It’s that time of year when kids around the world are making their Christmas wish lists and sending them off to the North Pole. Florida lawmakers will be working this December on their own wish list of sorts to improve the state’s teetering property insurance market. But delivering on a list of workable solutions would be a tall order — even for Santa.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for a special session from Monday through Dec. 16 to address property insurance problems and reinsurance issues including the elimination or reduction of property taxes for victims of Hurricane Ian.
This will be the second special session this year focused on property insurance. It’s a thorny subject for the state and one that has grown more painful following Category 4 Hurricane Ian, which hit Southwest Florida on Sept. 28. According to FEMA, more than $3.31 billion in federal grants, disaster loans and flood insurance payments have been provided to the state of Florida and to households after Ian.
During this session, lawmakers will also look at measures to improve the affordability of property insurance for citizens of Florida, stabilize the marketplace and discuss reforms to stem litigation and fraud in the claims process.
Excess litigation is considered one of the biggest problems in the state. Florida had more than 95,000 lawsuits last year related to property insurance. In comparison, most other states had fewer than 1,000.
This year, Florida homeowners saw their annual insurance rates increase by nearly 33% in some cases, while others were dropped by insurers altogether. The average homeowner, especially seniors on a fixed income, cannot sustain these kinds of increases.
Another major pitfall is the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has been bombarded with thousands of homeowners each week seeking coverage. Citizens Insurance is considered the insurer of last resort. In March it had more than 817,000 policies, the number was expected to top 1 million by the end of the year, but Hurricane Ian pushed that number to 1.11 million.
The state can no longer carry the burden or risk created by Citizens. An overhaul of the system is required, but that’s likely not going to happen over the five-day session.
Thirty years ago after Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, I was the chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee. We worked for months to create reforms that encouraged the top 10 insurance companies to stay in Florida. Our work saved the state’s insurance market. But we face new challenges today.
“This is the Achilles’ heel of the Florida real estate market; this is the Achilles’ heel of Florida’s growth,” said former Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes. “If Florida doesn’t get this right, then what you’re going to do is cut the middle class in the state because people will not be able to afford homes.”
Let’s hope this special session is productive because we can’t rely on a Christmas miracle to fix our state’s insurance issues. We must make changes now to protect our state for future generations.
John Grant is a former state senator who is now president of Seniors Across America.