ORLANDO, Fla. — Though the governor has made his announcement about property taxes while standing in hard-hit Southwest Florida Thursday, lawmakers are hinting that November’s special session could be almost completely focused on the state’s property insurance crisis.
Prior to Hurricane Ian, the industry was already in mid-collapse, fueled by lawsuits over scam roofing schemes. Basically, door-to-door contractors offer “free” roof replacements to homeowners, promising insurance companies will pay after finding some damage (sometimes inflicted by the contractors themselves).
When insurance companies balk, the contractor will sue – and the insurance companies almost always opt to settle.
Lawmakers have tried to find a fix twice, including during a special session called in the spring. Both times they lacked the political willpower to truly shore up the market.
Poised to continue their run as the majority after the November election, Republican lawmakers are promising the third time, along with the upcoming regular session next spring, will finally be the charm.
“I think a majority of elected Republicans see this as a common-sense issue, along with Democrats,” outgoing Rep. Anthony Sabatini (Lake) said. “The problem we’ve had in Florida the last two to four years is the legislative leadership.”
Florida’s Speaker of the House will change next month as well. In the spring, a bipartisan group of lawmakers passed changes to aid insurance companies, including state-backed Citizens Property Insurance.
This time, Republicans are eyeing tort reform.
“What we [need to] do is make sure that if somebody files a claim that’s frivolous, that they could be on the hook for paying the large attorney fees that represent the insurance company or you as the defendant,” Rep. Fred Hawkins (Osceola) said, describing ending “one-way” attorney fees that only award damages to the plaintiff’s lawyers in a case. “So it just keeps people on the honest level.”
Sabatini predicted lawmakers would instead go after multiplier fees.
“If the insurance company doesn’t do what they need to do fast enough and give enough money, the amount of claim that they can get as attorney fees go up by multiples,” he explained. “So that quadruples the cost of the insurance company, which once again, gets tossed right into the premiums for the insurance company to survive here in the state of Florida.”
Several Democratic representatives told WFTV they back the push to reform the market, but said Republicans are pursuing the wrong track. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (Orange/Seminole) said lawmakers needed to examine reinsurance rates and make accessing emergency hurricane funds easier.
“They tried tort reform in previous sessions and it made no impact on insurance rates,” he said.
Rep. Anna Eskamani (Orange) said in addition to examining reinsurance, she wanted to make sure insurance companies were held accountable for paying out legitimate claims.
It’s too soon to know if lawmakers will go far enough or what will be debated. Proposals can’t be submitted until after the November election.
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