• Property Insurance Among Topics at WLRN Live Town Hall Featuring Florida Senators Jack Latvala and Chris Smith
  • March 7, 2013
  • Law Firm: Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate Webb P.A. - Fort Lauderdale Office
  • Florida Senators Jack Latvala and Chris Smith joined veteran Miami Herald political reporter Mary Ellen Klas and WLRN Public Radio Senior Anchor Phil Latzman for a town hall-style forum yesterday, February 25, 2012, on the upcoming 2013 Florida Legislative Session.

    Held jointly by WLRN and The Miami Herald, the Ft. Lauderdale event was sponsored by Global Integrity and featured panel discussions on voting access, education, health care and property insurance, among other issues.

    The lively audience, estimated at over 600, had pre-submitted questions on the various topics, while Mr. Latzman facilitated the panel's responses in order to coordinate with the live radio broadcast.

    The question of why Citizens Property Insurance Corporation ("Citizens") and other private Florida insurers are not extending mitigation discounts to homeowners who have made the appropriate upgrades prompted Senator Smith to admit that his own insurance premiums have doubled.

    "People are being insured out of their houses, not 'property taxed' out," he said.  "People are considering dipping into their savings to pay their houses off and get off insurance."

    In the wake of Hurricane Sandy's impact on the northeastern United States, he told the audience he has proposed a regional insurance compact that would enable Florida to share risk with other coastal states.

    Senator Latvala prefaced his remarks on Florida's property insurance crisis by saying "It made my week to find out that the president of Citizens has to come before my committee for confirmation (to his position)."

    Ms. Klas related that Senator David Simmons has proposed a "two-tier" system for Citizens whereby those in low-risk areas would not qualify for Citizens coverage at all.  Florida, she explained, is a "new construction" state and has long been trying to figure out how to make insurance affordable.

    Another audience member asked the panel why it is legal for insurers to takeout policies from Citizens without giving a premium price quote and its amount of coverage before the policyholder has a chance to opt out.  Senator Latvala responded that, presently, he has a bill in drafting to do address that very issue, and is discussing the possibility of sponsoring the legislation with Senator Simmons.  Members of Florida's House of Representatives can only sponsor six bills each, he reminded, and he is "running out of members to sponsor" the legislation.

    Senator Smith said he felt that, if there were ever a year in which property insurance reform could be accomplished, it is this one.  "I held my nose and voted for SB 408," he recalled.  " . . . but now, even those (legislators) who voted with the insurance companies have come around."

    Referring to a statement made earlier in the program that north and south Florida residents are so divergent in viewpoints, they could almost be divided up into two states, Senator Latvala said property insurance is one issue that falls in line with that idea.  "Many legislators who live on the interior of the state could still get a State Farm policy if they wanted to," he added.

    The question was pondered by the panelists of whether private insurance rates would actually go down if the size of Citizens was reduced.

    It was related that Global Integrity, a government transparency advocacy organization, has given a "C-" grade to Florida's insurance regulatory environment.  Florida also received a "D-" for its public access, inasmuch as no one presently monitors the State's compliance with public access laws.

    Senator Latvala announced that next week, one of his committees will take up SB 2, a bill he has sponsored to prohibit any public officeholder from voting on a bill in which he or she may have a financial interest.