One bus of citizens came from Pasco County, another from Hernando, and a plane-load came from Key West, all descending on Tallahassee Tuesday afternoon to express to State legislators the urgency of "real" property insurance reform. They came with an enthusiasm and persistence that could not be dampened by Sen. Victor Crist's failure to secure them a podium and microphone for a short demonstration and press conference outside the old capitol building, and Senator Posey's refusal to alter the agenda of his committee hearing slightly to allow representatives of those citizens to briefly address the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee in the short time that they could attend that committee's 2 p.m. hearing prior to boarding their buses for the return trip. Still, to quote Bill Newton of FCAN (Florida Consumer Action Network) "we were heard through the media," which was well represented at the State Capitol when the buses arrived.
H.A.C. (Having Affordable Coverage), Pasco County branch, organized this trip after its President, Ginny Stevans, had spent much of the prior week directly lobbying in Tallahassee, with a coalition of other citizens' groups, including FCAN, the AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Florida Condominium Associations, and the Florida Justice Association, to affect positive insurance reforms, for once giving the insurance companies and their lobbyists some competition for the attention of legislators, whose "reforms," last year, allowed insurance companies to initiate unlimited increases without so much as a hearing before regulators. Insurance companies began those increases immediately after last year's legislative session ended.
The buses from Pasco departed at 7 a.m. for the 4-1/2 hour trip to Tallahassee. Buses were filled to capacity and there was quite an assortment of citizens. There was Eddie McDonald, a two year Pasco resident and property owner who had come from New Jersey to "escape" and "loves the Gulf." Insurance on one of Eddie's rental properties had jumped from $2200- to $5500- in one year. Also present was Samantha Cheever of Pinellas who was confronting the changed market for homes she has rehabilitated and has up for sale. She believes that buyers are being inhibited from committing to purchases, even at reduced prices, because of fears of unlimited insurance rate increases. Will Nickerson, secretary of H.A.C., is a realtor. He has seen dramatic increases in the amount of homes for sale and in foreclosure, with few, if any buyers ready to purchase.
Mr. Nickerson emphasized the absurdity of the "use to file" process in Florida whereby insurance companies can initiate rate increases before regulatory approval. H.A.C. supports "prior rate review and approval," also called "file and use," which locks in savings to the people and insists on regulatory review of all potential increases before they can be put into effect.
Also present were a number of County Commissioners, including Jack Mariano of Pasco, who stayed in Tallahassee overnight to continue the push for change, Michael Cox of Pasco and Rose Rocco of Hernando.
Calls from Senators Crist and Fasano after the buses departed Tallahassee confirmed that the presence of citizens had emphasized the need for action. A reform bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance today that will include allowing Citizens Insurance to write basic homeowners policies in the areas it now covers, but not throughout the State, allow FHELP to kick in 90 percent for losses between $22 billion and $40 billion to cap potential insurance company losses, and allow insurers to buy reinsurance more easily from the CAT fund, all proposals that could lower rate immediately while increasing potential state liability, but only in the case of a "monster" storm or series of storms.
For additional information visit the H.A.C. Web site at www.hacfl.org
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