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Major Citizens Insurance bill pulled moments before vote. Sponsor: 'I have the votes'

A major bill to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was pulled right before a floor vote on Tuesday, with the Senate sponsor saying he needed more time to make changes and build “consensus.”

The vote was already expected to be close—as the 100-page bill includes several controversial provisions that could increase insurance rates in places like South Florida and Tampa Bay.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said he was adding new language in the bill to more closely target “wind-only” policies, typically found in coastal areas.

Simmons said that some of the reports about 60-percent rate increases caused by the bill were only for the wind-only policies, which he said were incredibly underpriced.

“There is a group of people paying below market rates,” he said. “These people are getting a free ride.” Simmons said his bill, once amended, would mostly affect new policyholders with wind-only policies, allowing current homeowners to remain under the 10 percent glidepath.

Simmons also said he planned to take out language from the bill that required Citizens to charge new customers a price higher than the top 20 insurance companies writing in the state.

That would help incoming Citizens policyholders who are not in the wind-only account, but are also paying rates that are lower than the private market.

The postponed vote came one day after pro-consumer groups held a press conference in the Capitol to denounce SB 1770 as “unnecessary,” and “devastating.”

Less than an hour before the floor session was set to take place, Senate Democrats met and discussed the bill, with many warning of higher rates.

The bill “immediately raises rates for hundreds of thousands of new Citizens customers,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

While Democrats did not take a caucus position against the bill, Minority Leader Sen. Chris Smith has said the Senate's 14 Democrats would be skeptical of any bill that raised rates. Opponents would need to peel off votes from at least six Republicans to kill the bill.

Simmons said he pulled the bill in order to build more consensus—particularly from his Republican colleagues in South Florida and Tampa Bay, where insurance rates are highest.

He said he was having success at convincing other lawmakers that the “ghost behind the tree” (massive rate hikes) did not exist.

“I already have more than the [21] necessary votes,” he said. “I believe in getting consensus.”

The bill, which was originally scheduled to be voted on last week, is expected to be heard next week, A less ambitious House version passed its final committee on Tuesday.