State lawmaker pushes for special session to address Florida’s homeowners insurance issues

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, formally asked his colleagues Friday to support his call for a special legislative session on homeowners insurance.

Saying “we can’t wait any longer on this issue,” Brandes circulated a “form letter” for lawmakers to send to the State Department to begin a voting process to force a special session on the issue.

“With hurricane season approaching June 1, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to ensure that the people we represent are able to obtain insurance coverage at a reasonable price,” wrote Brandes, who will leave office this fall. due to term limits.

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With lawmakers scheduled to return to Tallahassee on April 19 for a brief special session on congressional redistricting, Brandes announced Wednesday that he would begin the voting process for a special session on insurance if the House speaker , Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, did not.

Under the law, Brandes would first have to get 20% of the Legislature to present support for a special session before the State Department. If the 20% mark is reached, the department would have seven days to survey lawmakers. A session would be held if supported by three-fifths of the House and three-fifths of the Senate.

Attempts in recent years to use the process on other issues have not resulted in special sessions.

Watch: Owner of Hugh Cotton Insurance explains the cause of Florida’s homeowners insurance crisis

In a message to members of the House and Senate on Friday, Brandes, who has advocated taking aggressive action to address the state’s property insurance problems, called on lawmakers to join his effort to address what he called an “imminent crisis”.

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“I think we can wait no longer on this issue,” Brandes wrote.

Rep. Andrew Learned, a Democrat from Brandon, was quick to say that Brandes could “count on me” in the effort.

“Homeowners insurance is completely out of control,” Learned tweeted, urging colleagues to “work together across the aisle to get this done.”

The possibility of holding a special session on property insurance has generated speculation after the House and Senate failed to reach an agreement on an insurance bill during the regular session that ended on March 14.

[RELATED: Property insurance litigation claims decrease in last months of 2021 | Florida property insurers dropping homeowners based on roofs’ age]

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Gov. Ron DeSantis did not raise the issue in a special session he called April 19-22 to redraw congressional districts. DeSantis has said he expects lawmakers to address the insurance changes this year, most likely after the new leaders of the House and Senate are sworn in after the November election.

Legislative leaders have thus far not tried to add insurance issues to the special redistricting session. A week ago, Sprowls said more time should be given to property insurance changes made during the 2021 session.

“We passed one of the most sweeping reforms to the insurance industry ever in Florida,” Sprowls said, referring to last year’s law. “One thing that happens, we talk about this all the time, is that it takes 18 months to see those (changes) reflected in the rates. We’re about six months away from that.”

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In 2021, lawmakers approved changes that included a new formula to cap fees for attorneys representing homeowners in lawsuits against insurers and a reduction in the time to file claims from three years to two years. They also approved a proposal to prevent roofing contractors from advertising to encourage homeowners to file claims, though a federal court blocked that part of the law on free speech grounds.

The law also allowed larger rate increases for clients of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which often charges less than private companies.

But many private insurers in recent months have sought steep rate increases and cut clients to reduce financial risks. That has led thousands of homeowners to turn to Citizens each week for coverage, with the total number of Citizens policies expected to exceed one million by the end of the year.

Brandes wants a special session to address issues such as Citizens, the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and providing a “funding mechanism for insurers to access if capital markets are not an option.” She called for “meaningful homeowners insurance reforms to create a sustainable environment for Florida homeowners.”

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“Florida’s private property insurance market has collapsed, and it is clear that we must call a special session to address this serious situation,” Brandes wrote in letters to Sprowls and Simpson on Wednesday. “In the last 30 days, thousands of Floridians have had to leave Florida with their homeowners insurance company. More than 800,000 homeowners can’t find insurance other than Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. With the 2022 hurricane season fast approaching and an unstable market, the Legislature decided to leave homeowners exposed to a perfect storm of rising rates, limited coverage and shrinking options.”

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