THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Citizens Property Insurance Board backs redux of 2011 bill

Nov 15, 2011

The following article was published in the St. Peterburg Times on November 15, 2011:

Citizens Board Back Redux of 2011 Bill

By Michael Peltier

Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida reports: Pressured by the governor and Cabinet to come up with specific fixes, governing board members of the state-backed insurance pool on Monday said they’ll resurrect a legislative proposal that died earlier this year with the hope it will be considered more favorably during a redistricting and election year session.

Meeting in Orlando, the board members of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. admitted that substantive change may not be in the cards as lawmakers return in less than two months for the 2012 session, but chairman Carlos Lacasa said it was important that the board be aggressive in its efforts to revamp the insurer that now handles nearly 1.5 million policies in some of the most hurricane-prone regions of the state.

Board members on Monday said they will work from a template offered last year by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatillla, that fell by the wayside as interested parties sparred over numerous portions of the controversial bill.

Tasked by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet earlier this month to come up with a slate of recommendations for them to consider at their next Cabinet meeting Dec. 6, Citizens officials said they have little time to make up a whole new legislative package from scratch.

Hays’ initial proposal – a starting point again for Citizens in the coming session – allowed the company to raise premiums by up to 20 percent a year, after years of having rates frozen, most recently allowing for a 10 percent increase at most.

Beyond the rate hikes, the bill would have ratcheted down the value of homes that Citizens could insure. By 2016, the home would have to be valued at $500,000 or less to be eligible for Citizens coverage under the proposal.

Among the other provisions from the 2011 legislation that board members say they’ll support in the coming year is a prohibition on the use of public claims adjusters by Citizens customers. Public adjusters work with consumers to try to get claims paid by the company – and have been criticized by the insurance industry for unfairly reopening claims that shouldn’t have been reconsidered.

Citizens will also likely again back a prohibition on the company from offering commercial, non-residential policies, part of an effort to shrink the company’s book of business that would force it to shed about 8,300 policies.

Last session’s bill also would have prevented insurers from levying assessments on non-Citizens policies until policyholders within the pool are charged a 15 percent surcharge to be paid upon renewal, termination and cancellation.

With lawmakers expected to fight over redrawing political boundaries and a tight presidential race ahead in the key swing state, Citizens officials say they are not overly optimistic about what lawmakers will be able to achieve this session on the controversial insurance issue, especially since it targets residents in the voter rich coastal regions.

“The legislative process is extremely unpredictable,” said Citizens Vice Chairman Rob Wallace, a former lawmaker.

Though a valid concern, Lacasa, also a former lawmaker, said it is imperative for the board to at least begin the process of making significant changes to Citizens sooner rather than later.

“I would hate to squander a session,” Lacasa said.

Find this article here: