Sixty Days for 12.12.22 — A prime-time look at the 2022 Legislative Special Session

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Notes and highlights from today in Tallahassee.

Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2022 Legislative Session:

The Last 24

Lawmakers kicked off the first meetings of the 2022-24 term on Monday, diving into a Special Session on property insurance, hurricane relief and toll relief. Senate committees prepared their legislation for floor votes, expected Tuesday. Meanwhile, the House gave themselves a light official workload, meeting only to formalize the Special Session and to reject Democrats’ proposal for property insurance reforms. Here’s your nightly rundown.

Insurance bailout: Two Senate committees advanced the property insurance bill, setting up the tort reform, new reinsurance program and Citizens rate hikes for a floor vote.

Triple A: The GOP-led House deemed Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and Democrats’ “Triple A” property insurance plan outside the scope of the Special Session and shut it down, which Driskell said killed many good ideas for immediate relief.

Hurricane relief: Lawmakers are acting quickly with a sweeping bill to provide recovery assistance to communities hit by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole this fall, but there will be more to come.

Toll credit: The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Monday voted unanimously to advance legislation for the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to establish a toll relief program for drivers that notch 35 transactions a month on their SunPass transponders.

Spotted: Spotted over Tallahassee Monday afternoon was a plane dragging a banner that read “Save Florida homeowners — Stop crooked roofers.”

Dr. Hall returns: Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Eric Hall is the latest official confirmed to return for his second term.

Quote of the Day

“I can commit to my constituents and the citizens of Florida that the reforms that are in this bill, we believe they’re going to work, and if they work and the prices don’t come down, there will be hell to pay.”

— Senate President Kathleen Passidomo discussing the property insurance bill with Spectrum News and E.W. Scripps.

 

Bill Day’s Latest

 

3 Questions

House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Leek has a busy week. The Ormond Beach Republican filed the property insurance bill in the House and is the prime co-sponsor of the hurricane recovery assistance bill. He’ll shepherd the property insurance bill through two committees on Tuesday and to a House vote on Wednesday.

Leek sat down with Florida Politics to discuss the pair of bills and the lay of the land in Florida.

Q: Seems like we were here just a few months ago, talking about property insurance, Special Session. What’s changed in those months?

Leek: I’ve always looked at property insurance reform as, forgive me, for lack of a better term, almost a 12-step program, right? We’ve tinkered with it a little bit. We’ve done step one here, we’ve done step two, and through this piece of litigation — which I think is the biggest, meatiest, beefiest property insurance reform that the state of Florida’s ever undertaken — this is going to be six steps. But we’re probably not going to be done here, either. They’ll probably be additional steps that present themselves as you move along. We did the right things before to help advance the ball, but we didn’t get it all the way, and this will take us a more substantial way down the field, to mix metaphors.

Q: There are some concerns that there’s a lot of the same in this bill, and much of it addresses litigation. What gives you the confidence that this bill is going to be mitigating this crisis?

Leek: From our research and talking with industry experts and seeing what’s happening within the market, our problem in Florida is relatively easily stated, right? It’s one of capacity. If you don’t have carriers willing to write in the state of Florida, then you’re going to continue to have collapses, you’re going to continue to have consumers who cannot get policies for a reasonable rate. The more carriers you have, the higher the capacity, the lower the rates will be.

Q: Simple enough.

Leek: Simple enough. Now, getting there is much more difficult, right? But understanding that you have a capacity problem is not the difficult part. It’s taking the steps that are necessary to increase capacity. That’s difficult.

Q: On the hurricane relief bill, it seems like there’s a lot packed into that one bill. How do you ensure that all the relief that’s written into that is going to Floridians who lost or displaced lost their main home, Not necessarily beach homes or snowbirds?

Leek: A lot of that is going to be left to (the Department of Environmental Protection) to make those determinations and assess who is the most deserving of the folks to get it. I will tell you, when it comes to hardening your beaches, it doesn’t matter whether it’s your first home, your second home or a condo, because the linear feet of beach line is the same regardless of what the purpose is. What we know is that where you have some places that are hardened and some places that are not, the places that are not are obviously dramatically much more affected, but it also seeps up in behind the places that are hardened, too. At some point in time, we’re going to have to look at how contiguous the hardening or beach renourishment is, because without a seamless, linear foot, you’re gonna continue to have the problems that we’ve got.

Lobby Up

The property insurance bills filed for the Special Session would add another $1 billion in taxpayer-backed reinsurance, more oversight on the claims process, and try to dent Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s ballooning policy count.

They would also make it harder for trial lawyers to sue insurance companies. Insurers claim litigation is one of — if not the — biggest factor in rising property insurance premiums and the instability of the market at large.

Lawmakers have been trying to chip away at property insurance lawsuits in recent years, most notably by placing tighter restrictions on assignment of benefits (AOB) agreements, a legal process that allows policyholders to sign over their insurance benefits to a third party in exchange for a quick repair.

Companies that take over the benefits often sue insurance companies to collect fees. Insurers say those lawsuits are often for inflated claims and that AOBs combined with the one-way attorney fees statute are driving up insurance premiums.

The trial lawyer group Florida Justice Association has consistently pushed back against that narrative, and it doubled down last week, saying insurers that pay valid claims promptly have no reason to fear a lawsuit.

But convincing lawmakers of that will be an uphill battle — the Special Session proclamation issued by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner specifically included reducing lawsuit costs among the issues for lawmakers to address this week.

FJA does have a sizable team working to mitigate the potential damage. Their lobbyists include in-house advocates Lydia Brooks, William Cotterall, Paul Jess, Jeffrey Porter, Laura Youmans as well as contract lobbyists Andreina Figueroa; Reggie Garcia; Brecht Heuchan of The Labrador Company; Eliakim Nortelus of the Nortelus Roberts Group; and Foyt Ralston

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

— Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and Sen. Jason Pizzo will hold a news conference outside of the Senate chamber at 10:10 a.m.

— The Senate will hold a floor Session at 10:30 a.m.

Also, the following committees will meet.

— The House Commerce Committee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— The House Ways & Means Committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The House Appropriations Committee meets at 3 p.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— The House Rules Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

Full committee agendas, including bills to be considered, are available on the House and Senate websites.

Staff Reports



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