INSURANCE OUTLOOK STARK by Roxanne Escobales

10/12/06

The biggest issue hitting Florida this election year is the insurance crisis. In the two previous years, eight hurricanes caused 42 billion dollars’ worth of damage to Florida. Today in Largo at a meeting of the Property and Casualty Insurance Reform Committee, Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings had some stark news for those who face rampant increases in their property insurance:

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Formed by the governor in August, the committee has been collecting testimony from the public and elected officials throughout the state. Jennings told WMNF that the most innovative way to bring stop the rise of insurance rates is to bring older homes up to new building standards, known as mitigation. This is important as most homes in the state before new building codes were put into place.

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While some have seen insurance premiums increase, others have seen their policies dropped altogether. The state’s insurance program for those who can’t get private coverage, Citizen’s Insurance has seen its business increase too quickly for it to accommodate at great expense to the taxpayer. This year, the legislature bailed out Citizens with 715 million dollars.

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During the public comments, property developer Shaun Bolender spoke before the commission and told its members that the mitigation process was flawed.

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State representative and candidate for the state senate district 16, Kim Berfield, told the commission that as a state run entity, Citizens Insurance transfers risk and debt onto future generations. Berfield said Citizens should go. She also made suggestions about the insurance commissioner:

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Dorothy Cataldo is the president of Hillsborough County’s Federation of Manufactured Homeowners. Her mobile home park, River Bay sits by Palm River, yet for 22 years since it was built it has never been flooded. She and others went to Charlotte County after Hurricane Charlie hit in 2004. Cataldo said that contrary to popular belief, many of the mobile homes built from the mid-1990s onward were not damaged.

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Jennings said that it will present its findings and recommendations to Governor Bush within the next month and it is very likely a special legislative session will be called after November’s general election. Bush would like to set insurance policy in place as a legacy before he leaves office in January.

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