Florida lawmakers have ideas to fix the homeowners insurance crisis

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Lawrence Mower

Published January 3, 2024


Tallahassee -- As state lawmakers reconvene for the annual legislative session next month, one of the top issues they’re hearing from constituents about is the state’s homeowners insurance crisis.

Naturally, some lawmakers and officials have ideas.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in the proposed budget he unveiled in early December, wants to cut insurance taxes, which would have a nominal effect on Floridians’ premiums. The state’s insurance regulator, Mike Yaworsky, said in mid-December that he was interested in legislation to increase insurers’ transparency.

In legislation filed so far, lawmakers are proposing other solutions, including giving direct subsidies to struggling Floridians and allowing the state-run Citizens Property Insurance to cover more homes.

Whether any of these ideas will become reality is unknown. House and Senate Republican leaders haven’t unveiled what, if anything, they have planned for the upcoming session related to insurance.

Much of the legislation filed so far is sponsored by Democrats, who have offered up numerous proposals to address the crisis in recent years. The Republicans who control the Legislature haven’t allowed any of them to pass, however.

That’s likely to continue this year, Democratic lawmakers concede.

“They didn’t listen to us then. I suffer no illusion that they would listen to us now,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, the leader of the House Democrats.

Here are some of the ideas lawmakers have proposed so far:

HB 41: Mortgage Loans and Insurance Payments Grant Program
Sponsored by: Rep. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds, D-West Palm Beach
This bill would create a state-funded program offering Floridians one-time grants to help pay for their insurance or mortgages. Grants of $1,500 — or $2,500 for those 65 and older — could be used to pay for a mortgage loan or homeowners insurance. Floridians could also apply for grants of equal amounts for an auto insurance payment.

SB 102/HB 1017: Property Insurance
Sponsors: Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens and Rep. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds, D-West Palm Beach
This wide-ranging legislation would make the state’s insurance commissioner elected instead of appointed and create a new six-member Property Insurance Commission to comment on and review state data. The bill makes several other changes, including limiting how insurers can deny a claim and requiring insurers to reduce rates when the Legislature passes laws reforming the industry.

SB 178: Resolution of Disputed Property Insurance Claims
Sponsor: Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton
With insurers blaming lawsuits for driving up Floridians’ premiums, this legislation would require insurers to participate in mediation when policyholders have a dispute about their claim.

HB 329/SB 860: Financial Assistance for Homeowners
Sponsors: Rep. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds, D-West Palm Beach and Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens
To prevent homeowner foreclosures and utility cutoffs, this bill would give Floridians unspecified amounts of money to help pay for utilities, mortgages and homeowners insurance payments.

SB 348: Insurance Rebate Program for Low-Income Seniors
Sponsor: Sen. Lauren Book, D-Davie
The leader of the Senate Democrats is also pitching a program to help low-income seniors afford their homeowners insurance. Under Book’s proposal, Floridians 65 and older could apply to the state for an insurance rebate equal to 10% of their premiums. It would apply to seniors with an income equal to or less than 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $39,440 for a two-person household.

HB 565/SB 604: Coverage by Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Sponsors: Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, and Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral
These lawmakers from South Florida are proposing increasing the cap on the value of homes that state-run Citizens Property Insurance can cover in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. The corporation could insure homes valued at up to $1.5 million, instead of the current $1 million, and annual rate increases in those counties would be capped at 10%.

SB 802/HB 655: Condominium Windstorm Pilot Program
Sponsors: Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, and Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Dania Beach
To help condo owners absorb rising homeowners premiums, these bipartisan lawmakers want to create a pilot program to allow state-run Citizens Property Insurance to offer a cheaper plan. When Citizens assesses a roof claim, it calculates the premium based on the cost to replace the roof. Under this pilot program, Citizens would be allowed to assess roofs by the roof’s depreciation and condition, which would result in a lower premium. The downside is that homeowners would have to pay more out of pocket if their roof is damaged in a storm.

SB 1070/HB 809: Personal Lines Residential Property Insurance
Sponsors: Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, and Rep. Alina Garcia, R-Miami
Like SB 802/HB 655, this proposal would reduce premiums by allowing insurers to offer less coverage. In this case, insurers could offer policies that insure an amount equal to the unpaid principal balance of all mortgage loans on the home. Insurers would be required to warn customers that in the event of a loss to the home greater than the unpaid balance on the mortgages, “YOU WILL INCUR SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL LOSSES.”

SB 1106/HB 889: Coverage by Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Sponsors: Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, and Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater
Citizens doesn’t insure homes outside of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties if the cost to replace the home is more than $700,000. These lawmakers want to change that by allowing homes between $700,000 and $1 million to be insured with Citizens if coverage can’t be found on the private market, but with an additional surcharge of up to $2,500.

HM 371: Federal catastrophe pool

Sponsor: Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton
This isn’t a bill, but a memorial that urges Congress to create a federal catastrophe pool to spread the risk of major storms — an old idea in Florida. Skidmore’s proposal doesn’t go into detail about how the federal fund would work, but past ideas included having states with disaster pools, such as Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, combine their resources, with the federal government acting as a backstop in case the combined fund runs out. A national pool hasn’t gained traction in Congress for several reasons, most notably because states aren’t keen on subsidizing Florida’s coastal growth. In 2007, the U.S. House passed a bill authorizing the creation of a national catastrophe fund, but it died after then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto it.