By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — With a special legislative session poised to start, the Florida House and Senate late Friday released proposals that would make far-reaching changes in the state’s troubled property-insurance system.
The bills (HB 1A and SB 2A) would take steps to reduce litigation costs, move policies out of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., offer additional reinsurance to insurers and try to speed up claims.
The bills, which each top 100 pages, appeared nearly identical, indicating that House and Senate Republican leaders have agreed on the major details.
“I believe the goal we all share is for Florida to have a robust property insurance market that offers homeowners the opportunity to shop for insurance that meets their needs and budget,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said in a memo to senators. “We also want to make certain that when damage occurs, claims are paid promptly and fairly, so homeowners do not have to contend with time-consuming and expensive litigation. SB 2A continues our efforts to focus on fair costs and strong protections for consumers while adding reasonable guardrails for insurance companies against the frivolous litigation and fraudulent claims that drive up rates for everyone.”
The insurance market has faced massive problems during the past two years, with insurers seeking large rate increases and dropping hundreds of thousands of customers because of financial losses. Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, has seen its policy count more than double to 1.13 million.
Among the key proposed changes:
— The bills would eliminate requirements that property insurers pay the attorney fees of policyholders who successfully file lawsuits over claims. Insurers have long blamed the requirements for spurring litigation and driving up costs, while plaintiffs’ attorneys argue the elimination would make it financially difficult for policyholders to pursue valid lawsuits.