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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Senate delays vote on Citizens
Proposed amendment would exclude Monroe County

A sponsor of a Florida Senate bill that would substantially raise windstorm insurance rates in the state has filed a series of amendments that would exclude Monroe County from the rate hikes.

David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) filed the amendments to SB 1770 on Wednesday and the Senate was supposed to vote on them later in the day. However, the Senate ran out of time and postponed the vote until today, when a vote on the entire bill is scheduled.

"The Legislature finds that there is not a reasonable level of competition in Monroe County," Simmons' amendment states. "As a result, the current rate and provisions of subparagraph 3 apply to all new business in Monroe County until the office makes a finding that a reasonable level of competition for residential property insurance exists in that county."

SB 1770 only deals with new policies. Existing policies would still fall under existing rules, the bill states. It would allow Citizens Property Insurance Corp. -- the state's insurer of last resort -- to increase the annual 10 percent cap on rate increases by more than 30 percent, according to the bill's language. Policies would be set at a rate no less than the highest average rate among the top 20 insurers writing policies in the state.

The bill would also take away the authority of the Office of Insurance Regulation to review and approve rates.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, who represents the Keys, plans to vote against the bill.

"I can't agree with any further rate hikes for Citizens policyholders," Bullard said Wednesday.

There is no companion House bill, so state representatives will work from the senate bill, Keys State Rep. Holly Raschein said. Raschein said she supported Simmons' amendments.

SB 1770 and the speed it moved through the Senate has created a stir on a state level. Several newspapers have run articles and editorials in recent weeks criticizing or opposing the bill. Insurance watch dog groups argue that Citizens does not need any more rate increases. Some groups argue the company's rates are already too high.

FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe County) has charged that Citizens' risk model and rates are not accurate. It has successfully battled some, but not all, of the rate increases Citizens has proposed in recent years in Monroe County.

One FIRM study found that the company made nearly $500 million off the Keys alone during a 10-year period. FIRM and local Keys governments have embarked on a study of the rates and models Citizens uses to determine if they are accurate. The study could also be used to bring in another company to provide windstorm coverage in the Keys, as Citizens is removing some 678,000 policyholders from its rolls. Citizens is proposing to not issue new policies for vacation rentals and homes worth more than $1 million.

The senate meets at 2 p.m. today and a vote is expected. The meeting is televised online at www.floridachannel.org.

tohara@keysnews.com

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