New committee assignments give opening to insurance industry

Nov 29, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on November 29, 2012:

New committee assignments giving opening to insurance industry

By Gray Rohrer

The new makeup of the main committees dealing with property insurance legislation removes some roadblocks for industry-friendly bills that have stumbled the past two years.

Most notably, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, did not get a spot on the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee despite making it his top request for a committee membership. Fasano helped water down or kill bills pushed by property insurers as a senator the past two years.

“Even (former Senate President Mike) Haridopolos put me on the insurance committee,” Fasano said. “I’m extremely disappointed.”

Yet Fasano vowed to remain vocal on property insurance issues and to pressure House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee Chairman Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, whom he likened to the “wolf guarding the henhouse.”

“You better believe it. If I’m not on the committee I’ll hold a press conference every time (Rep.) Nelson wants to poke the consumer in the eye,” Fasano said.

Nelson said his focus will be to enact legislation aimed at shrinking state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has 1.48 million policies and is the largest property insurer in the state. He acknowledged, though, the issues surrounding property insurance can be tough to sell.

“We want to keep looking at how we can reduce the policy count at Citizens,” Nelson said. “The problem is it’s an issue without a sound bite.”

The surplus notes bill — which Fasano helped kill this year — could come up again this year as part of his committee’s review of Citizens’ plan to offer low-interest loans to companies that take over its policies. The surplus notes bill would allow out-of-state, unregulated companies that meet financial requirements to take out Citizens policies.

More changes to Citizens, such as increasing the cap on annual rate increases from 10 percent to 13 percent, could come up again in the next two years. Previous attempts to increase the cap have failed.

Legislative changes to Citizens might be an easier lift under the new committee membership, as there will be no lawmakers from Miami-Dade County on the 13-member House insurance panel, and just two — Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, and Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles — on the 12-member Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. Miami-Dade County has 277,164 Citizens policies — 18.7 percent of total Citizens policies — the most of Florida’s 67 counties.

The Tampa Bay area will also lack clout on both panels. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, is the only lawmaker on either insurance committee from the area. That leaves the “Sinkhole Alley” counties of Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas with just one representative on the primary insurance panels.

Nelson, however, said the House committee has a good blend of lawmakers, including four from Broward and Palm Beach counties, which also contain a large number of Citizens policies.

“I think it’s pretty well represented. It’s a good committee,” Nelson said.

The Senate panel will see a change at the top as Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, leaves as chairman of the committee — although he will still be on the committee as a member — to chair the Senate Gaming Committee. Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, takes over as chairman.

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