Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Irma-related claims now over $2 billion

Insurance claims from Hurricane Irma now have surpassed $2 billion, the Office of Insurance Regulation announced Tuesday.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, 372,281 claims represented $2,168,674,31 in dollar losses.

A little more than 6 percent of those claims have been closed already. Insurers rejected another 8,300. You can drill down into the data here.

The additional data were sufficient to push Clay County into the second-highest tier for claims — between 5,001 and 10,000.

The top tier — 10,001 and up — comprised a crescent of South Florida counties ranging from Lee to Palm Beach (excepting Monroe, which remained in tier two).

Also in the top tier were Central Florida counties extending from Polk and Osceola to Lake and Volusia, plus Duval County.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida’s state-backed insurer of last resort, reported 32,000 claims as of Tuesday morning, but could not provide a dollar value.

State: Insurance losses post-Irma near $2 billion

State regulators have received notice of more than 335,000 insurance claims since Hurricane Irma hit Florida, mostly concentrated in Central and South Florida, with losses nearing $2 billion.

The bottom line as of 4 p.m. Sunday was 335,347 claims, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation. Total estimated insurance losses were $1,954,947,889.

The data were based on claims information provided by insurers, and the office had yet to audit or verify the figures.

Thirteen counties accounted for more than 10,000 claims each. They included Broward, Collier, Lee, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. Monroe County, although hard hit, posted between 5,001 and 10,000 claims.

In Central Florida, the bulk of the claims came from Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole, and Volusia counties. Highlands, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties reported between 5,001 and 10,000 claims.

In North Florida, Duval County also reported more than 10,000 claims.

Meanwhile, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said it had received 27,970 claims as of 9 a.m. Monday.

Statewide, insurers had already paid off 9,420 claims involving residential, commercial, private flood, business interruption, and other lines, the insurance office said.

Fred Karlinsky predicts insurers will turn to international sources for Irma payouts

You probably don’t have to worry about your insurance company’s ability to pay claims arising from Hurricane Irma.

Do worry about a shortage of adjusters to help them calculate your losses. That could inflate the cost of managing claims.

Fred Karlinsky, co-chairman of the insurance regulatory and transactions practice at Greenberg Traurig, said Florida insurers can draw on robust reserves and an international reinsurance market to pay claims.

“The losses are not borne just in Florida. They’re borne in Bermuda; they’re borne in London,” Karlinsky said during an interview in Tallahassee Friday. “Those insurers retrocede reinsurance out to other people. It really is worldwide support for the state of Florida.”

On the other hand, there’s an adjuster deficit — despite the Department of Financial Services’ efforts to streamline the licensure process. “That’s just the graying workforce,” Karlinsky said.

“What we have here — no pun intended — is the perfect storm,” he said.

“You have a storm that hit Texas, in Harvey. And you have an already-stressed system in the lack of adjusters. Then you have a storm in Florida, and you see a bidding war for these adjusters. So the expenses for adjusters have gone up significantly. That, in and of itself, creates a problem for the insurance marketplace.”

Karlinsky surveyed that market one week after Irma made landfall in Florida.

As bad as the storm was, it easily could have been much worse.

“Fortunately, Irma’s path took it to the west, so it didn’t go right up the spine of the state. The physical damage was not nearly what it could have been as a category 4 coming on land in some of the more populous areas,” Karlinsky said.

“If the worst-case scenario would have happened last week, it would have been a challenging event for the marketplace and for the state,” he said. “But I can tell you, on the whole, the state fared much better than anyone had hoped. We caught some lucky breaks and we dodged a bullet.”

Florida’s insurance market has changed dramatically since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. National insurers — unwilling to weather the storm-vulnerable state’s high risk to their shareholders and other policyholders — largely have left Florida to domestic insurers.

But those in-state companies appear healthy. Insurers that might have held reserves of $10 million 10 years ago now have “$50 million, $75 million, $100 million, $200 million in surplus,” Karlinsky said.

The Moody’s rating service on Sept. 11 declared that Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida’s insurer of last resort, appeared prepared to weather a big hurricane. The company and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund — a state-supported reinsurance pool — “effectively saved for a rainy day,” Karlinsky said.

“The CAT fund has in excess of $17 billion. Citizens has $13.3 billion. Part of that is cash on hand; part of that is reinsurance. The bottom line is, those entities have a significant amount of cash available. So I am hopeful they won’t have to go down the pay-me-later route of assessing people for Irma losses.”

Florida’s integration into a global insurance pool has a downside in a dangerous world — trouble elsewhere could consume reinsurance resources.

“If you have a power plant that goes down in Turkey, that affects pricing in Florida. When you have a situation in Russia that is covered with insurance, that could affect pricing in Florida. It’s all correlated. It just goes to show you the world is a much smaller place,” Karlinsky said.

“When you have an extinction event for companies is when their reinsurance towers get blown away — when worldwide marketplace support is basically finished,” he said.

Still, “my sense is that either all or almost all of the companies’ losses will be within their retention or within their reinsurance towers,” he continued.

“That’s what they model for. That’s what these companies are built to survive for. They’re not built necessarily to survive multiple large storms, multiple Cat 5s. In fact, there almost isn’t enough surplus out there in the marketplace to help rebuild a direct hit to downtown Miami, that goes though Tampa, that comes up through other parts of the state. That could be a very significant effect — not only for Florida but for the United States and worldwide markets.”

Ultimately, insurance is a guessing game.

“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That means to build houses up to code or better. Florida has the strongest building code in the nation. Florida is the best-equipped state to handle these types of events. Having said that, there’s a reason they’re called disasters, and there is no playbook for something like we’ve gone through here.”

Citizens Insurance reports 8,000 claims and rising as policyholders return home

Some 8,000 Irma-related insurance claims have landed with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — and counting.

That was the number as of 9 a.m. Wednesday, company spokesman Michael Peltier said.

Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation was tallying claims filed but had not yet posted the numbers on its website.

Citizens, established by the Legislature as the state’s insurer of last resort, is invested in Florida’s most disaster-prone areas — including coastal areas that suffered most during Hurricane Irma.

Citizens estimated total claims might reach 125,000 — but the figure was “very, very preliminary,” Peltier stressed.

“It changes by the day as we get information about the storm’s track,” he said. He was unable to attach a dollar amount to Citizens’ exposure. “It’s probably going to be a few days.”

In a Credit Outlook (subscription required) posted Monday, the Moody’s rating service said Citizens appears well able to cover its obligations. Moody’s pointed to reserves of $13.3 billion — $2.5 billion more than the company’s estimated losses for a storm like Irma.

Those reserves include $7.4 billion in surplus, plus reinsurance and coverage from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Additionally, the company can assess policyholders if necessary to meet its obligations.

“We’re in a full-tilt response to the storm, planning out where we’re going to send our mobile recovery centers,” Peltier said.

The company expects the number of claims reported through its call centers “to pick up significantly during the next few days as people get back to their homes,” he added.

Rick Scott blocks insurance premium hikes, cancellations during Irma recovery

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered a three-month freeze on insurance rate increases for homeowners struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma — plus a three-month grace period for policyholders who received non-renewal or cancellation notices just before the storm hit.

“Due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma, Floridians should be focused on getting back to their normal lives without their insurance premiums being increased,” Scott said in a written statement.

Additionally, Scott directed that insurers grant policyholders 90 days to document losses.

“Many Floridians were displaced during this dangerous storm, and providing additional time to submit information to insurance companies gives them needed flexibility,” Scott said.

The governor issued his directive to the Office of Insurance Regulation. He cited his authority under Executive Order 17-235, the emergency declaration he signed on Sept. 4 as Irma approached.

On Aug. 23, the insurance office conducted a public hearing into a proposed 10 percent premium increase for about half of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s 453,000 policyholders — mostly affecting those in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. The state’s insurer of last resort cited a 100 percent increase in the average cost of water claims in the Tri-County region.

“Hurricane Irma was a storm unlike anything we have seen before, and as residents across the state travel home to assess damages to their homes and businesses, we stand ready to help with any insurance issues that arise,” Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose office oversees the insurance regulators, said.

“Insurance can be complicated, and I’ll do everything in my power to protect policyholders throughout the entire recovery process,” Patronis said. ”Our team of insurance experts are standing by to take Floridians’ calls at 1-877-693-5236.”

The governor’s office directed policyholders to an Irma resources webpage, www.myfloridacfo.com, and to additional storm-related materials on the insurance office’s webpage here.

Legislature adjourns sometimes-bumpy Special Session in a burst of amity

The Legislature concluded its special session with about an hour and 20 minutes to spare Friday, after voting to improve funding for public schools, colleges, and universities, and revamping the way the state encourages economic growth.

While they were at it, the lawmakers passed an implementing bill for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment the voters approved last year.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron gaveled their chambers into adjournment at around 4:40 p.m. — well in advance of their 6 p.m. deadline. Clashing priorities at times had seemed to threaten a timely sine die.

“This is a very good day for Florida families,” Gov. Rick Scott said during a joint post-adjournment news conference with Corcoran and Negron in the Fourth Floor rotunda.

Scott had called the special session because he was unhappy with the state budget for schools and economic development the Legislature sent him last month.

On Friday, he credited Corcoran for coming up with the idea of helping to finance repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, around Lake Okeechobee, and Negron for pressing for the boost to higher education.

“I’m excited to travel the state and brag about what got accomplished in the special session,” Scott said.

Negron viewed the dike project as in keeping with SB 10, his big Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration project, approved during the regular session. He promised additional attention to the matter during the next regular session.

As for higher education, “our universities and our state colleges are an integral part of economic development and vitality in the state of Florida,” Negron said.

“If you put them all together — the special session and the regular session — it’s a landmark year,” Corcoran said.

He welcomed the increased investment in schools and the new economic development model that stresses broad infrastructure and training investments rather than grants to particular businesses.

“It looks like one of the first infrastructure projects might be repairing the dike at Lake O. So that’s an exciting thing, too, that happened today,” Corcoran said.

In subsequent remarks to reporters, Scott zeroed in on the schools right off the bat.

“We had to put more money into K-12 education, and I want to thank the House and Senate for making that happen,” he said.

He and Corcoran had bickered over the future of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida during the regular session. On Friday, he allowed that the speaker “made us think about how we can do economic development better.”

Scott wants the dike project completed by 2022, he said — and thanked President Donald Trump for promising federal money for the project. He said the state money would allow the work to get started.

Does Scott plan to sign the medical marijuana implementing bill?

“Absolutely,” he said. He raised no objection to language reserving treatment center licenses for defunct citrus processing businesses.

He’s still reviewing HB 7069, the House’s Schools of Hope charter initiative from the regular session. Asked whether there was a deal linking that bill to his priorities during the special session, Scott said: “I’m still reviewing the bills.”

Of the higher ed projects the Senate held out for, Scott said: “I have reviewed those projects and I plan on approving them.”

Senate holds off on school funding until House acts on higher education

The Senate has teed up a compromise school-funding bill designed to help send the Legislature home from its special session.

But the senators held off a final vote until the House makes good on its promise to OK an economic development bill that contains $60 million in higher education projects.

The Senate passed the latter bill, HB 1-A, earlier in the afternoon, on a vote of 34-2 (with Jeff Brandes and Perry Thurston dissenting).

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded that the Senate’s efforts to tighten oversight of the bill’s Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund had failed.

“In the negotiations to work this bill out … those got dropped by the wayside,” he said.

But the governor and Department of Economic Opportunity will soon “find that they are going to need to set up some (oversight) process. The demand from the public and media will be there for transparency,” he said.

The Senate had voted on Day 1 of the three-day session to override Gov. Rick Scott’s line-item vetoes of higher education projects worth $75 million. The approved version drops two of those projects, and apportions prorated shares among what’s left.

The public education bill, HB 3-A, would meet Scott’s demand to add $215 million to the Florida Education Finance Program — $100 per student.

Critics said the overall funding level, in light of diversions to charter schools under the House’s Schools of Hope program, would prove inadequate, should Scott sign it into law.

“These dollars are greatly needed. Seriously needed,” Sen. Bill Montford said. Without them, “three weeks from now school districts would be laying off people and cutting programs.”

Still, HB 7069 needs fixing, Montford continued.

“We’ve got work to do when we get back in the fall” for the next regular session,” he said.

Update at 4:30 p.m.: The Senate approved the economic incentives bill on a vote of 34-1 after the House sent it back with language providing $50 million in state money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, around Lake Okeechobee. The addition was key to the compromise designed to let the Legislature conclude its special session.

Updated at 4:38 p.m.: The Senate voted, 31-4, to send the schools funding bill to the governor after the House accepted its higher education package. Scott made an appearance on the Senate dais for the occasion.

The economic incentives bill clears the House by a lopsided vote

The House passed the economic incentives package Friday over complaints it would hand Gov. Rick Scott a “slush fund” and make a mockery of the leadership’s professed opposition to picking winners and losers in the economy.

The vote was 111-4. The “no” votes were John Cortes, Evan Jenne, McGhee, and Emily Slosberg — all Democrats.

The bill represents “a fundamental change in direction” for the state’s economic development programs — away from subsidizing individual companies, said Paul Renner, carrying the measure.

“The old way of doing economic development asked from the many to give to the few — asked from all the taxpayers to give to a handful of privileged companies that can navigate the system here in Tallahassee to receive these incentives,” he said.

“We are taking a departure from that, because it violated that basic fundamental principle, that compact between the government and the taxpayers.”

Democrats, however, complained the bill would give governors too much discretion to spend money without oversight — creating an “$85 million slush fund where we’re giving the governor a little bucket of money … and he’s going to get to pick winners and losers,” David Richardson argued.

He voted for it anyway.

“We don’t want to support this slush fund but, if we don’t vote for it, we can’t get the money for Visit Florida. And that’s all part of the design,” he said. “Members, welcome to sausage-making.”

The bill, HB 1-A, envisions an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to support infrastructure and job training programs. It would not allow grants to individual businesses. There’d be another $76 million for Visit Florida tourism marketing.

The Senate version, SB 2-A, provides for tighter oversight. For example, projects more than $750,000 would need approval by a special legislative committee. Those worth more than $500,000 would need to be posted on the organization’s website for 14 days before they take effect.

The House pushed to end both programs during the regular session; the Senate sided with Scott in favor. House leaders relented following the session after Scott agreed to limit grants to broad infrastructure and training investments.

Republican Randy Fine said he was prepared to trust that Scott — a wealthy businessman who doesn’t draw his salary — “will spend this money in the best way possible.”

Furthermore, the bill could “serve as a model to the country for how economic development should work. Maybe we can lead the country away from this notion from handing money out to companies,” and toward investments in infrastructure and job training.

“This is a great compromise,” Fine said.

Democrat Kionne McGhee didn’t buy it.

“What we are doing today is creating a political action committee for the governor,” he said. “This is not a slush fund or trust fund — this is a state-sponsored PAC.”

Jim Boyd, a Republican who sits on Enterprise Florida’s board, insisted the bill represents a fair compromise. “We don’t always end up where we started out, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Joe Negron doubles down: He was not party to any special session deal

Senate President Joe Negron insisted Thursday, for the second time in as many days, that he emphatically was not party to any deal between Gov. Rick Scott and the House over public education spending and economic incentives.

Any suggestion otherwise, Negron told reporters following the day’s Senate session, is a “false narrative.”

There is evidence, he said — absence of reference to him in the governor’s special session proclamation, and of any quote from a press release announcing the session.

He said early drafts of those documents would back him up, but his office hadn’t produced them Thursday evening.

He’d asked not to be included, lest it be mistaken as an endorsement, although he did attend a June 2 news conference announcing the special session call.

“I hear this false narrative by some that, somehow, the Senate is not keeping its end of the deal,” Negron said.

“We all care about our reputation. Our word is our bond. I think the evidence is indisputable — and it makes perfect sense — that the governor and the speaker have resolved a conflict. But they can’t resolve that conflict by using the Senate priorities to make that happen.”

Negron stressed that the major disagreements during the regular session were between Scott and the House. The Senate sided with Scott on funding for Enterprise Florida Inc. and Visit Florida, over determined opposition in the House.

“Now the House has decided to give the governor every single dollar he has demanded for EFI, every single dollar for Visit Florida. And they’ve decided we’ll go ahead and do the $215 more for FEFP (public schools) — which is less than what the Senate had agreed to do in our budget,” Negron said.

“That’s the conflict. That’s why we’re here. We’re not here because of the Senate.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is on record to the effect that Negron “did not stick to the plan.”

Negron objected that Scott’s line item vetoes favored House projects over the Senate’s by a 2-1 margin.

Among the first things the Senate did upon convening Wednesday morning was to override Scott’s veto of the schools budget and $75 million in higher education projects. Boosting higher education has been a key Senate priority.

Additionally, the Senate is bent on reducing cuts to Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals by $100 million.

“We’re not just going to rubberstamp an agreement the two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.

“The good news is, we can be out of here by 2:30 or 3 o’clock tomorrow. It’s real simple. We fund the Senate priorities in higher education. We make sure the Senate’s views are respected as part of the negotiation. We look at hospital funding, which is important to the Senate. I’m open to discussing how we get there. And we still have reserves that exceed the current reserves that we have now,” he said.

“That’s what it’s going to take. But the Senate is united on not simply ratify an agreement that we weren’t part of.”

Negron spokeswoman Katie Betta said a Scott aide had shown her drafts of the proclamation and press release on a tablet computer. The proclaimation lacked Negron’s name, and she asked the aide to remove references to the president.

Senate avoids loading down schools funding bill with hostile amendments

The Senate rejected amendments Thursday that might have blocked a meeting of minds with the House on public schools funding — including bids to tie the legislation explicitly to economic development investments.

“These issues have been parsed out separately,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, who offered both amendments.

“Let’s put them together. And let’s candidly assert ourselves as the Florida Senate. Let’s make a statement about what our policy is. Let’s send the House one bill, one package,” he said.

“Let’s do our thing, and maybe not be so worried about what they’re going to do.”

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala was sympathetic, saying the leadership had decided against such a move to avoid a confrontation with the House.

“In the end, in the spirit of trying to arrive at a solution, we made the decision not to go in that direction,” Latvala said.

He stressed that the point was to inject $215 million — $100 more per pupil — into the schools.

“If we try to get too cute, we may blow the whole thing up, and we have come up here for naught. I think that would be very unfortunate,” Latvala said.

The debate set the bill up for a final vote on Friday.

It came during the second day of a three-day special session that Gov. Rick Scott called after he vetoed the $11 billion Florida Education Finance Program, the public education budget.

SB 2500-A is designed to supplement the Appropriations Act approved last month, to get around the 72-hour waiting period for budget bills, Latvala said.

Additionally, the Senate voted Wednesday to override Scott’s veto of the schools budget plus $75 million in higher education projects.

That did set up a confrontation with the House.

“We’d be the first Republican Legislature that overrode a Republican governor on pork-barrel spending,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters.

Additionally, the Senate set final votes on an Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida bill containing tougher oversight than does the version favored by Scott and the House. And on a bill that would restore $100 million of the $200 million cut from Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals in the state budget.

Details on those bills here.

Again, Corcoran didn’t sound interested.

“It’s not in the call,” the speaker said. “We’re happy with where we are with the funding for the hospitals.”

Senators used the occasion of the schools-funding bill to re-debate HB 7069, the House’s big Schools of Hope package from the regular session. The upper chamber passed that bill only reluctantly, as part of the budget deal reached in an extended session.

Farmer was behind a series of amendments seeking to pick away at HB 7069. He would have stripped most of the money out of the $414 million Schools of Hope and related programs and sent them to public schools, while preserving aid to students with disabilities.

A third would have provided $100 in social services for students in the struggling schools targeted for closure under HB 7069. Another would have stripped $30 million the disability money from that bill. All failed.

Sen. Dennis Simmons withdrew amendments providing for similar raids, in the interest of compromise with the House, he said.

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