U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in recent weeks has been out front in his opposition to the FEMA flood insurance rates hikes that were set to begin Tuesday, Oct. 1.
But in June 2012, when the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act went before the Senate for a vote, Nelson was one of 74 senators who voted for the bill, which received bipartisan support.
Florida's junior senator, Marco Rubio, was among 19 senators who voted against the bill. In the U.S. House of Representatives, where the bill passed by an overwhelming margin of 373 to 52, then-Florida Keys Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted in favor. Current Keys Rep. Joe Garcia was not yet in Congress.
Under Biggert-Waters, second homes, rentals and businesses built before the first Monroe County flood insurance maps in 1974, and which have been receiving subsidies under the National Flood Insurance Program, will see annual rate hikes of 25 percent until their premiums reach market price. In addition, primary homes will lose their entire subsidy when they are sold or if their policy lapses.
Realtors fear that second change, in particular, will cause big problems for the Keys housing market.
Biggert-Waters, which passed the Senate on June 29, 2012, was just one part of a lengthy bill that covered a diverse suite of items, including federal highway funding, the extension of low-interest student loan rates and the RESTORE ACT, which funds areas impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In addition to setting up the rate increases in an effort to make the NFIP more solvent, Biggert-Waters also extended the program, and its financing, through 2017.
Early last week, Nelson put forth an amendment to delay the premium hikes under Biggert-Waters. He attached the measure to a controversial short-term budget bill that hadn't been passed by the Free Press deadline Monday. The flood insurance rate increases were slated to take affect Oct. 1
In an email to the Free Press last week, Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin called the senator's vote for Biggert-Waters a "no-brainer" that was necessary to prevent the default of the flood insurance program, which was burdened by post-Hurricane Katrina debt.
"No one at the time could have predicted the size of the rate hikes FEMA is sending consumers," he wrote.
The bill, however, did lay the ground work for the rate hikes. For example, it specifically ended flood insurance subsidies for homes that are sold.