Blog: Senate committee passes contentious sinkhole bill

Feb 22, 2011

The following article was published in the St. Petersburg Times on February 22, 2011:


Senate committee passes contentious sinkhole bill

The Senate banking and insurance committee today passed a sweeping property insurance bill that would eliminate a requirement that companies offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance to Floridians. Under this proposal, coverage would only be required for “catastrophic ground collapse,” which basically refers to a home demolished when it’s sucked into the earth. Bill backers say the change is necessary because fraud is rampant, with policy holders collecting huge sums of money for hairline cracks and then never making repairs to their homes.  Insurance companies say the losses translate into rate hikes for consumers.

But opponents of the bill say it means the end of sinkhole insurance in Florida. But bill sponsor Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, argued that insurance companies will offer the coverage if they determine it’s profitable.

“There are business plans on the table right now waiting to be unveiled if we vote positively on this bill,” he said. “That’s what a capitalistic society does. That’s what supply and demand does.” In the end, he said, the increased competition means rates will drop. 

Sen. J.D. Alexander said, “We’ve been monkeying around socializing insurance for a number of years and it’s done nothing but cause problems,” he said, pointing out that Communism collapse,  and “free markets work.”

People who traveled to Tallahassee to comment on the bill left the committee hearing angry that hours were spent listening to the arguments of insurance companies and trial lawyers and not homeowners hit by sinkholes. Melody Sutton traveled from New Port Richey to Tallahassee twice to speak on the bill, and hearings ended both times before she had a chance to speak.

“People are going to be left without insurance and it’s not because we’re committing fraud,” said Sutton, who received $75,000 from her insurance company to cover nearly $300,000 of sinkhole damage to our homes. “It’s because there isn’t the money to repair our homes.”

“It’s a travesty,” said Heather Carruthers, the mayor of Monroe County in the Florida Keys, who also traveled to Tallahassee to testify against the bill. “In my community we would extend our meeting so that the public could be heard because that’s what we feel is the job of elected officials in a representative democracy. We have six people who traveled over 600 miles to be here today and not one person had the opportunity to speak.”

Carruthers said the sinkhole provisions in the bill are not an issue in the Keys, but wind damage is. The bill passed today, she said, slices away at insurance cost benefits that homeowners get if they invest in making their homes more wind resistant.

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