Senate Dems call GOP property-insurance bill a ‘$2 billion tax giveaway’; Republicans defend plan

By: - May 24, 2022 4:59 pm

Sen. Gary Farmer, Broward Democrat, tried 10 times to revise property-insurance reforms that he says don’t much help consumers. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Florida Senate Democrats tried dozens of times Tuesday morning, to no avail, to alter the course of a GOP-sponsored property-insurance bill heading for passage that they say fails to promptly aid homeowners facing steep rate hikes and policy cancellations on the cusp of hurricane season.

Senate Bill 2-D, one of two bills spotlighted in this special session, reflects agreements negotiated by GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis before the session began on Monday. It is sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, a Manatee-Sarasota Republican and insurance broker, as is related legislation in Senate Bill 4-D.

While the bill aims to salvage Florida’s collapsing insurance marketplace — including investing $2 billion of taxpayer funds — Democrats say it does little to help consumers.

“What we’re doing is a $2 billion tax giveaway to the insurance companies to prop them up and keep them solvent in the state of Florida, is that correct?” asked Hillsborough Sen. Janet Cruz, noting that the insurers are not required to pay it back.

Boyd, who handled the Republican side of Tuesday’s discussion, said: “I challenge the words tax giveaway and prop up.” He said of the plan, “This is a market stabilization effort.”

Boyd said SB 2-D will eventually bring rate relief but not soon, and he persuaded the GOP majority to defeat all the Democratic amendments to keep the bill aligned with its counterpart under consideration in the House of Representatives.

“There absolutely will be relief. Sadly, it won’t come for 12 to 18 months,” Boyd said in the full Senate, insisting the first step must be to enact measures to stabilize Florida’s collapsing insurance marketplace.

Democrats said that is not good enough and attempted in a series of amendments to impose a freeze on rate hikes and guaranteed rate reductions.

“I thought that’s what we were here to do,” said Miami-Dade Sen. Annette Taddeo, who sponsored an amendment to guarantee that all savings achieved in the bills be passed on to policyholders. She also pitched an amendment to require insurers to write policies in all parts of Florida — not be allowed to continue excluding South Florida.

“I think it is unacceptable that we are allowing companies to come and do business and discriminate specifically [against] South Florida regions because they’ve decided they’re not as profitable,” Taddeo said.

Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer sponsored 10 amendments aimed at rate relief for policyholders and greater transparency among insurers. One would shift $1.23 billion in taxes collected on insurance premiums into rate relief for policyholders.

“This is money that’s just sitting there,” Farmer argued in support of that amendment. “We just had the largest budget in our state’s history. We could easily take this $1.23 billion and give it back to homeowners. This amendment puts money in their pockets.”

Among Farmer’s other attempts: Require insurance companies to put more of their own capital on the line before being allowed to write policies in Florida; require more notice of rate-hike hearings so that affected parties have better opportunity to participate; and require the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) to borrow from available state funds when needed in the wake of insurance company failures rather than imposing higher fees on insurance policyholders statewide.

Farmer said FIGA had to borrow $500 million last year to cover losses related to two insurance company failures, and then imposed special assessments on policyholders to cover it.

“Let’s borrow from ourselves. It would avoid those assessments that are coming,” Farmer argued, warning: “It’s a canary in a coal mine. There’s 13 more companies in receivership right now. They’re all going to fail. We’re going to have to bail them all out.”

Farmer noted that such assessments are imposed on holders of all types of insurance policies, including auto and health.

“Everybody’s going to feel it, not just homeowners,” he said.

Further, Farmer — who is leaving the Senate this year — sponsored an amendment requiring the state to collect data on how climate change is contributing to increasingly frequent and expensive property losses in Florida and driving up costs and availability of coverage. He said climate change is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room but it needs to take centerstage.

Those and all other Democratic amendments were voted down in the Republican-dominated Senate, leaving the bill in the form Boyd wants it, so that it mirrors what is likely to pass the House by Wednesday. Having the chambers in alignment allows lawmakers to adjourn without having to reconcile any differences.

Boyd said some of the amendments are worthy of consideration but “not at this time,” likely meaning they would disrupt the agreements negotiated pre-session by the House, Senate and governor’s office. He said the best of the amendments could be addressed in future legislative sessions.

Other features of Senate Bill 2 include:

  • limiting the ability of homeowners to sue insurance companies over claims disputes
  • curbing alleged fraud that insurance companies say are driving inflated payouts
  • banning insurance companies from denying coverage of a home with a roof younger than 15 years old.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.