Senate solidly behind Citizens rate freeze

Apr 17, 2008

Palm Beach Post--April 17, 2008

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — Citizens Property Insurance rates would be frozen for the third consecutive year, and private insurers would have to base premiums on state-approved hurricane predictions under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The bill (SB 2860) was approved 32-7. It faces a vote next in the House.
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Opponents said the bill offers unfair insurance breaks to coastal property owners while sticking North Florida and inland residents with additional risk.

They argued that Citizens rates already are artificially low, which means larger assessments could be tacked on to private home, boat and car premiums if a catastrophic storm hits the state this year.

Homeowners with private insurance are helping pay Citizens assessments from the historic 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

Last year, lawmakers agreed to let the state-run insurer add assessments to car and boat insurance if needed after a future storm.

The Florida Association of Insurance Agents released a statement after the bill passed saying that insurance premiums could increase 71 percent in Palm Beach County, 27 percent in Broward County and 167 percent in Manatee County if the bill was approved.

The insurance group said the rate increases would come from a provision in the bill that requires new Citizens windstorm customers to also buy coverage for other perils, such as fire and theft, through the state-run insurer.

But Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, noted that Citizens rates could increase next year.

In 2009, Citizens’ windstorm policies would be allowed to rise 10 percent and multi-peril policies jump by 5 percent, according to the bill.

Atwater told the Senate his bill was "one of the most important bills you’ll consider this session."

"You have a chance today with your voice to try and bring hope and relief to the people of Florida that are finding it more and more difficult to be able to afford their homeowners insurance," he said.

Opponents of the bill included incoming Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate.