The legislature has, since this story’s publication, approved the package and it will head next to the Governor. Updated coverage has moved here.
The Senate has finished negotiations and approved an overhaul of Florida’s homeowners insurance.
Sen. Jim Boyd filed what will likely be the last significant changes to a homeowners insurance bill this year. After removing insurers’ ability to use offers of judgement in settlement, the bill passed in the upper chamber 35-5.
But while that’s a greater number of votes than past iterations of the bill received, there seemed greater concern about the legislation’s effectiveness at reducing premiums for homeowners.
Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, who helped craft the legislation, criticized adjustments demanded through negotiations in the House. “This is nowhere near enough what we needed to do,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat, maintained the bill serves only as a give-away to insurance companies already raking in profits. “It’s a manufactured crisis,” he said.
Boyd, for his part, said those terse words may indicate this is the most ambitious reform the Senate can achieve before the end of session.
“Sen. Farmer and Sen. Brandes both don’t like it,” he said. “There must be something good about it.”
The Senate passed the change Fridays and now put passage in the hands of the House.
If the amendment passes, it would leave statutes on roofing policies unchanged. The amendment puts in some non-solicitation prohibitions not included when the bill cleared the House earlier this week.
Industry officials say that’s an important matter to address. Many roofers have been knocking on doors in communities and encouraging consumers to get new roofs, promising they can get insurance to cover the cost, thus creating a major cost for insurers.
But lobbyists are withholding comment to further study the 41-page amendment. When the legislation originally passed out of the Senate, it allowed carriers to sell policies covering depreciated values of roofs older than 10 years old, and the House has allowed payouts on the actual cash value.
The amendment would also dials back language relating to attorney fees.
“In a suit arising under a residential or commercial property insurance policy not brought by an assignee, the amount of reasonable attorney fees shall be awarded to an insured only as provided” in current statute, the language in the amendment reads.
Limits on attorney fees have met with significance resistance from Democrats and attorneys representing consumers taking claims to court. Boyd and Rep. Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican who has carried the issue in the House, have said Florida must address the enormous court costs in a state that leads the nation in insurance lawsuits. But critics of the legislation say insurance companies denying claims and fighting their own clients in court are part of the reason costs run so high.
Another controversial element of the proposed reforms has been a reduction in the time to file claims from three years to two. Boyd’s amendment allows another year for supplemental claims to be filed.
Boyd feels confident the bill, if signed into law, will address the rising premiums and challenges on carriers suffering losses under the current insurance environment.
“This will provide much needed relief for homeowners who have seen their insurance costs continue to rise over the past several years,” he said.
Many policyholders this year have seen renewal rates on premiums jump by 25% or more. Boyd, an insurance agent by trade, said his own rates jumped about 40% this year.
The Senate version has embraced changes in the rate structure for Citizens Property Insurance. The state-run insurer of last resort right now has annual increases capped at 10%. The private insurance market, meanwhile, has rates jumping annually right now by between 25 and 40%. Rommel’s bill gradually increases how much Insurance can increase rates until the public insurer can hike them by as much as 15% come 2026.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami-Democrat, said that actually works counter to the bill’s stated goal.
“This increase on Citizens Insurance is a rate increase on our constituents and I can’t in good conscience vote on that,” she said previously.
Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, offered an amendment on the floor that would have an opposite affect saying Citizens could not change rates next year unless it lowers them. “If you are stating a purpose in a bill then let’s live up to it,” Cruz said. “Let the homeowners realize the savings.”
But the amendment was voted down. Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, a Pinellas Republican who worked closely with Boyd on the bill in the Senate, said it’s important Citizens remain financially viable, and to make sure its rates don’t negatively imapct the market place as a while.