State Politics

Bennett proposing change to homeowners’ insurance

MANATEE — Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. is again proposing what he calls the “Consumer Choice” bill, which he asserts would allow consumers to decide for themselves if they prefer a private home insurer offering market-based rates.

Bennett’s bill is slated for consideration during the spring session of the Florida Legislature.

However, an official representing a consumer group is already questioning whether the bill is meant instead to allow big insurance companies to jack up rates.

“It’s going to raise rates through the roof,” predicted Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. “This is not what people need now. We don’t need staggering rate increases when people don’t even have jobs. The effect is going to be they’re going to be forced to drop their insurance, or go into Citizens (state-run property insurance company).”

The bill would address what Bennett called “the continuing erosion of the competitive private market,” according to information issued by his office.

He noted that the bill had been retooled from last year’s version.

Last year, detractors dubbed a proposal on the same topic “The State Farm Bailout Bill.” Among its critics was Gov. Charlie Crist, who vetoed it, saying it amounted to letting select insurance companies “cherry pick” the most profitable policyholders, while off-loading less desirable customers.

The governor complained it would lead to unaffordable rate increases.

Bennett argued that since the veto, a series of public revelations have made the bill’s passage even more critical.

“This is a change from the 2009 version of the bill, which only applied to about 20 large, financially-strong insurers,” Bennett said. “Opening the bill to all homeowners’ insurers resolves a specific criticism that the 2009 bill might have hurt emerging Florida domestic companies, the small start-up insurers entering Florida’s property insurance market.”

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