TALLAHASSEE -- With Gov. Jeb Bush saying property insurance problems "threaten to cripple Florida's economy," state lawmakers will hold a January special session to try to bolster the insurance system.
Incoming Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders said Wednesday that lawmakers will start meeting Jan. 16 to deal with a crisis that has left many homeowners and businesses facing massive rate increases or losing their insurance policies.
State leaders have long discussed holding a special session, though the timing was unclear until Wednesday's announcement.
"Florida families are suffering from the devastating effects of skyrocketing rates and canceled insurance policies, and they desperately need relief," Crist, who will take office Jan. 2, said in a prepared statement.
Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-DeLand, said the decision to hold the special session was "better late than never." She and other Democrats had called for holding such a session in December.
"We need to come and stay until we can get this insurance crisis resolved," said Cusack, who is the second-ranking Democrat in the Republican-controlled House.
Bush released a 231-page draft bill that could serve as a starting point for legislative negotiations. That draft largely follows the recommendations of a state task force headed by Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.
Rep. Don Brown, a DeFuniak Springs Republican who served on the task force, said the special session will be an opportunity for lawmakers to try to stabilize the insurance system. But he cautioned that it likely will not lead to major rate reductions.
"I think the people who would suggest that to you are being disingenuous," Brown said.
The draft bill calls for trying to address problems such as the steep price of "reinsurance" -- a crucial type of backup coverage that insurers buy to help pay hurricane claims.
Under the proposal, companies would be able to buy more coverage from a low-cost state reinsurance fund, which could result in savings being passed on to consumers.
Also, the draft calls for steps like expanding a state program that offers grants to help residents fix up their homes to better withstand hurricanes.