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Brandes pushes property insurance special session

 Sen. Jeff Brandes
News Service of Florida
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Sen. Jeff Brandes

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has argued for taking aggressive action to deal with Florida’s property-insurance problems, intends to pursue polling lawmakers about holding a special legislative session if 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 suffering from skyrocketing rate increases” and that he might use a provision in state law to try to spur a special session.

“If you are unwilling to issue the call for a property insurance special session 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 for their support of a special session on property insurance in order to prevent further collapse,” Brandes wrote.

Under law, Brandes would first have to get 20 percent of the Legislature to file support for a special session with the Department of State. If the 20 percent mark is reached, the department would have seven days to poll lawmakers. A session would be held if it is 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 led to special sessions.

The possibility of holding a special session about property insurance has drawn speculation after the House and Senate did not reach agreement on an insurance bill during the regular session that ended March 14.

Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t include the issue in a special session he has called for April 19 to April 22 to redraw congressional districts. DeSantis has said he expects lawmakers to address insurance changes this year, most likely after new House and Senate leaders are sworn in following the November elections.

Legislative leaders have not sought to add insurance issues to the redistricting special session. On Friday, Sprowls said more time needs to 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 during an event in Winter Haven.

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

In 2021, lawmakers approved changes that included a new formula to limit fees of attorneys who represent homeowners in lawsuits against insurers and a reduction from three years to two years in the time to file claims. They also passed a proposal aimed at preventing roofing contractors from advertising to spur homeowners to file claims, though a federal court has blocked that part of the law on free-speech grounds.

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

But many private insurers in recent months have sought hefty rate increases and dropped customers to reduce financial risks. That has led to thousands of homeowners a week turning to Citizens for coverage, with Citizens’ total number of policies expected to top 1 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 “financing mechanism for insurers to access if the capital markets are not an option.” He called for making “significant property insurance reforms in order to create a sustainable environment for Florida homeowners.”

“Florida’s private property insurance market has collapsed, and it is evident we must call a special session to address this dire situation,” wrote Brandes, who will leave office this fall because of term limits. “In the past 30 days, thousands of Floridians have had their homeowners insurance company exit Florida. Over 800,000 homeowners cannot find insurance aside from Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. With the 2022 hurricane season quickly approaching and an unstable market, the Legislature chose to leave homeowners exposed to a perfect storm of rising rates, limited coverage and diminishing options.”

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