Hundreds Protest Insurance Industry, 'Crazy' Rate Hikes

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

Published  October 8, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - Residents from at least three counties met in front of the West Pasco Government Center Saturday to let off steam about rising homeowners insurance.

Bernadette Guida, a 10-year New Port Richey resident, was among several who raised their hands during an informal poll of people who have seen a 300 percent increase or more in their annual bill.

Guida's State Farm insurance bill for her 1,100-square-foot home on the east side of U.S. 19 has increased from $500 annually to $3,100 in the past three years, she said.

"It's crazy, and something has to be done," said Guida, who works overtime whenever she can to pay for insurance. "I just want to be part of the crowd, letting lawmakers know we're tired of the insurance companies gouging us."

The nonprofit group Homeowners Against Citizens organized the rally, its first since forming this year after a similar protest in Tallahassee. Roughly 200 people showed up; most were from Pasco County, but others came from Hernando and Pinellas counties.

Some voiced their outrage on handmade signs, and a few wore shirts bearing their woes: "I just paid my homeowners insurance, and all I have left is this lousy T-shirt," read one shirt, which identified its wearer as a "Desperate Homeowner."

Although the group's primary beef is with Citizens Property Insurance, the state's insurer of last resort, its members and those at Saturday's rally are directing their ire at the state insurance industry as a whole.

"This is a wake-up call," said Nicole Deg, a New Port Richey resident who helped form the group, which claims a membership of about 800. "We want to show unity; we're all different, young and old. But we're all here to tell our government we're not going to take this anymore."

Plenty of political candidates and supporters were on hand at Saturday's rally to shake hands and solicit votes. Deg and other organizers, though, said they had wanted to keep the rally neutral and invited local, state and national leaders of both parties to participate.

Commissioners from Hernando and Pasco counties showed up, along with one state lawmaker.

Explaining what she and her colleagues have done to help frustrated homeowners, Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the county recently hired Jacksonville lawyer Tim Volpe to help press Citizens for lower rates. Volpe was successful in getting residents of Monroe County some relief from the insurance company.

Even some politicians vented about their insurance problems. Ann Hildebrand, another Pasco commissioner, said her homeowners insurance had been canceled twice - once by Citizens.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the citizens group has the attention of lawmakers in Tallahassee. He apologized on behalf of the Legislature and said a special session needs to be called to deal with the insurance issue.

"We haven't solved it, and we're all to blame," Fasano said.