Florida lawmakers scrap bills that would have addressed property insurance and condo requirements
The House and Senate could not work out differences on high-profile insurance and condominium bills.
Lawmakers could not reach agreement Friday on a plan to address problems in Florida’s troubled property-insurance market, while also halting efforts to put additional requirements on condominium buildings after a deadly collapse last year in Surfside.
Finishing most of the work in this year’s legislative session, the House and Senate could not work out differences on high-profile insurance and condominium bills.
The insurance debate came as homeowners face soaring premiums and lost coverage while insurers grapple with financial troubles. The Florida Department of Financial Services during the past two weeks went to court to be appointed a receiver for St. Johns Insurance Co. and Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., describing the insurers as “insolvent.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who pushed lawmakers to deal with problems in the industry, said Friday that financial rating agencies and reinsurance firms were waiting to see how the Legislature would address the issues. Without a bill passing, he said it could lead to more insolvencies and increases in costs for reinsurance, which is essentially backup insurance that insurers buy.
“I think this gives the governor a perfect reason to call a special session,” Brandes said.
The House and Senate disagreed throughout the session about how far to go in making changes in the industry, with the Senate being more aggressive in trying to bolster private insurers.
As an example, the Senate proposed allowing new deductibles of up to 2 percent on roof-damage claims — an outgrowth of complaints by insurers that questionable, if not fraudulent, roof claims are driving up costs. As an example, under the Senate proposal, a homeowner with $300,000 in overall coverage could have faced a $6,000 deductible to replace a damaged roof.
But the House rejected the idea, which would have led to increased out-of-pocket costs for homeowners who need to replace damaged roofs.
A House bill addressed issues such as changes at the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., but House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, signaled early this month that the House wouldn’t go much further. He cited a property-insurance bill that lawmakers passed last year.
“I’m also cognizant of the fact that we just passed a very significant insurance bill last session,” Sprowls said at the time. “If what has been told to me in the eight years that I’ve been here from the insurance lobby is true, which is that it takes 18 months to see an impact in rates, which is what I’ve been told over and over and over again, then I don’t think we’re yet seeing the impact that we’re having in rates by the bill that we passed last year.”
Brandes said the House didn’t propose anything that “moved the needle significantly.” Speaking to reporters after a floor session, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said a special session on insurance was a possibility.
“We have many companies going out of business,” Simpson said. “It's certainly a crisis. I think I said a couple of weeks ago that we will have failed if we didn't pass a good property insurance bill. And so there is a possibility in the coming months, especially as we get into hurricane season, it will be a heightened opportunity. And I think the Senate had a formation of a pretty good bill this year, and we just didn't get finished.”
Lawmakers will meet Monday to pass a budget and related bills, but they finished taking up all other legislation Friday.
Like with the property insurance bill, the House and Senate differed throughout the session about how far to go in placing additional requirements on condominium buildings. That issue stemmed from the collapse last year of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside that killed 98 people.
House and Senate bills dealt with issues such as required inspections and financial reserves that could be used to make building repairs. The House wanted to go further than the Senate on issues such as reserve requirements for condominium associations.
“This was important life safety legislation to help ensure Florida never experiences another Surfside tragedy,” Allen Douglas, executive director of the Florida Engineering Society and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida, said Friday after lawmakers couldn’t agree on a bill. “It’s a missed opportunity to pass much-needed statewide building safety guidelines.”