Florida lawmakers set to meet on ailing insurance market

December 6, 2022 GMT
FILE - The bridge leading from Fort Myers to Pine Island, Fla., is seen heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Pine Island, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2022. Officials announced Tuesday, Dec. 6, that the Florida Legislature will meet next week for a special session on property insurance and property tax relief in the wake of damage caused by Hurricane Ian. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
FILE - The bridge leading from Fort Myers to Pine Island, Fla., is seen heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Pine Island, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2022. Officials announced Tuesday, Dec. 6, that the Florida Legislature will meet next week for a special session on property insurance and property tax relief in the wake of damage caused by Hurricane Ian. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature will meet next week for a special session on property insurance and property tax relief in the wake of damage caused by Hurricane Ian, officials announced Tuesday.

The leaders of the Florida House and Senate issued the proclamation convening the Legislature from Dec. 12 to 16.

Lawmakers will be tasked with reforming elements of the state’s troubled property insurance market, providing tax or other financial relief related to damage from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and creating a toll credit program for frequent Florida commuters.

The session comes as Florida’s property insurance market has dealt with billions of dollars in losses, rising prices for consumers and insurer insolvencies, even before the powerful Hurricane Ian slammed into the state in September and caused widespread damage.

Next week’s special session will be the second time the Florida Legislature met this year to address issues in the property insurance market.

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Lawmakers in May passed legislation creating a $2 billion reinsurance program, offering grants to homeowners who retrofit properties to be less vulnerable to hurricane damage and limiting various attorney fees in some insurance-related lawsuits.

The legislative package was seen by many in the statehouse as a meaningful first step in repairing the market, though some said it did not do enough to immediately lower rates for homeowners.

The insurance industry blames overzealous litigation for problems in the market. Florida law allows attorneys to collect high fees in property insurance cases. State insurance regulators say the state accounts for almost 80% percent of the nation’s homeowners’ insurance lawsuits but just 9% of all homeowners insurance claims.

Attorneys’ groups have argued insurers are also to blame for refusing to pay out claims, saying homeowners file suit as a last resort.

The turmoil has caused the industry to see two straight years of net underwriting losses exceeding $1 billion each year. A string of property insurers have become insolvent, while others are leaving the state entirely.

Homeowners unable to get coverage or priced out of plans have flocked to the state’s public insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance, which this summer topped 1 million policies for the first time in almost a decade.

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Citizens Property Insurance was created by the state in 2002 for Floridians unable to find coverage from private insurers.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in October signed an executive order extending the deadline for property taxes for homes and businesses destroyed or left uninhabitable after Ian and said lawmakers would meet this year to address additional issues related to the storm.

The governor’s office in a statement Tuesday said DeSantis “expects the legislature to rein in the costs of excessive litigation and ensure the property insurance market in Florida is both attractive to insurers and more competitive for consumers.”