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Clock ticks, pressure grows on insurance rate dereg

As the clock ticks on Gov. Charlie Crist's June 27 deadline for deciding whether to veto or usher in HB 1171, the bill deregulating large property insurers' rates, he continues to get pressure from both sides in what is turning into a large-scale e-mail and letter-writing campaign.

The latest: A letter hand-delivered by the Florida Bankers Association, urging him to let the bill become law. The Bankers join a growing list of politically influential groups who want the legislation, including AIF, Florida Tax Watch and groups representing realtors, home builders, and mortgage brokers. They have in recent days written to Crist and urged their members to call or write the governor's office.

The Black Caucus also wants Crist to sign the bill, as does the Florida Chamber, which released a poll recently that found 60 percent of Florida voters believe Governor Crist should sign HB 1171, while 24 percent disagree.

That poll also found that 60 percent are "very" or "somewhat" worried about their insurers' ability to pay claims in the event of a storm. And over 60 percent polled across party lines said paying lower rates is not as important as knowing the insurance company has the assets to pay out claims.

Bill supporters including Florida Tax Watch (Download Taxwatch1171) say consumers should have the choice of paying more for a proven, financially solvent company like State Farm if they are willing to pay more for a product they trust.

Critics, including the smaller insurance companies now writing policies in Florida, say such large companies should not be allowed to raise rates without state regulation. On Monday the Florida Property and Casualty Association, representing smaller insurance companies, asked Crist to veto the bill, which would deregulate rates for large insurers including State Farm and more than a dozen other companies writing policies in Florida.

If he vetoes HB 1171, State Farm is expected to move forward with its plans to leave Florida's homeowners insurance market. If he signs it into law, it could entice the company to stay, though company officials have only said they would reconsider their exit if they see "long-term and transformative change" in the Sunshine State's insurance situation.