By BEATRICE E. GARCIA
Published April 13, 2007
Two insurance bills that had languished for nearly a month jumped on the fast track this week after Gov. Charlie Crist made personal appearances to lobby for the proposed legislation.
On Thursday, he appeared at the House Jobs and Entrepreneurial Council to support a measure that allows the state-run insurer, Citizens Property Insurance, to expand.
Crist was brief -- this is a ''good bill to help the people of Florida'' -- but effective.
Despite dissent from one committee member and lobbyists for the insurance industry, the bill was rapidly approved and moved forward to its next stop: the Policy and Budget Council.
The governor made a similar appearance before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Tuesday to support a companion bill. It, too, got a speedy go-ahead.
Miami Rep. Julio Robaina, who sponsored the bill, hopes the bill will be taken next week during ''Dade Days'' when local leaders and residents are expected to push lawmakers for more changes to bring relief from soaring insurance rates.
But on Thursday, Robaina was relishing the fact the bill is moving forward.
''I'm the happiest legislator in Tallahassee,'' he said.
The House bill would allow a homeowner to opt for a full policy from Citizens if the homeowner's current insurer offers a renewal with a rate that's 15 percent higher than what Citizens would charge for a comparable policy.
This bill, like the one in the Senate, would also stop the formation of Florida-only subsidiaries for national insurers.
It would also require national insurers operating in Florida to include their consolidated earnings when demanding rate increases from state insurance regulators.
There's one big difference between Robaina's bill and the Senate version. The House bill would freeze Citizens' rates for another year -- through 2008.
Under the insurance reform bill passed during the January special session, Citizens' 2007 rate increase was eliminated. But it's expected to file new rates for 2008.
''This gives [Citizens policyholder] another year'' without substantial rate increases, said Robaina.
Gerald Wester, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful statewide business trade group, warned of potentially huge assessments for all Florida residents if a big storm hits the state this year or next and Citizens and the state CAT fund run out of money. Residents will make up any shortfall.