Panel nixes plan to keep Citizens rates frozen

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Michael C. Bender
Published  April 24, 2007


TALLAHASSEE A proposal to freeze insurance rates for a second year for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. customers was removed from a bill approved Monday by a state House council.

It was one of two provisions to make the state-run insurer more competitive that were deleted by the House Policy and Budget Council before members approved the bill 23-6.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he was "very concerned" about changes.

"I want us to continue to make progress as it relates to insurance reduction for our people," Crist said.

The council also removed a provision that would have let homeowners join Citizens if policies from private company were 15 percent more expensive. State law now sets that threshold at 25 percent.

The council kept measures in the bill to prohibit private companies from creating Florida subsidiaries, known as pup companies, and another to let state regulators consider an insurer's profits before approving new rate increases.

The changes came during about two hours of council debate on Citizens, already Florida's largest property insurer and growing by an estimated 15,000 policies each month.

But the adjustments to the bill (HB 1267) were not enough for several lawmakers and industry representatives, who said more should be done to lure private companies back to Florida.

"It was the insurance industry that rebuilt this state after the 2004 hurricanes," said William Stander of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "Not the legislature, not Citizens and not this governor. And I think we're forgetting that."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, said it's impossible to provide relief without expanding Citizens.

"I live in the real world, and right now the bottom line is we don't have that choice," Robaina said. "We need to do whatever we can to help the consumer.

"They want to call it an expansion. I'm calling it helping Citizens be successful."

The council also added language to give incentives to private companies that buy policies from Citizens. The language, which gives discounted reinsurance to such companies, came from a bill (HB 949) pushed by Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach.

"I feel this is a solution to the problem," Taylor said. "If we want to try to shrink Citizens and bring back competitive rates in Florida and have affordable and accessible insurance, I think we should support this bill."

Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, also added a section to the bill that would create a task force to study ways to shrink Citizens. The task force measure was taken from another bill (HB 1227) that sought ways to reduce Citizens and offered several benefits for private insurers.

That bill, from Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, was approved 22-4 after Hasner removed a provision that would have prohibited state regulators from stopping excessive or discriminatory rate increases.