Legislature must offer relief on insurance



Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Published  January 15, 2007

The special session that is about to begin in Tallahassee is the last chance for state leaders to show that they are capable of doing a better job for the people of Florida on windstorm-insurance rates. Up to now, the only sensible advice to offer Floridians every time the Legislature grappled with this issue was, ''Hold onto your wallets!'' This time, the outcome must be different.

Unbearable burden

Ever since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, every legislative answer to the insurance crisis has resulted in soaring premiums, especially in South Florida. Entire coastal areas have been redlined by the insurance industry. New risk models have accelerated premiums. Surcharges have been piled on top of rate hikes. The merciless squeeze on residents is making home ownership -- centerpiece of the American dream -- an unbearable burden for thousands of rate-payers, thanks to the Legislature's dereliction. Constituents' complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Who is looking out for them? Certainly not a majority of senators and representatives.

Is it possible that the governor and members of the Legislature have finally realized what's going on? Maybe. Charlie Crist, our new governor, has said that the objective of the session is to enact ''meaningful and broad-based rate reduction for homeowners.'' Yes, he really said that.

Until now, even those who claimed to be on the side of rate-payers aimed merely to slow down the inevitable increases. Clearly, the governor, who campaigned in all parts of the state, heard voters squawking that rates were already too high and must come down. Persuading lawmakers to do the right thing will be the first big test of Gov. Crist's leadership skills.

If producing lower rates were an easy task, it would have been done by now, although this isn't to say that workable solutions haven't been offered before. Easing access to the CAT fund, expanding the state's role in underwriting, ending the practice of ''cherry-picking'' by private insurers -- all of these are good ideas. Until now, they've been thwarted by industry lobbyists or demagogic politicians who cry ''socialism'' every time someone offers a sensible plan that requires a more active role for the state.

Plight of consumers

Enough. As others have noted, hurricanes are the enemy, not the insurance industry. But it is long past time for the industry to take notice of the plight of beleaguered consumers, whose wallets have been left flatter than Homestead after Hurricane Andrew. There's nothing left to squeeze.

Insurance bills are complicated. The devil is in the details. Last year, lawmakers produced a bill with yet another onerous increase for consumers that many legislators later claimed had been slipped past them. This time, please read the fine print. This time, give us relief, not excuses.