more promptly communicate, investigate and pay valid claims. Anticipated shortages in the reinsurance market are addressed through a new optional state reinsurance program. Excessive litigation, known to drive up costs, is addressed by eliminating one-way attorney fees for property insurance and instead allowing both parties the opportunity to obtain fees through the offer of judgment process. The bill also strengthens the regulatory authority of the Office of Insurance Regulation over property insurers.

“With this legislation, we are trying to stabilize a market that is in freefall. Seven carriers have gone insolvent in the past two years, reinsurance is shrinking in the global markets as costs are going up, and Citizens Property Insurance is ballooning once again with more than 1 million policies holders, creating huge liabilities for taxpayers and the threat of assessment for all insurance policyholders. This is an environment that cannot sustain itself,” said Senator Boyd, Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.

“Senate Bill 2A builds on the consumer friendly reforms we passed in May, working to curb rising rates and bring stability to the market for the benefit of consumers. We are striving to help consumers who have paid too much for too long for their insurance coverage so a few bad actors can make millions of dollars on the backs of hardworking Floridians. Forty other states have implemented what we have done here today, with no indication of problems, as over 75 percent of the litigation nationwide still comes from Florida,” continued Senator Boyd. “This is about consumer protection. This is about eliminating abusive lawsuits. This is about increasing opportunities in the market for more carriers to come down here and write policies, driving down costs for consumers.”

Recovering and Rebuilding from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole

Senate Bill 4A, Disaster Relief, by Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), provides funding for disaster relief to assist to Floridians and communities recovering and rebuilding in the wake of the 2022 Hurricane Season.

“This legislation builds on the tremendous and ongoing state response to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole led by Governor DeSantis with key funding to support Floridians and communities who are recovering and rebuilding,” said Senator Hutson. “Tax relief for owners of destroyed homes, housing assistance for displaced Floridians, funding to help local governments secure FEMA Grants, as well as funding to reconstruct impacted beaches and water infrastructure will make a huge difference as families and communities continue to evaluate their recovery needs.

The bill provides property tax refunds for the portion of the year that homes were uninhabitable due to hurricane damage from Hurricanes Ian or Nicole. The bill also includes $150 million for affordable housing hurricane recovery efforts, including $60 million to assist with the repair or replacement of housing, relocation costs, limited-time rental assistance, and other recovery needs, of which $25 million may be used to provide assistance to homeowners to pay insurance deductibles.

SB 4A appropriates funding through the Department of Environmental Protection for beaches and essential water infrastructure impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole and creates the Florida Emergency Management Assistance Foundation, a Direct Support Organization (DSO) of the Division of Emergency Management (DEM). The foundation is charged with providing assistance, funding, and support to DEM in its disaster response, recovery, and relief efforts for natural emergencies. Additionally, to help local governments secure FEMA grants, $350 million is appropriated to the DEM to pay local match requirements.

Toll Savings for Florida’s Families

Senate Bill 6A by Senator Nick DiCeglie (R-St. Petersburg) appropriates $500 million for a statewide toll relief program for frequent commuters, beginning on January 1, 2023, through end of the year.

“This legislation provides needed relief to Florida commuters dealing with the challenges of rising costs,” said Senator DiCeglie. “It will make a real impact in the everyday lives of our constituents.”

Customers using a two-axle vehicle with a Florida-issued transponder who use Florida’s Turnpike System and all other toll facilities in the state are eligible. Customers who engage in 35 or more toll transactions in a month will receive a 50 percent credit.