State Politics

Bennett has filed a bevy of insurance bills

MANATEE — State Sen. Mike Bennett is a prolific filer of bills, and again this year, he’s proposing a number of changes to state insurance laws.

The Bradenton Republican has filed a bill dealing with title insurance, one addressing Citizens Property Insurance Corp., and even a bill about the director of the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Among his proposals:

n Senate Bill 876, which Bennett considers a “consumer choice” bill.

It would allow Floridians to buy insurance from any company they wish, even though the rate might be higher than state regulators think is warranted.

“If you pay the premium, you should be able to choose the insurer of your preference, even if the rate is above what the state wants to let them have,” Bennett said Thursday. “We want to make sure the rate is adequate, so they’ll be in business when a major storm hits. Right now, rates have been artificially suppressed.”

A similar bill legislators passed last year was roundly criticized by consumer groups, and vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist would review a bill in its final form, but the governor has previously indicated if it’s like last year’s version, it would be vetoed, an aide said Thursday.

n Senate Bill 2104, which would require that the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., achieve actuarially sound rates by 2016. In the event the company does not, Citizens would have to file a plan of withdrawal.

“Citizens by definition would be considered an illegal insurance carrier because its rate is not adequate enough to absorb the losses if a big storm hits,” Bennett said.

“They are competing with private insurance carriers who have to have an adequate rate — Citizens doesn’t. We want to make sure those who do have Citizens know they have an insurance carrier that could pay off the claim if a storm hits,” he said.

Christine Ashburn, director of legislative and external affairs for Citizens, said she understands Bennett’s frustration with the company’s need to make significant rate increases.

However, she questioned what she said were terms of the bill — allowing only a 20 percent rate increase per year. On some lines of insurance, the company might need more to meet the goals set in the bill, she said.

“If we didn’t make the standard, we would have to cancel a million policyholders,” she said. “It could be a million people that probably don’t have anywhere else to go for insurance.”

n Senate Bill 260, which Bennett said would allow consumers to better shop for title insurance.

The bill authorizes a title insurance agent to charge a reasonable fee for services; it also requires information be filed on each charge with the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

The measure would prohibit knowingly quoting, charging, accepting, collecting or receiving a premium for title insurance other than that approved by the office, according to the bill.

“We believe that you as a consumer should be allowed to shop your rate,” Bennett said. “It would require that the rate would be promulgated by the state, and those rates would have to be justified. It would allow competition and the ability to shop.”

n Senate Bill 740 would require the Financial Services Commission to reconfirm the appointment of the Director of the Office of Insurance Regulation every two years. Presently, the governor and his Cabinet, acting as the Financial Services Commission, appoint the director to an indefinite term.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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