Fla. Senate Passes Bill to Shrink Citizens Insurance

Critics have complained all along the bill could cause unsuspecting homeowners to find their property insurance bill has skyrocketed. Monday they won a key victory on the Senate floor.

If a big hurricane does big damage, Florida's state-run property insurer could be in big trouble. Right now, it wouldn't have the money to cover all the losses.

New legislation would begin to shrink Citizens by handing many of its policies over to unregulated companies. Supporters say it could help avoid a scenario where even car insurance customers would have to help Citizens pay its bills.

"I think of the fellow that drove up in his, the retiree that drove up in his pickup truck - it was a 10-year-old pickup truck, kind of all rusted up - brings his bill in and says, 'what's this Citizens assessment on my bill? You know, I can't even afford to own a house. Why do I have to pay that'?" said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wells.

The issue? Those unregulated property insurance companies would be able to hike rates on former Citizens customers. That's why opponents, led by republican Senator Mike Fasano, fought to make sure anyone who's in Citizens now will be told they don't have to leave.

"No one on this floor would deny that there's a major difference between a surplus lines company and Citizens," the New Port Richey senator said. "There is a major difference. One is regulated, one is not. At least tell the homeowner that!"

In a razor-thin 21-19 vote, the chamber signed off on that plan. The entire bill has yet to come to a vote, but Kevin Cate with 'Policyholders of Florida' says even if it passes, the impact won't be nearly as big.

"This is a huge victory for policyholders - defeating the automatic enrollment, basically what we're calling a stimulus for these surplus lines companies who are unregulated," he said. "We hope it's defeated completely, but we're not discounting a major victory today."

Insiders say after what happened Monday, it's doubtful the bill will go anywhere. Moments after the vote, the bill's sponsor complained about it being wrapped up 'in a straitjacket'.

Those unregulated 'surplus lines' insurers are already allowed to do business in Florida. Supporters say they often offer lower premiums than Citizens, but that can quickly change, especially in the wake of a major natural disaster.

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