In his final Session in office, Sen. Jeff Brandes is lashing out at Republicans — including Gov. Ron DeSantis — for ignoring the state’s growing property insurance crisis.
During debate over property insurance in the Senate Wednesday, Brandes said the Governor was not paying attention as homeowners get hit with huge rate hikes and insurers are opting to stop writing policies in the Sunshine State.
“Frankly, we have to get the Governor to get engaged on this to a level that, to date, he has not been engaged at,” said Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican.
Brandes has emerged as a maverick in the last two sessions and has not been afraid to clash openly with Senate GOP leaders including Senate President Wilton Simpson. More recently though, his criticism has extended to those outside his chamber.
In an interview with Florida Politics following the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meeting, Brandes acknowledged that many House Republicans and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are not stepping forward to address the crisis either. He said he does not even know who in the Governor’s Office is even paying attention to property insurance legislation.
“I think there are a handful of legislators that are on deck,” Brandes said. “I think many other people are below deck sleeping.”
Devin Galetta, a spokesperson for Patronis, said the CFO has “rolled out major initiatives for protecting consumers and fighting premium increases.” Galetta noted that Patronis in December rolled out two new fraud fighting squads solely dedicated to fighting homeowners and property insurance fraud, which includes ten sworn law enforcement detectives. Patronis also supports a tax exemption for retrofit improvements that benefits both homeowners and businesses as contained in HB 1250 and HB 863. But those bills aren’t moving.
Florida’s property insurance market has already been called “dire” by the state Insurance Commissioner. Meanwhile, the number of homeowners shifting to the state-created Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has been growing larger. The Office of Insurance Regulation in 2020 approved more than 50 rate hikes that were 10% or larger.
Brandes made his initial comments about DeSantis while legislators were discussing SB 1728, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Boyd of Bradenton. The bill would alter the type of coverage that homeowners could purchase to cover their roofs. Insurers have maintained that “unscrupulous” roofing contractors have been taking advantage of homeowners. Part of the effort to crack down on contractors last year, however, was blocked by a federal court that found it violated free speech rights.
Brandes voted for the bill, but he bemoaned the fact that lawmakers had not given thoughtful consideration to his proposal that could lower the amount insurers must pay to purchase reinsurance from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.
“We have to do everything we can,” Brandes told his fellow senators.
But he maintains his plan — which he offered as an amendment last week to SB 468 — could result in a $1 billion reduction in expenses for insurers who could pass on the savings to homeowners.