DeSantis plans second special session, this one to fix property insurance market

Gov also says he’ll approve an $80-million trauma center — a pet project pushed by two lawmakers

By: - April 18, 2022 2:13 pm

The Florida Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday, on the eve of his special legislative session on congressional redistricting, that he will call legislators back to Tallahassee in May to confront Florida’s property insurance crisis.

He had previously signaled openness to special sessions to work on matters the Legislature was unable to complete during its recent regular session. They include property insurance and “trying to, you know, bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market,” the governor said during a news conference in Jacksonville.

“I am not confident we’d be able to punch it through this week, but what I will be signing this week is a proclamation to set the dates for a special session in May. We’re going to work with the legislative leaders on those dates. And it will have as the main focus the reform of the property insurance market,” DeSantis said.

“We may also address other issues that came close to getting across the finish line that maybe we can tweak and get there. And, once we have an agreement on that, you know, I’ll be announcing that as an addition, as well.”

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Credit: Colin Hackley.

Pressure has been mounting for the Legislature to address the property insurance market. Sen Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican in his final term in the Legislature, has been trying to round up support from his fellow lawmakers to return to the Capitol to pass a fix.

In appealing for that return on April 6, Brandes wrote in a letter to legislative leaders that Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort, has had to add 800,000 policyholders who’d been priced out of the commercial market or else cancelled by their insurers.

In addition, Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book last week wrote a letter to 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.

Pet project

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Jacksonville on April 18, 2022. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

DeSantis had traveled to Jacksonville to announce that he will approve an $80 million line item in the new 2022-23 state budget to replace and update the trauma center at UF Health Jacksonville.

The hefty $80 million item is stuck in the 518-page state budget and is listed as “Leon Haley, Jr., MD Trauma Center.” It is considered what’s called a local project pushed by lawmakers for their constituents.

The local projects are often described as pet projects, turkeys, pork-barrel projects and the phrase, “bringing home the bacon.”

The two GOP lawmakers involved in the project are described in appropriations documents as state Sen. Travis Hutson, representing Flagler and St. Johns counties and part of Volusia County, and state Rep. Wyman Duggan, representing part of Duval County.

DeSantis handed over a large ceremonial check, although the Legislature has not yet sent him the $112 billion appropriations act.

Congressional maps

DeSantis called the special session on redistricting after vetoing the Legislatures’ plan to draws congressional district boundaries to accord with the 2020 U.S. Census, which entitles the state to an additional seat compared to the existing map, or 28 representatives in total.

His plan would leave two performing-Black districts, compared to four under the Legislature’s map, by scrapping one in North Florida and taking Black voters away from a second district in Central Florida. There would be four Hispanic districts.

DeSantis had objected to the Legislature’s proposed CD 5, modeled on the existing CD 3 held by Democrat Al Lawson, extending some 200 miles from Jacksonville through Tallahassee to majority-minority Gadsden County. The Florida Supreme Court drew CD 3 following the 2010 Census.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson have indicated they will go along with the DeSantis map, even though it violated Florida’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment by diminishing Black representation and favoring one political party — the governor’s own, the Republican Party, which would score 20 seats and leave eight for Democrats.

‘Racial gerrymander’

DeSantis argues standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent disfavors what he calls a “racial gerrymander” under the Legislature’s map. Election lawyers have already threatened to take him to court over the matter.

“This whole issue is a serious constitutional issue,” DeSantis said during his news conference on Monday.

“I can tell you, a lot of folks here, you know, when you have someone that’s 160 miles away, there’s been complaints about constituent services and things like that.

“At the end of the day, you know, what we proposed, and the Legislature will probably do something similar, we’re confident that will hold up in court. I am not confident the other way would have held up in court.”

Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.