First committee week
Last week, there were several Senate and House Committees that discussed, debated and dreaded the facts about the Florida property insurance market. Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman and Manatee/Sarasota Counties Senator Jim Boyd used the word “sobering” on more than one occasion as he provided feedback to committee presenters Barry Gilway, President, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. The Commissioner testified that of the 105 rate changes in 2020, 90 were rate increases, with 55 of those seeking a 10% or greater hike.
At one point, Committee Vice Chairman Doug Broxson of Florida’s panhandle asked Commissioner Altmaier, after an impactful public plea to the legislature to work together to protect all Floridians, not just those that file claims, “How do you (plan to) keep your job”? The Vice Chair’s point was that soon thousands of Floridians who lose their property insurance will be asking elected officials tough questions like “when did you know something was wrong?” and “why didn’t you do something?”
In the House, both the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee and the Commerce Committee had property insurance briefings on their agenda. The highlight of the Commerce Committee was a presentation and overview of property insurance cost drivers in Florida by Mary Katharine Lawler, President of Doug Croley Insurance Services of Tallahassee, who was requested to appear by Committee Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. Mary Katharine gave a very detailed overview about the day in the life of an insurance agent and the clients she and her team work to protect. I highly recommend you watch her testimony at the podium by clicking on this video recording and scroll to 29:30 mark to hear her testimony. She opened with “I am here to speak about my clients who are our neighbors and in our community.” She is incredibly credentialed with her Bachelor’s and Master’s Risk Management degrees and as an adjunct FSU professor. She shared quotes from agents across the state, with one agent seeing increases of 50% in the surplus lines market in Orange County, and a Broward County agent saying we have customers on fixed incomes who cannot absorb these increases.
I implore you to watch her testimony. It will give all of our readers a “sobering” perspective.
Legislative committees will not meet next week but will resume the week of January 25. We will report the outcomes in our next newsletter on February 1 and each week going forward until the Session’s scheduled conclusion on April 30. (You can click to view the House schedule and the Senate schedule of events and specific Senate Committees and House Committees of interest.
Here’s the list of bills we’re following so far, with more to be added in coming weeks. Updates within each bill are noted in red font:
Contingency Risk Multipliers – SB 212 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) is a renewed attempt to put the brakes on a growing abuse of attorney fee awards. The bill provides that for certain attorney fees awarded for claims arising under property insurance policies, a strong presumption is created that a lodestar fee is sufficient and reasonable; and providing that such presumption may be rebutted only under certain circumstances, specifically “in a rare and exceptional circumstance with evidence that competent counsel could not be retained in a reasonable manner.” The bill passed the House last session but got hung up in the Senate. The bill awaits its first hearing.
Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program – SB 168 by Senator Ed Hooper (R- Pinellas) continues a controversial program that while on its face appears to “harden” mobile homes from the threat of hurricanes, it has been questioned by many mitigation experts who have said the effectiveness of the $2 million annual program is doubtful. We will keep a close eye on this bill in hopes the legislature will ask for concrete data to show the results of this appropriation post Hurricane Irma. The bill awaits its first hearing.
Motor Vehicle Insurance (PIP) ̶ This is a perennial effort to do away with Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage under Florida’s No-Fault insurance law and replace it with bodily injury (BI) liability coverage. Similar bills failed the last several sessions. Like last year’s effort, this bill lacks Bad Faith provisions. SB 54 by Senator Danny Burgess (R- Zephyrhills) is scheduled to have its first hearing next week Tuesday (1/26) before the Banking and Insurance Committee. A comparable bill in the House, HB 273 by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Demand Letters for PIP ̶ HB 237 by Rep. Keith Truenow (R-Tavares) requires written notice of intent to initiate litigation for relief related to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. It also revises requirements for demand letter for PIP benefits and prohibits actions by & prosecutions on behalf of claimants unless certain requirements are met. The bill awaits its first hearing.
Civil Liability for COVID-19 Damages ̶ HB 7 by Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) and SB 72 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) are meant to provide businesses and institutions civil immunity from lawsuits so long as they acted in good faith in following coronavirus health precautions. The bills provide requirements for a civil action based on a COVID-19-related claim; provide that the plaintiff has the burden of proof in such action; and provide a statute of limitations, severability, and retroactive applicability. The House bill passed the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee last Wednesday and now goes to the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee. The Senate bill is scheduled for its first hearing before the Judiciary Committee next Monday (1/25) and we are anticipating a lively debate on frivolous lawsuits and discussion on insurance fraud in general.
Resiliency ̶ SB 514 by Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Lee) establishes the Statewide Office of Resiliency within the Governor’s Office. It also creates the Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force within the resiliency office and authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection to contract for specified services, upon request of the task force. It also requires the Environmental Regulation Commission to take certain action on the task force’s recommendations. This bill contains an appropriation of $500,000. A similar proposal passed the Senate in 2020 but failed to get through House committees. The bill awaits its first hearing.
LMA Newsletter of 1-18-21