Brandes promotes special property insurance session

TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg who has championed strong action to address Florida’s homeowners insurance problems, intends to push lawmakers to vote on holding a special legislative session if the House and Senate leaders don’t call a session on the insurance issue.

In a letter Wednesday to Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, Brandes said “Floridians are experiencing skyrocketing rate increases” and that could use a provision in state law to try to spur a special session.

“If you are unwilling to issue the call for a special session on property insurance and the House and Senate refuse to issue a joint proclamation, I plan to pursue Section 11.011, Florida Statutes, and poll my legislative colleagues to support a special session on property insurance to prevent further collapse,” Brandes wrote.

Under the law, Brandes would first have to get 20 percent of the Legislature to present support for a special session with the State Department. If the 20 percent mark is reached, the department would have seven days to survey lawmakers. A session would be held if supported by three-fifths of the House and three-fifths of the Senate.

Attempts in recent years to use the process on other issues have not resulted in special sessions.

The possibility of holding a special session on property insurance has generated speculation after the House and Senate failed to reach an agreement on an insurance bill during the regular session that ended on March 14.

Related: Florida Legislature leaves without addressing property insurance crisis

Gov. Ron DeSantis did not raise the issue in a special session he called April 19-22 to redraw congressional districts. DeSantis has said he expects lawmakers to address the insurance changes this year, most likely after the new leaders of the House and Senate are sworn in after the November election.

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Legislative leaders have not sought to add insurance issues to the special redistricting session. On Friday, Sprowls said more time should be given to property insurance changes made during the 2021 session.

“If you’re talking about the special session, the proclamation is for redistricting,” Sprowls said when asked about the issue at an event in Winter Haven.

“We passed one of the most sweeping reforms to the insurance industry that has ever been done in Florida,” Sprowls said, referring to the 2021 legislation. “One thing that happens, we talk about this all the time, is it takes 18 months to see those (changes) reflected in the rates. We’re about six months away from that.”

In 2021, lawmakers approved changes that included a new formula to cap fees for attorneys representing homeowners in lawsuits against insurers and a reduction in the time to file claims from three years to two years. They also approved a proposal to prevent roofing contractors from advertising to encourage homeowners to file claims, though a federal court blocked that part of the law on free speech grounds.

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The law also allowed larger rate increases for clients of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which often charges less than private companies.

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But many private insurers in recent months have sought steep rate increases and cut clients to reduce financial risks. That has led thousands of homeowners to turn to Citizens each week for coverage, with the total number of Citizens policies expected to exceed one million by the end of the year.

Brandes wants a special session to address issues such as Citizens, the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and providing a “funding mechanism for insurers to access if capital markets are not an option.” She called for “meaningful homeowners insurance reforms to create a sustainable environment for Florida homeowners.”

“Florida’s private property insurance market has collapsed, and it is clear that we need to call a special session to address this dire situation,” wrote Brandes, who will leave office this fall due to term limits. “In the last 30 days, thousands of Floridians have had to leave Florida with their homeowners insurance company. More than 800,000 homeowners can’t find insurance other than Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. With the 2022 hurricane season fast approaching and an unstable market, the Legislature decided to leave homeowners exposed to a perfect storm of rising rates, limited coverage and shrinking options.”

By Jim Turner, Florida News Service