Sen. Jeff Brandes said Thursday he’ll continue to push for a Special Session on property insurance, even if not enough of his fellow lawmakers respond the poll issued by the Department of State late Thursday afternoon.
Under state law, the Department has seven days to poll the Legislature after receiving notice from at least 32 lawmakers that a Special Session is needed and an official poll of the entire Legislature is warranted. To get a Special Session, three-fifths of each chamber must approve of it in the official poll, or at least 72 House members and 24 Senators.
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, several lawmakers told Florida Politics they haven’t received any poll from the Department. A spokeswoman for the Department of State didn’t return calls or emails Tuesday or Wednesday, but Thursday afternoon said the agency is sending out the official poll for the Special Session to lawmakers, who have until noon Monday following the Easter holiday to respond.
If too few lawmakers receive and respond by then, the poll fails. But Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, said he’d just issue another request if too many of his colleagues fail to respond, and trigger another poll.
“We can do this all summer,” Brandes told Florida Politics. “We’ll just cross out the dates and have them re-sign.”
Brandes has pushed for a Special Session on property insurance as homeowners throughout the state have been hit with large rate hikes, companies have gone bankrupt and others have chosen not to renew policies.
In a letter to legislative leaders last week announcing his intent to seek a Special Session, Brandes said the property insurance market is in “collapse” and will further implode without legislative action.
Three companies have gone bankrupt in the last year and four others have refused to renew more than 120,000 policies. Some of the policies from defunct companies have been taken on by other carriers. But the more companies fail, the more likely policies will be paid by the Florida Insurance Guarantee Association, which will issue assessments on all policies to pay for claims under those failed companies.
It’s also more likely Citizens Property Insurance, a state-run company designed to take on only the highest-risk policies in the state that the private market won’t cover, will assume thousands of more policies. That means much more risk, and therefore a greater risk of assessments on all homeowners if a major hurricane hits and wipes out Citizens’ surplus.
Florida lawmakers attempted to address the issue in the regular Session, but the chambers couldn’t reach an agreement before it ended in March. The Senate passed SB 1728, which installed a new roof deductible and allowed Citizens to raise rates faster in an attempt to reduce the number of policies going into Citizens. Insurers have cited spikes in roof claims and litigation costs as the main drivers of their losses.
But House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, was skeptical, and wanted to see how the changes made in 2021’s SB 76, which limit attorneys fees in some lawsuits, affected rates before passing another large insurance bill.
Meanwhile, market actors are sounding alarm bells. Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, a ratings agency for insurers, wrote to legislative leaders March 23, urging a Special Session and warning some companies will be downgraded without legislative action.
If a Special Session were to take place, it’s unclear what policies would be pursued by lawmakers. Democrats have slammed Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis for not addressing the issue, but much of the policies floated in SB 1728 and by Petrelli to lower litigation costs would not lower rates for homeowners in the short term.
One idea that could ease pressure on homeowner rates suggested by Brandes would be to lower rates for companies paying into the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, or Cat Fund, which is a state-backed reinsurance fund. But that idea never gained traction during the Legislative Session.