Gov. Rick Scott delivering his state-of-the-state address earlier this year (AP file photo)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill meant to continue the Sunshine State’s mission to return Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to its rightful place as the last-resort property insurer.
Scott signed SB 1770 late May 29, a piece of legislation he says “will bring much needed reforms to better protect the taxpayers who support Citizens Property Insurance.”
The law establishes a clearinghouse aimed at reducing the number of policies at Citizens, which for a variety of reasons—mainly rate suppression—has ballooned to become Florida’s top write of property insurance. The clearinghouse allows new and renewed policies to be shopped to private insurers before landing at Citizens. A comparative rate analysis would be generated.
SB 1770 prevents Citizens from insuring homes valued at more than $1 million—a cap that gets lowered gradually until it reached $700,000 in 2017. New construction in high-risk, coastal areas after July 1, 2014 can also not be insured by Citizens.
“This commonsense step eliminates public insurance subsidies for new coastal constructions with a high risk of storm losses,” Scott says.
The legislation also requires the state-run insurer to have an inspector general. Scott says a nationwide search for this position is immediately starting.
“Citizens needs serious reform in order to instill the public confidence that should belong to the state’s largest insurance company, which is supported by Florida taxpayers,” says Scott, in a statement.
Citizens has recently been embarrassed by in-house fraud, waste and abuse—misappropriations of funds and controversial pay raises to executive, which Scott has demanded it return. He says Citizens has yet to do so.
However, the bill contains no language related to Citizens’ rates. The original Senate bill outlined a plan to require Citizens to be actuarially sound for new business starting Jan. 1, 2014.
The Florida House basically replaced the original SB 1770 with its own version, HB 909. Nevertheless, SB 1770 retained its number. Another provision omitted from the original Senate bill had to do with opening Citizens up to bad-faith litigation.
The new law also expands Citizens’ board from eight to nine members—the addition being an advocate for consumers appointed by the governor. It also renamed the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund the “State Board of Administration Finance Corp.”
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT SB 1770:
Barry Gilway, CEO of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.:
“We’re pleased that the Governor has signed this important piece of legislation and have already done preparatory work to meet the timelines outlined in the bill.
Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner:
“SB 1770 is an important piece of legislation that will address several property insurance issues in our state along with establishing a Clearinghouse for Citizens. The Clearinghouse concept will help to give consumers more choices in their search for private homeowners insurance, while providing the benefit of reducing Citizens overall exposure and the risk of assessments for all Floridians.”
Gov. Rick Scott:
“While this law will not be a cure-all for Citizens’ many problems, it makes important reforms to improve this taxpayer-backed organization.”
Donovan Brown, state government relations counsel for PCI:
"As Florida stands at the doorstep of the beginning of hurricane season, the enactment of Senate Bill 1770 lays the foundation for future reforms that could address the exposure and rate inadequacy of Citizens, which subjects all Floridians to a hurricane tax liability.
PCI and its members look forward to working with all stakeholders in order to implement aspects of the Citizens clearinghouse embodied within this legislative measure, and to collectively achieve additional solutions to return Citizens to its original concept as Florida’s insurer of last resort."
Christian R. Cámara, Florida director of independent think-tank R Street:
SB 1770 “combines fiscal responsibility and market-based environmental stewardship. Although more needs to be done to restore Florida’s property insurance market, Senate Bill 1770 is a small, balanced step toward reaching that goal.”
Dan Krassner, executive director of independent government watchdog group Integrity Florida:
“All Florida taxpayers, whether they are Citizens customers or not, run the risk of having to bailout Citizens, through more hidden hurricane taxes, if the organization does not perform efficiently and effectively. We are confident that the new inspector general will be a watchdog for both Citizens policyholders and all Florida taxpayers.”