House Democrats say Republicans bailed out the property insurance industry with their proposed plan to stymie Florida’s insurance market crisis.
The House voted along party lines Wednesday to pass Republicans’ bill (SB 2A), including provisions to limit lawsuits and making state-run Citizens Property Insurance less attractive to homeowners. Democrats had offered amendments and standalone bills to address the collapsing insurance market, but the Republican supermajority shut them down, with House Speaker Paul Renner arguing some of Democrats’ measures were from an “alternate reality.”
Addressing reporters after the Speaker’s post-Session news conference, House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, who filed Democrats’ bill (HB 9A), responded to Renner’s claims.
“I think the alternate reality is believing that we’re a Legislature who couldn’t have done anything about it,” Driskell told reporters, speaking of rate increases, claim denials and long waits to resolve claims. “We’re at a time where Florida has the largest budget surplus in its history, and rather than directly help homeowners, we provided a bailout to the industry.”
Among the measures included is a $1 billion reinsurance fund. That comes after the Legislature approved a $2 billion reinsurance fund during a Special Session in May.
While the House vote fell along partisan lines, Republican Sens. Ileana Garcia and Erin Grall voted against the measure and Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart voted for it.
But in both chambers, Democrats cried foul that Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier still had not presented the Legislature with a report on the property insurance market that was due in January. Republicans lamented that the report was nearly a year late, but did not take as hard of a stance as Democrats, who filed bills and amendments to provide oversight over the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) or to compel his office to complete the report.
Freshman Dania Beach Rep. Hillary Cassel is a lawyer who specializes in representing Floridians against their property insurance companies and who became Democrats’ point-woman this Special Session. She declared some of the most piercing rhetoric.
“There’s a reason why that data is not being made available, because once we scrutinize it and once we look into it, I think we’re going to start to see that there was a scheme to defraud, there was a scheme to put together to force litigation up,” Cassel said, “because if litigation’s up and there’s a boogeyman — and we’ve heard year after year after year — it’s always a different boogeyman, and our Insurance Commissioner has never held them accountable.”
There is speculation whether Altmaier will soon leave OIR. Although Altmaier hasn’t answered that question and OIR has chosen against “perpetuating this rumor,” Democrats have made a point of it.
“I don’t think he’ll be there much longer and we’ll see him more likely than not as an executive of an insurance company because he has just delivered to them every wish list that they have asked him to deliver,” Cassel said.
Just over a month ago, Floridians elected Republican supermajorities to both the House and Senate for the first time in more than a decade. And while the next election is nearly two years away, Driskell said she hopes voters are paying attention.
“We always talk about how elections have consequences. This is a substantial consequence,” Driskell said. “We believe that every Floridian deserves the freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. But along with that, we have to have voters who make sure that they hold their elected officials accountable at the ballot box, and I think homeowners are going to feel the pain probably starting, actually, fairly soon.”
Another flashpoint with the bill was the requirement that policyholders purchase flood insurance. House Democratic Policy Chair Kelly Skidmore, who hails from Boca Raton, disputed Republicans’ characterizations that high-up residents of a condo need the flood insurance to cover the building’s structure.
“That is not true,” Skidmore said. “I think clearly, the members of the Democratic caucus understand this insurance issue just a little bit better than our Republican colleagues do.”