Florida lawmakers return to the Capitol next week for a Special Legislative Session aimed at addressing problems in the state’s turbulent property insurance market, a persistent and multifaceted crisis in a region vulnerable to damaging hurricanes.
It is still unclear exactly how the GOP-controlled statehouse plans to handle the issue legislatively ahead of the weeklong session that begins Monday.
In his proclamation calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted several issues that have contributed to rising insurance rates in the state, including high rates of insurance litigation that drive up premiums and massive underwriting losses for insurance companies that have resulted in insolvency or canceled policies, among other things.
There is also added urgency to pass legislation ahead of hurricane season, which in previous years has seen Florida battered with powerful storms, such as the Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, in an interview, also stressed the problem of litigation, saying the state last year accounted for 9% of all claims filed nationally but nearly 80% of all the property insurance lawsuits. Florida law makes it highly profitable for lawyers to sue insurance companies even if the amount won is relatively small, and previous moves to limit attorney fees have not stopped the crush of legal fees.
“The market right now is experiencing challenges that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in my 16 years of being in Tallahassee,” he said. “We’re at a stage right now where the fraud and litigation abuse is deterring capital markets from wanting to deploy money into the Florida market.”
Still, Patronis, a Republican, warned that next week’s legislative package won’t grant financial immediate relief to homeowners.
“The Legislature has the opportunity next week to do some good for the Florida policy holders that won’t be immediate, but at least over time we will see some relief,” he said.
There has been growing consensus among lawmakers for the need to reform aspects of property insurance law, with DeSantis saying the goal would be to “bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market.”
Lawmakers could also exact changes to Citizens Property Insurance, a state-backed insurer meant to be a last resort for property owners unable to find private coverage. Amid problems in the state’s market, Citizens Property Insurance has seen policies increase at a rapid rate and is expected to reach over a million policies by the end of the year
The special session comes after lawmakers failed to pass insurance legislation during their regular session, which ended in March and was dominated by partisan rancor over bills dealing with abortion, race and gender and sexual orientation. Separately, lawmakers last month finished another contentious special session on congressional redistricting and legislation to dissolve a private government Walt Disney World controls on its property in the state.
The Session is set to run May 23 to May 27.