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Florida lawmakers hope to aid ailing home insurance market

Parts of homes are seen collapsing on the beach due to the storm surge by Hurricane Nicole, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Parts of homes are seen collapsing on the beach due to the storm surge by Hurricane Nicole, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida lawmakers are scheduled to meet Monday to consider ways to shore up the state's struggling home insurance market in the year's second special session devoted to the topic.

Lawmakers are considering legislation to help keep private insurers solvent by creating a $1 billion reinsurance fund, reducing litigation costs and compelling some customers out of the state-created insurer of last resort and back into the private market. It also would force insurers to respond to claims more promptly and boost state oversight of insurers' conduct following hurricanes.

The 123-page bill on home insurance was filed late Friday ahead of Monday's opening of a session that is expected to last three to five days while also considering property tax relief for Hurricane Ian victims and toll reductions for frequent commuters.

Florida has struggled for years to curb surging home insurance premiums and hold onto private insurers in a market where devastating hurricanes weigh heavily on the cost of business. Six insurers have left the state this year.

Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the southwest coast in late September and inflicted widespread damage to homes and businesses across the state, caused an estimated $40 billion to $70 billion in insured losses.

The insurance bill seeks to build on legislation passed during a special session in May, but legislative leaders have warned residents not to expect swift reductions in rates from either package of reforms.

Lawmakers will vote on speeding up the claims process and eliminating the state's assignment of benefits laws, in which property owners sign over their claims to contractors who then handle proceedings with insurance companies.

The proposal also would force people with state-created Citizens Property Insurance policies to pay for flood insurance and require moves to private insurers if they offer a policy up to 20% more expensive than Citizens.

The legislation would remove "one-way" attorney fees for property insurance, which require property insurers to pay attorney fees of policyholders who successfully file lawsuits over claims while shielding policyholders from paying such fees of insurers when they lose.

The legislation would provide $1 billion in taxpayer funds for a program to provide carriers with hurricane reinsurance - coverage bought to help ensure they can pay out claims. It would offer "reasonable" rates in a market where companies have complained of rising costs.

The Senate and House bills on home insurance are identical, meaning the measure should sail through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Another bill to be taken up during the special session would provide property tax relief for people whose homes and business were made uninhabitable by the storm. Again, the House and Senate have identical legislation.

Lawmakers also will look to provide 50% refunds for commuters who pay more than 35 tolls in a month and pay with a transponder.

The Associated Press is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.