DeSantis calling insurance special session

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Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will call a May special legislative session to address problems in the property-insurance system that have led to homeowners losing coverage and getting hit with large rate increases.

DeSantis made the announcement during an appearance in Jacksonville but did not immediately specify the dates for the session. The announcement came a day before lawmakers gather for a special session to redraw congressional districts.

DeSantis indicated the insurance session would try to “bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market.”

“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get that done,” DeSantis said while announcing money for a new trauma center at UF Health Jacksonville. “I am not confident we’d be able to punch it through this week. But what I will be signing this week is a proclamation to set the dates for a special session in May. We’re going to work with the legislative leaders on those dates, and it will have as the main focus the reform of the property-insurance market.”

DeSantis said the special session could address other issues that did not get resolved during the regular legislative session, which ended March 14. Among the high-profile issues that did not pass were a plan to put additional requirements on condominium buildings after the deadly collapse last year of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.

The House and Senate were at odds during the regular session about how to address the property-insurance problems, with the Senate trying to be more aggressive in bolstering private insurers.

As an example, the Senate proposed allowing new deductibles of up to 2 percent on roof-damage claims — an outgrowth of complaints by insurers that questionable, if not fraudulent, roof claims are driving up costs. But the House rejected the idea, which would have led to increased out-of-pocket costs for homeowners who need to replace damaged roofs.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, also said lawmakers should give more time for property-insurance changes made in 2021 to fully take hold.

But troubles have continued in the insurance market, with companies shedding policies and seeking hefty rate increases because of what industry officials say are large financial losses. Two insurers, St. Johns Insurance Co., and Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., have recently been placed in state receivership because of insolvencies.

“It’s a crisis for homeowners. And it’s a crisis for insurance companies,” said Mark Friedlander, with the Insurance Information Institute.

Part of the fallout also has led to thousands of homeowners a week obtaining coverage from the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which was created as an insurer of last resort. Citizens had 817,926 policies as of March 31 and is expected to top 1 million by the end of the year.

State leaders have long sought to shift policies out of Citizens into the private market, at least in part because of concerns about financial risks if the state is hammered by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

Insurance companies have also seen roof replacement fraud and related lawsuits. “These expenses are, number one, driving insurance companies out of business. And number two, driving rates for homeowners to extreme levels, where some are seeing increases of 50%, 75% or 100% or more this year,” said Friedlander.

Before DeSantis’ announcement Monday, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, launched an effort to try to force a special session on insurance issues. Brandes used a procedure to poll lawmakers about supporting a session.

Lawmakers faced a noon Monday deadline to respond, with results expected to be released later Monday.

WINK News contributed to this report.

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