Florida Gov. Bush signs bill aimed at fixing homeowners insurance market

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Gov. Jeb Bush signed a property insurance bill Tuesday that aims to lure insurance companies back to Florida and keep coverage available, but he acknowledged that it won’t stop rates from increasing in the short run.

“We’re going to have higher rates,” Bush said. “Part of the job of being a leader is accepting responsibility. I will.”

But, Bush said, “There’s really no other option right now.”

Florida homeowners have seen premiums shoot up after eight hurricanes caused $30 billion worth of damage in two years – more than the losses from all previous years since Florida has been keeping hurricane loss data.

Insurance companies have also pulled back dramatically from underwriting risk in the state, jettisoning policies and in some cases refusing to write new ones.

The bill allows private insurance companies to raise rates with less state regulation and makes it easier for small insurance companies to tap into the state’s hurricane backup fund. It also puts $250 million into a program that will give grants to help residents hurricane-proof their homes.

A provision of the bill will provide some immediate relief. Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the government-run insurer that covers those who can’t get a policy from a private company, has come up short the last two years.

Florida homeowners normally get stuck with the shortfall in the form of an assessment on their own policy, which this year was to be as high as 20 percent. The bill puts $715 million in tax money into Citizens to blunt the impact of the shortfall.

Premiums, however, are still expected to go up, and could increase even more under the bill. Just this week, the state’s largest home insurer, State Farm, announced it was seeking increases this year that could average about 70 percent.


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