Legislators will be returning to Tallahassee next week for a special session focused on property insurance.
Back in October, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wanted the Legislature to meet in a special session in December to “address property tax obligations and provide needed economic relief for Southwest Florida residents.”
The governor’s office noted that DeSantis was working with the legislative leadership on the matter. The special session will also “address solutions to stabilize Florida’s property insurance market that will introduce more competition and policies that will lower prices for consumers.”
In the meantime, DeSantis signed Executive Order (EO) 22-242, which will “suspend deadlines for payment of property taxes in counties that have been impacted by Hurricane Ian” and “extends to real property including personal homes and commercial property that was destroyed or otherwise rendered uninhabitable.” Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia Counties are all covered by the new order.
“Floridians who have lost their homes and businesses because of Hurricane Ian shouldn’t have to now worry about their property taxes,” said DeSantis. “Through this executive order, we are providing temporary relief until we can get the Legislature back to Tallahassee to establish more permanent solutions for property taxes, provide additional economic relief to Southwest Florida, and implement necessary reforms to the property insurance market. I look forward to working with our legislators to find innovative solutions and I am glad we have a legislature that’s ready and willing to address these issues soon.”
At the end of last month, the new team of legislative leaders–state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and state House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast–released a memo in which they announced the special session would be held from December 12 through December 16. The Legislature had been scheduled to be in Tallahassee at that time for an interim committee week.
This week, Passidomo and Renner released a joint proclamation announcing that the special session will consider proposals to “reduce the cost of litigation regarding property insurance claims; foster the availability of reinsurance for property insurance; improve claims handling practices in property insurance; modify deadlines for notices of property insurance losses and limit the assignment of benefits under property insurance policies; prescribe property insurance requirements regarding alternate dispute processes, coverage options and agent practices;” and legislation to “improve the financial stability of Citizens Property Insurance.”
The legislative leaders also noted the Legislature will consider bills to “provide tax relief and other financial assistance related to damages from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole;” offering “additional mechanisms to support the Division of Emergency Management for natural disaster response, recovery, and relief efforts;” and creating a “statewide toll credit program for frequest Florida commuters.” The Legislature will also consider appropriation bills to fund the proposed legislation.
State CFO Jimmy Patronis weighed in on the proclamation this week.
“The announcement of a special session is welcomed news and demonstrates strong leadership by the governor, president of the Senate and speaker of the House,” Patronis said. “It also highlights the warped financial incentives that have made Florida number one in the country for property insurance lawsuits and number one in the country for insurer instability and rate increases. This will be an opportunity to fundamentally restructure Florida law, benefiting policyholders. The sooner we do something to address litigation reform in the property and casualty market, the better. We also need to use this as an opportunity to crackdown on fraud. After Hurricane Ian, we got reports that unscrupulous public adjusters and unlicensed contractors were out-and-about trying to shakedown families when they were in a vulnerable state. That’s why we announced that for the upcoming session, we’ll pursue legislation to ban Assignment of Benefits (AOBs) and stop bad actors from profiting off disasters. Every year since I’ve been in office, we’ve worked with the Governor’s Office and Legislature on ways to improve Florida’s insurance market and this special session will be the most significant opportunity to make lasting reforms to benefit policyholders and drive down costs.”
Then incoming state House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, responded to the governor’s call for a special session when DeSantis issued it.
“Florida’s property insurance collapse has been building for a long time!” Driskell said. “We should have worked to solve this problem during the last legislative session, or the special session afterwards, but instead the problem was ignored while companies folded or stopped writing policies in Florida. The governor and the Legislature played culture war politics while the media reported story after story about the housing insurance market.
“Experts said Florida was in trouble and homeowners knew it was true when their rates skyrocketed or companies dropped them,” Driskell added. “We’re glad Governor DeSantis is finally on board with what Florida Democrats have been saying the whole time: our property insurance market is in crisis and Floridians are suffering. I’m just sorry it took a hurricane to get him to act.
“Obviously, we will need to see what they propose. Our last special session was specifically about property insurance, and it didn’t even come close to solving the problem. We’ll need to see specific plans and how they’ll actually help the people of Florida. This is not the time for half-measures,” Driskell said in conclusion.