November 07, 2013

Brandes wants legislation to increase private flood insurance options

The bandwagon to increase the options for private flood insurance keeps growing. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is the latest. From a press release:

St. Petersburg, FL- Today Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) announced that he is drafting comprehensive legislation that will allow private insurers to offer alternatives to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in Florida. Citing a recent congressional proposal to delay the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act by four years, the Brandes legislation will allow insurers to utilize that delay to establish additional, more affordable choices for consumers. 

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October 29, 2013

Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is asking for state insurance regulators to explain why property insurance companies don't seem to be passing along their cost savings to consumers.

At the heart of the issue is the drop in the cost of re-insurance, which has dropped in price after a series of legislative reforms. Atwater asked the same question to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty in an August letter. McCarty responded in a letter, and at a recent Cabinet meeting, and said that rather than reduce the cost of premiums for consumers, insurers were purchasing more re-insurance.

Now, Atwater wants better answers and he is asking McCarty to prepare a report by Dec. 18.

"My question to you is simple: 'Why have rates not come down?',” Atwater writes. Here's his letter:  Download 10.29.2013 Letter to McCarty Regarding Property Insurance Costs (1)

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October 11, 2013

Feds file rule change to encourage private market alternative for flood insurance

Federal regulators have weighed into the flood insurance crisis, suggesting banks be required to accept private flood insurance on homes in high-risk areas.

The proposed rule change filed Friday was triggered by an overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program that is causing huge flood insurance rate hikes for some, with property owners in flood zones in Florida particularly hard hit. It comes at the same time Florida insurance regulators are investigating whether the state could induce private companies to sell flood insurance.

If the federal change is approved, banks and other lenders would have to accept qualified private insurance on loans backed by properties in areas at risk for flooding. Lenders would also have to place in escrow flood insurance payments for certain residential properties and for mobile homes. The rule clarifies that lenders have authority to charge a borrower for the cost of force-placed flood insurance when a property owners fails to get the coverage.

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October 10, 2013

Florida won't join Mississippi flood insurance lawsuit, but supports the effort

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Thursday announced that they are filling a "friend of the court" brief in support of a Mississippi lawsuit aimed at halting massive flood insurance increases, but they have decided not to join the lawsuit as a litigant.

"We’re hoping Congress will do the right thing,'' Bondi said, in explaining why the state has decided not to put its legal might behind the effort. "We haven't ruled anything out at this point" noting that she hopes Mississippi's efforts are successful.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week asking a judge to halt the rate increases imposed by the Biggert Waters Flood Control Act of 2012 until FEMA completes an affordability study required by the act. Chaney asked the state's attorney general to join him in the lawsuit but he declined.

Under the act, an estimated 268,000 Florida homeowners with older homes in flood prone areas could see their rates soar when their property changes hands. The act was designed to eliminate a $24 billion deficit in the National Flood Insurance Program by gradually increasing rates for most homeowners in the program, and charging full-market rates for those who have benefited from below-market rates for years.

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October 09, 2013

Scott won't answer if he supports or opposes federal partial shutdown


Gov. Rick Scott refused to answer whether he supports or rejects the government shutdown that has crippled Washington, deflecting the question by blaming President Barack Obama.

“What I agree with is the fact that the buck stops with the president,'' Scott told reporters at a media availability this moring. "It's disappointing he doesn’t know how to compromise and negotiate. I’ve done it for three sessions."

Won't the shutdown have an impact on the state? 

 “We’re looking at all of our agencies to see what impat it’s going tohave on our state,'' he said.

The governor was also asked whether he supports  , to develop an alternative flood insurance market in Florida for homeowners trapped in enormous rate increases in the federal program. Congress passed the bill in 2012 with an overwhelming majority and Obama signed it and the bill's supports are urging Congress to pass a delay to stop the unintended consequences.

Scott again refused to answer what his position is and again blamed Obama, a strategy he has consistently employed of late as part of a campaign strategy.  

"The president signed the bill. He could have an impact by stopping it,'' he said. "He needs to put a pause on that bill."

Video: News Service of Florida

October 08, 2013

State considers creating alternative to federal flood insurance

Flood insuranceWith thousands of homeowners locked in their homes because of spiraling flood insurance rates, Florida regulators are working on a program to lure private companies to write flood insurance in the state as an alternative to the federal program.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is talking to insurance companies who are interested in coming to Florida and writing expedited flood insurance policies, said Rebecca Matthews, the department’s deputy chief of staff at a meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday.

“This is an issue that may need to be taken care of a little sooner than session,’’ she said, explaining that regulators do not plan to wait until legislators return to Tallahassee for the spring lawmaking session in March. “A handful of companies have shown interest.”

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the committee, said lawmakers must respond to the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 which could harm the state’s economy.

“If there’s money to be made in this and the flexibility is given to private enterprise, then we can get that started,’’ he said. “The question, of course, is are we going to be able to do it fast enough.”

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October 05, 2013

Homeowners should do their homework when reviewing flood insurance rates

FloodHomeowners hit with substantial increases in their flood insurance as a result of recent changes in the federal program should do their homework, experts say, because there may be ways to lower their bills.

“A lot of people don’t know the flood map is not set in stone,’’ said Jason Cummins of Cummins-Cederberg, a coastal and marine engineering firm based in South Miami. Federal officials “understand they are limited in many aspects, budget, resources and time available, and you can challenge it.”

The Herald/Times spoke with Cummins and obtained information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to answer these questions about the new flood insurance rates: Read here.

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October 04, 2013

Weatherford weighs in on flood insurance with letter to Boehner and Reid

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, added his voice to the chorus of Florida leaders pleading with Congress to get back to work and amend the flawed flood insurance reform act that took effect this week.

Weatherford highlighted a provision in the bill that effectively hits homeowners whose purchased older homes when the Biggert Water Flood Insurance Reform Act became law last July and only now are learning that the rate subsidy they thought would continued disappeared on Oct. 1, and their flood insurance rates are soaring.

"While other potential implementation problems deserve further review and improvement, Congress should not wait any longer to pass legisation to provide a reasonable rate glide pather for all primary residences,'' he wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have all called on Congress to fix the law. Scott wrote a letter to Florida's congressional delegation warning that the bill will have a devastating effect on Florida's recovering real estate market and he criticized the president for not leading on the issue. 

Rubio, who at first was reluctant to support a delay in the law, held a press conference with a bi-partisan group of senators and joined with them in urging a short-term fix to stop the chilling effect the rapid rate hikes will have on home buyers. 

"Unfortunately thse calls for sensible action went unheeded,'' Weatherford said, calling for phased in rates for the most dramatically affected properties. "This oversight should be corrected immediately, and the federal program should provide glide paths for all policyholders."  Download Weatherford on NFIP

October 01, 2013

Rubio joins with Dems to seek a solution to flood insurance hikes but they have no plan


A bipartisan group of senators, including Florida’s Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, said this morning they are seeking a solution that would prevent steep flood insurance rate hikes for homeowners.

But the lawmakers said they do not have a plan and even if they did, the government shutdown complicates things.

“There simply has to be relief and we will pass the relief,” said Nelson, a Democrat. “Now the question is finding the legislative vehicle and opportunity to do that given all of the stuff that is going on in the shutdown of the government.

The senators spoke on the same day the rates hikes are to go into effect. In Florida, 268,000 policy holders could face steep increases.

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Scott blames Obama for congressional inaction on flood insurance

Gov. Rick Scott used the onset of flood insurance rate hikes Tuesday to call attention to the impact a federal law could have on thousands of homeowners who could be locked into their homes because of soaring flood insurance rates.

But at a press conference in Clearwater today, Scott refrained from placing the blame on Congress, which has failed to halt the Oct. 1 effective date of a key provision of the Biggett Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, despite widesperad acknowledgement from the law's supporters that an unintended consequence is harming the real esate recovery. Instead, Scott turned to a familiar line and blamed President Barack Obama.

“We are calling on President Obama to take immediate action to prevent these flood insurance rate hikes on Florida’s families, and families across the state,'' Scott said, according to a press release from his office. "This is unfair and could devastate the Tampa Bay area’s real estate market. The buck ultimately stops with the President. The time for leadership is now.”

Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, called Scott's blaming of Obama "a publicity stunt." Within the hour, Nelson is joining U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), David Vitter (R-La.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D) at a press conference to discuss national flood insurance reform. Rubio has rejected calls for a delay but has said he opposes the rate hikes. 

“Sens. Nelson and Landrieu have succeeded in getting a bipartisan group together that is working on a legislative fix right now,'' McLaughlin said. "We have told Gov. Scott it would be less of a distraction, and more of a help, if he would contact members of his own political party that are blocking action in Washington.  His request of the president should be seen for what it is – a publicity stunt.”