The Florida Capitol, January 2021. Credit: Michael Moline
With about a week to go before the Florida Legislature launches a special session on a new congressional districts map, key lawmakers are pushing hard to convene for another session: property insurance woes.
On Monday, Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book wrote a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying that: “Florida is nearing a tipping point, and our neighbors are in danger of losing their viability. Some insurance companies have been unable to issue policies, are ceasing operations, or are pricing renewals at unaffordable rates leaving thousands of Floridians with the unsettling surprise that they’ve lost coverage.”
Due to the growing crisis, Book wrote, the Legislature should convene to revise property insurance laws. Book and 15 additional senators signed the letter.
In addition, Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican, is pursuing a property insurance special session.
He tweeted Monday that “the Secretary of State must poll the Legislature within a week to see if 3/5 of the body votes affirmatively to convene a special [session]. Upon receiving the necessary number of votes, notice of the special session will go out by mail within 7 days.”
He added in another tweet: “As of 1 pm, within one business day of the sending out our letter, we have received more than enough responses from legislators calling for a special session on property insurance. We will be submitting our final count to the FL DOS at 5pm today.”
In a letter dated April 6, in which he appealed to legislative leadership to call a special session, Branded noted that 800,000 policyholders had been forced by cancellations or premium spikes to turn to Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort.
“The special session should address the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund in the short term to reduce rates, provide a financing mechanism for insurers to access if the capital markets are not an option, and include significant property insurance reforms in order to create a sustainable environment for Florida homeowners. Additionally, the Session should address Citizens Property Insurance reform, as Citizens estimated policy count is growing by 6,000 policies a week and will soon top 1 million,” Brandes wrote.
Meanwhile, the special session set for next Tuesday continues to focus on a new congressional map pursued by DeSantis.
On Monday, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls provided an update on that special session. It said:
“The governor has a role in establishing congressional districts of the state. Therefore, our goal during the special session is to pass a new congressional map that will both earn the governor’s signature and withstand legal scrutiny, if challenged.”
That said, the memo stated:
“At this time, Legislative reapportionment staff is not drafting or producing a map for introduction during the special session. We are awaiting a communication from the governor’s office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the governor’s office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees.
“We look forward to working with you next week as we complete our constitutional obligation for the 2022 redistricting process.”
The governor and Legislature fell into a dispute during the recently concluded regular session over the latter’s insistence on preserving a district in North Florida that would allow Blacks to place one of their own in Congress.
The Legislature has approved two maps that would accomplish that goal, its preferred one and a back-up, with one version of the district contained within Duval County and another stretching 200 miles from Duval to Gadsden County.
DeSantis interjected his own map eliminating that North Florida minority district and creating 20 Republican-leaning districts and eight for Democrats. The House Plan A map leans 18-10 GOP to Democratic. Although he holds authority to veto any congressional map, no governor has intervened this early in the redistricting process before.
Given the impasse, voting-rights advocates have filed suit in federal and state courts in Tallahassee seeking judicial intervention in the dispute. Given the quickly approaching primary elections on Aug. 23, these advocates want judges to draw the new map. The revision is necessary because population growth reflected in the 2020 U.S. Census entitles Florida to an additional congressional seat, making 28 in total.
Note: This story has been updated to include background about the governor’s and Legislature’s positions on congressional redistricting.
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