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Live on the Water at Your Own (Insurance) Risk

Saturday, March 12, 2011 | Sunshine News | By: Gray Rohrer

Environmentalists and tea party groups don’t usually have much to agree on politically, but they came together in front of the state Senate chambers in Tallahassee Friday to support an insurance reform bill.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, is backing legislation preventing Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s state-run insurance company, from issuing new policies for construction in environmentally sensitive lands located in high-risk coastal areas susceptible to hurricanes.

“My goal is to depopulate Citizens, to make it as sound as we can make it as rapidly as we can make it,” Hays said.

Environmental groups applauded the bill for its provisions preventing access to artificially low insurance costs for developers who want to build in sensitive coastal and wetland areas.

“For a long time we have been trying to protect Florida’s sandy beaches, which are both economically and ecologically valuable to the state. One fiscally responsible way to do this is to not force Florida taxpayers to subsidize development in the riskiest beachfront areas,” said Gary Appelson, policy coordinator for the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Private insurers have consistently complained about Citzens’ ability to offer rates that were not actuarially sound. Over time, this meant that some private companies receded from covering high-risk coastal areas, slowly driving homeowners in those areas into Citizens policies.

Now, Citizens has about a $4.5 billion surplus, but potential liabilities totaling around $400 billion. A one-in-100-year storm could result in a $13.7 billion deficit for the company.

“If we think our $4 billion budget deficit is bad, we don’t know what bad is until we see that $13.7 billion deficit,” Hays said.

Hays’ Senate Bill 1714 would allow Citizens to raise rates on residential policyholders by 25 percent, prohibit new policies for construction projects within the Coastal Construction Control Line and disqualify remodeling projects that cost more than 50 percent of the value of the existing structure from Citizens policies.

Tea party groups are also supporting Hays’ bill.

“Government should not be doing what the private sector does,” said Scott Osteen, director of the Tallahassee Tea Party.

Hays said he agrees with Osteen, and believes Florida should not be in the insurance business, but his bill does not eliminate Citizens altogether.

Neither was Hays bothered by the suggestion that his bill could hamper Florida’s economic recovery by slowing growth in coastal areas — a boon to the state’s bread-and-butter industries of construction and tourism.

“We don’t know that the private sector won’t take on those properties,” Hays said.

Despite the support for his bill from a wide range of groups on the ideological spectrum, Hays bragged of the backing of one person whose support may matter most of all — Gov. Rick Scott.

“Governor Rick Scott is in complete agreement with what I’m trying to do,” he said.

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