BEATRICE E. GARCIA
The Florida House passed a bill Thursday that preserves many of the consumer-friendly provisions included in the massive insurance reform legislation approved during the January special session.
As the regular session got under way in early March, insurance industry lobbyists tried to tweak parts of the special-session law to favor their operations. The ''glitch bill,'' meant to make just technical alterations in the law, would have major changes.
The legislation, which will be sent to the Senate for approval, requires that claims be paid in 90 days from all policies, including homeowners, condo units and condominium associations.
Commercial claims also have to be paid in the same time period, a requirement insurers have said is difficult to meet because of the complex nature of such claims. However, the bill gives them a little wiggle room if they give their policyholders notice and explain why their claims can't be completed in 90 days.
''We did no harm to citizens of Florida,'' said Rep. Susan Bucher, a Democrat from West Palm Beach who was instrumental in preserving the consumer protections.
The bill also requires insurers who negotiated their reinsurance contracts before the January special session to pass any savings on to their policyholders. Initially, such insurers were exempt from this requirement.
However, the bill, as approved by the House on Thursday, leaves consumers with little recourse if claims aren't resolved promptly.
Rather than taking an insurer to court, consumers would have to go to the Office of Insurance Regulation and ask for a resolution.
Although the House began working at 8 a.m. Thursday, members didn't debate a bill sponsored by Rep. Julio Robaina of Miami that would significantly expand operations for the state-run insurer, Citizens Property Insurance.
However, a companion bill in the Senate, SB 2498, was yanked out of the General Government Appropriations Committee Thursday and has been added to the Senate calendar. That allows the bill to come up for debate by the full Senate in the next few days.