Florida House advances flood insurance bill

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauMarch 6, 2014 

The state House advanced a bill Wednesday to deal with Florida's flood insurance crisis by encouraging more private insurers to write policies. The bill (HB 879) won a unanimous vote at its first stop at the House Banking & Insurance Subcommittee on the day after Congress, reacting to an outcry from homeowners, agreed to undo major provisions of a 2012 law that would impose large rate increases.

The Florida House bill's sponsor, Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, represents part of Pinellas County, which has more federally-subsidized flood insurance policies than any other Florida county. More than one of every three Pinellas County policies are subsidized.

The National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in debt, largely due to a string of devastating coastal hurricanes in Florida in 2005 and the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy on the Atlantic Coast in 2012.

"The goal is to provide Florida homeowners more private sector choices for flood insurance," Hooper said. "If we do something, we can do no harm."

Hooper's proposal contains an expanded definition of what a flood is, to cover "mudflow" and "unusual or rapid accumulation of runoff." His bill also requires insurers to cover the full repayment costs of household goods damages by flooding and payment of living expenses for homeowners forced to move out of their homes while repairs are being made.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort, would be prohibited from selling flood insurance policies under the Hooper proposal.

The only lawmaker who criticized the bill was Rep. Kevin Rader, a Boca Raton Democrat, who likened it to "swiss cheese ... full of holes." But Rader, an insurance agent, joined in a bipartisan unanimous vote.

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