By Timothy O'Hara, Citizen Staff, Keys News
April 1, 2011
A bill that would hamper Florida Keys homeowners' ability to file windstorm insurance claims has been shot down and another that would eliminate their coverage appears to be losing momentum.
A contingent of Keys politicians and business leaders lobbied and educated legislators and other state officials about insurance and other local issues, Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said after returning from Tallahassee late Thursday.
"We made a lot of progress," she said. "The whole trip was really positive. ... We made some real connections."
Carruthers and Annalise Mannix, executive director of FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe County), gave presentations opposing the controversial bills to state legislative committees. Afterward, the Senate Budget Committee voted 12-8 to reject SB 408, which would have reduced the window to file a complaint from five to three years, Carruthers said. Damages sometimes are not known for several years after a storm, she explained.
Though the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 6-4 to pass SB 1714, support is diminishing for the bill that would allow Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to deny new policies and not renew existing policies to most Keys homeowners in a phased process over the next several years. The number of dissenters for that bill jumped from two to four between the committee's initial vote and formal vote this week.
The bills could have a dramatic effect on the costs and level of coverage for Keys homeowners, who already pay some of the highest premiums in the state. They could drive workers out of the Keys, as insurance is a requirement of mortgages, and workers typically cannot afford to pay cash for expensive Keys homes.
Carruthers and Mannix also lobbied state legislators to exempt the Keys from any insurance bills they do pass, explaining that Monroe County's building codes are stricter than other Florida counties', and that floodwaters, not wind, cause the majority of damage here.
Carruthers and Mannix met with the governor's chief of staff, Insurance Consumer Advocate Terry Butler and Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University professor Patrick Maroney, who is developing more accurate models to predict wind and flood damage.
FIRM has long argued the current models are not correct because they do not take into account the county's stricter building codes. Maroney told them they were "right on track" on the modeling issue and tentatively agreed to work with them and share data to create more accurate models, Carruthers said.
The Florida Keys Day event in Tallahassee Tuesday also gave local officials the opportunity to meet with the governor, his staff and the Cabinet, and various state legislators to discuss other Keys issues of concern. Chief among them is the Keys' ongoing struggle to pay to upgrade all properties to advanced wastewater systems by December 2015. The state, which mandated the upgrade, has promised $200 million for wastewater projects, but has yet to allocate the money.
"Our folks were really able to engage and make connections with state officials from all levels of government," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.