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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Property insurance fixes off table for April special session

More than three months after Hurricane Michael, many severely damaged homes still await demolition.
Greg Allen
Many private insurers in recent months have sought hefty rate increases and dropped customers to reduce financial risks.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said property-insurance changes made during the 2021 session haven't been given enough time to take effect.

Fixes for Florida's troubled property-insurance system aren’t likely to be added to a special legislative session this month on congressional redistricting.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said Friday that more time needs to be given to property-insurance changes made during the 2021 session.

“If you're talking about the special session, the proclamation is for redistricting,” Sprowls said when asked about the issue during an event at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven.

“We passed one of the most expansive reforms to the insurance industry that's ever been done in Florida,” Sprowls said, referring to the 2021 legislation. “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 out from that.”

Insurance proposals died in the 2022 regular legislative session, after the Senate took a more aggressive approach than the House on issues such as trying to address roof-damage claims. Insurers blame questionable, if not fraudulent, roof-damage claims from driving up costs.

Gov. Ron DeSantis this week called a special session that will be held from April 19 to April 22 to redraw congressional districts. That led to speculation about whether lawmakers could consider other topics, such as property insurance.

In 2021, lawmakers approved changes that included a new formula to limit fees of attorneys who represent homeowners in lawsuits against insurers and a reduction from three years to two years in the time to file claims. They also passed a proposal aimed at preventing roofing contractors from advertising to spur homeowners to file claims, though a federal court has blocked that part of the law on free-speech grounds.

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

But many private insurers in recent months have sought hefty rate increases and dropped customers to reduce financial risks. That has led to thousands of homeowners a week turning to Citizens for coverage, with Citizens’ total number of policies expected to top 1 million by the end of the year.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation held a hearing Thursday on a request by Citizens to raise rates by nearly 11 percent, starting Aug. 1. During that hearing, Brian Donovan, chief actuary for Citizens, described the property insurance market as being in “crisis.”

Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said during the hearing that it is “way too early to tell” the impact of the 2021 legislation (SB 76) on the market.

On Wednesday, the rating-firm Demotech withdrew a financial stability rating from Tampa-based Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp.. Also, in recent weeks, St. Johns Insurance Co. and Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co. have gone into state receivership because of insolvencies.

Sprowls said Lighthouse and the others don’t fully reflect the conditions of Florida’s insurance market.

“The only thing that nobody talks about when they talk about those companies that are going out of business, is that those were companies who were allowed into Florida, when our regulations were significantly lower, and they were wildly undercapitalized,” Sprowls said. “So, they were stealing from Peter to pay Paul the entire time they've been in business in the state of Florida. While I think it's instructive to realize that our residents are seeing rate increases, we have to open up the marketplace. I think using those companies is a bad example.”

On Tuesday, DeSantis said he expected lawmakers to address the insurance market this year, at the latest after the November elections. DeSantis followed Sprowls on Friday by saying, “it will happen because people want it to happen.”