Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who urged his colleagues in vain during the Legislative Session to pass bills aimed at shoring up Florida’s tumultuous property insurance, called on legislative leaders Wednesday to convene a Special Session on the issue.
“Florida’s private property insurance market has collapsed, and it is evident we must call a Special Session to address this dire situation,” Brandes wrote in a letter to House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson. “With the 2022 hurricane season quickly approaching and an unstable market, the Legislature chose to leave homeowners exposed to a perfect storm of rising rates, limited coverage, and diminishing options.”
In the past year, four companies have declined to renew more than 120,000 policies, and two others have gone bankrupt. Other companies have received large rate hikes from state regulators. Citizens Property Insurance, whose annual rate increase is capped at 10%, is also taking on more policies — up to 800,000 — as the private market recedes from some high-risk areas.
Insurers have cited spiking roof claims and litigation as the main culprits for their losses and subsequent rate hikes. In 2019, Florida had 8% of the nation’s property insurance policies, but 76% of the lawsuits.
If Sprowls and Simpson don’t act, Brandes wrote, he’ll ask for a poll of legislators to determine whether they convene a Special Session on their own. To conduct a poll, Brandes will need to rally 20% of the Legislature to back his request, then the Department of State will formally poll the entire body. If three-fifths of each chamber support it, there will be a Special Session.
“Floridians are suffering from skyrocketing rate increases, and you have the authority and duty to demand House and Senate engagement,” Brandes wrote. “This issue is too important for any further delay, and if legislative and executive branch leadership fail to act, then I will do everything in my power to protect my neighbors from the crippling impacts of rising insurance costs.”
Brandes suggested lawmakers reduce rates for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, or Cat Fund, which acts as a reinsurance fund for companies in the event of a major storm that wipes out their surpluses. Insurers are required to pay into the fund, but lowering their rates could allow them to pass on cuts to homeowners.
The Senate passed SB 1728, which allowed insurers to include special roof deductibles in their policies, allowed state-run Citizens Property Insurance to raise rates faster, and allowed private companies to take over Citizens policies with higher rates. But the measure failed to pass the House.
Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, has said he wants to see how SB 76, which passed in 2021 and limits attorney fees in some insurance cases, will affect rates before passing another large insurance reform bill.
Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet last week his office is allowing insurers to offer policies with roof deductibles to homeowners on their own but said the market won’t stabilize without further changes in the law.
DeSantis has said he’s open to a Special Session on property insurance, but didn’t formally call for it to be included in the Special Session on congressional redistricting that begins April 19. He also indicated the Legislature likely won’t take action until after the November elections, when Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, is slated to take over as House Speaker.