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Gov. Ron DeSantis Calling Homeowners Insurance Special Session

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will call a May special legislative session to address problems in the property-insurance system that have led to homeowners losing coverage and getting hit with large rate increases.

DeSantis made the announcement during an appearance in Jacksonville but did not immediately specify the dates for the session. The announcement came a day before lawmakers gather for a special session to redraw congressional districts.

DeSantis indicated the insurance session would try to "bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market."

"I'm confident that we're going to be able to get that done," DeSantis said while announcing money for a new trauma center at UF Health Jacksonville. "I am not confident we'd be able to punch it through this week. But what I will be signing this week is a proclamation to set the dates for a special session in May. We're going to work with the legislative leaders on those dates, and it will have as the main focus the reform of the property-insurance market."

DeSantis said the special session could address other issues that did not get resolved during the regular legislative session, which ended March 14. Among the high-profile issues that did not pass were a plan to put additional requirements on condominium buildings after the deadly collapse last year of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.

The House and Senate were at odds during the regular session about how to address the property-insurance problems, with the Senate trying to be more aggressive in bolstering private insurers.

As an example, the Senate proposed allowing new deductibles of up to 2 percent on roof-damage claims — an outgrowth of complaints by insurers that questionable, if not fraudulent, roof claims are driving up costs. But the House rejected the idea, which would have led to increased out-of-pocket costs for homeowners who need to replace damaged roofs.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, also said lawmakers should give more time for property-insurance changes made in 2021 to fully take hold.

But troubles have continued in the insurance market, with companies shedding policies and seeking hefty rate increases because of what industry officials say are large financial losses. Two insurers, St. Johns Insurance Co., and Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., have recently been placed in state receivership because of insolvencies.

Part of the fallout also has led to thousands of homeowners a week obtaining coverage from the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which was created as an insurer of last resort. Citizens had 817,926 policies as of March 31 and is expected to top 1 million by the end of the year.

"It's insane!" Hollywood homeowner Jose Rosario said.

He's desperate for some relief in property insurance.

"It's very frustrating.  As a matter of fact 2 weeks ago we received a bill that my escrow account was going to be depleted an addition $400, one was for taxes, one was insurance," Rosario said.

Homeowners insurance which is up about 25 percent from last year.  Property insurance attorney John Tolley said homeowners are hurting.

"I'm getting calls from clients daily at this point all throughout Florida saying, 'I can't get insurance' or 'I'm getting a notice of non-renewal' or 'the insurance company is requiring me to replace this roof prior to allowing me to renew the policy,'" he said.

Carolyn LePage has lived in her house in Hollywood for more than 30 years. 

"It's very frustrating, not only are the rates going up, it's hell to try to get somebody to cover something," LePage said.

She has a state-run insurance plan, she doesn't have a choice. She's seen her policy skyrocket.

"I've noticed that our insurance has gone up in the past 2 years almost 20%.  I spend almost $1,800 6 times a year for my insurance," she said.

She's hoping a special session will bring change and lower rates.

"I would certainly hope that they reassess and evaluate, especially the state plan.  We should still have options, similar to health insurance, you go to the marketplace, but you should be able to have options," she said.

State leaders have long sought to shift policies out of Citizens into the private market, at least in part because of concerns about financial risks if the state is hammered by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

Before DeSantis' announcement Monday, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, launched an effort to try to force a special session on insurance issues. Brandes used a procedure to poll lawmakers about supporting a session.

Lawmakers faced a noon Monday deadline to respond, with results expected to be released later Monday.

(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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