Gov. Ron DeSantis signed property insurance legislation Friday that allows for larger rate hikes at state-run Citizens Property Insurance and makes other changes requested by private insurers and opposed by some consumer advocates.
Touting the bill as an effort to “turn the corner” on the struggling property insurance market, DeSantis signed the measure during an event in downtown Sarasota that included a roundtable discussion on insurance issues.
Private property insurers have been requesting double digit rate hikes as they complain about litigation costs, prompting lawmakers to respond. Supporters of the insurance bill say it will keep rates down by targeting what they describe as unscrupulous legal practices.
“You’ve seen major premium increases,” DeSantis said. “You’ve even seen some homeowners, they just, their policies get canceled they get dumped onto Citizens and so we wanted to do something to stabilize that, to try to invite more people from the private sector to participate in the market and ultimately give consumers more opportunities to have policies that are affordable and that will protect them from whatever mother nature throws our way.”
“I think we were able to do that,” he added.
Homeowners and plaintiffs attorneys involved in insurance litigation have complained bitterly about the legislation, though, arguing it will make it harder to get legitimate claims paid. Homeowners impacted by Hurricane Michael testified at committee hearing that they resorted to litigation after being lowballed by their insurance carriers.
Critics also have blasted the provision in the legislation that slowly increases the cap on Citizens’ annual rate hikes from 10% to 15% and argued that many of the insurance industry’s problems are self-inflicted.
Damien Filer with the liberal group Progress Florida accused DeSantis of “raising property insurance rates for homeowners while making it easier for insurance companies to deny claims for damages and forcing people out of Citizens and into more expensive private plans.”
Citizens insures nearly 600,000 Floridians up from 420,000 two years ago. The state-run insurer, which was set up to provide coverage for those who can’t find it in the private market, has long been a target of GOP lawmakers and private carriers who worry about the company undercutting the private marketplace.
Sonsumer advocates blame the insurance industry’s own practices for many of the problems facing the industry, saying they contribute to financially fragile companies that don’t keep enough money in reserves and divert too much revenue to affiliated companies for services, making their finances look worse than they are.
The bill makes a variety of other changes to insurance law, including reducing the time that an initial claim can be filed from three years to two years, with one additional year to file a supplemental claim. It also requires that homeowners give insurers 10 days notice before filing a lawsuit, changes how attorney fees are paid when there is litigation over a claim, prohibits building contractors from soliciting homeowners to file claims and prohibits contractors and public adjustors from offering incentives for roof inspections and claims.
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org