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Congress passes new flood insurance bill
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A flood insurance bill, which caps rate increases at 18 percent, is on its way to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill, 72-22, Thursday evening that should help curb massive flood insurance rate hikes on Pinellas County property owners.

Sen. Bill Nelson said the legislation caps flood insurance rate increases to no more than 18 percent, while making FEMA responsible for finding ways to keep flood insurance affordable.

“It’s not everything I wanted for homeowners, but it’s a significant protection from unconscionable rate hikes,” Nelson said in an email statement.

Nelson has been on the frontlines fighting to change the negative effects of reform for the National Flood Insurance Program. He was instrumental in getting the Senate to pass legislation in January to reverse some of the actions brought about by the implementation of Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012. The House passed its own bill March 4.

Nelson said the bill passed by the Senate would have “gone further” than the House version passed March 13.

“But passage of the House bill Thursday was widely seen as the best course of action to give homeowners some form of immediate relief,” he said.

Many property owners with subsidized policies from the National Flood Insurance Program have suffered rate increases of 25 percent since provisions of BW-12 went into effect. Homeowners are unable to sell their homes due to exorbitant rates new property owners would have to pay.

Gov. Rick Scott called the bill’s passage a “victory for all Florida families who have been impacted by ongoing uncertainty and faced the possibility of paying devastating rate increases.”

Now, it is up to President Barack Obama to sign the legislation into law.

Doug Izzo, who keeps up with government affairs for the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, sent out an email summarizing the key features of House Bill 3370 shortly after it passed.

The bill restores grandfathering. It repeals the requirement for an automatic rate hike when a home is sold or when an insurance policy lapses. It limits annual rate increases to 18 percent. It gives refunds to policyholders who bought pre-FIRM homes after July 6, 2012 and charged higher premiums.

The bill ups funding for an affordability study from $750,000 to $3 million. It provides for long-term relief to NFIP by adding an annual surcharge of $25 for residential policies and $250 for commercial and secondary properties.

The bill does not contain relief for commercial properties or for owners of second homes. It does not charge the measure for automatic rate hikes on severe loss properties. The legislation does delay rate increases triggered by sale of commercial or secondary properties the same as it does for residential property.

Pinellas has 50,000 subsidized NFIP policies, more than any other county in the nation.

On his first day in office, new District 13 Rep. David Jolly released a statement about the U.S. Senate passing the House proposal to reform the unworkable Biggert-Waters flood insurance act.

“Pinellas County families deserve real, long-term solutions to give certainty and peace of mind to homeowners while doing more than simply delaying an unworkable law," Jolly said. "That's exactly what this flood insurance reform bill does. By reforming the flood insurance program, the House and Senate have taken major steps to cap premium increases, provide certainty to homeowners, ensure stability to local economies and place the flood insurance program on the path to sustainability. I applaud the Senate for quickly passing this legislation and helping provide desperately-needed relief for Florida’s families and businesses.”

Revised to add comments from Rep. David Jolly.

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