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Atwater defends vote that led to "insurance hypocrite" attacks

Republican state Sen. Jeff Atwater has been called “Best Insurance Hypocrite” and been accused of lying in mailings and TV ads that slam him for a 2006 insurance vote that Democrats say increased property insurance rates.

Friday -- in an interview with The Miami Herald about his re-election bid against Democratic challenger Linda Bird -- Atwater explained his thought process when voting for the 156-page insurance reform bill that made him the subject of attacks two years later.

As reported at the time, the bill did include provisions that enabled higher rates. But Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican and incoming Senate President said, he voted "yes" because of several other provisions in the massive bill –- the final bill passed during the 2006 legislative session.

Among them:

--A provision to create the My Safe Florida Home program, a loan program that consumers can use to make improvements to help their homes better withstand storms.

--A provision for another loan program to bolster insurers’ capital.

--A provision to use some of the sales tax revenue generated by the hurricane rebuilding efforts to reduce Citizens Property Insurance’s 2005 deficit.

“Here is the situation: on the last night, am I going to turn away from an opportunity for Floridians to have discounts on their insurance premiums?" Atwater said of the My Safe Florida Home program.

He added that the Legislature doesn’t set insurance rates, insurance companies do. And he said he stands by the 2006 vote and his record on insurance.

“I understand the stakes are high, and I understand in politics that someone is going to try to use this against you,” Atwater told The Miami Herald during the 40-minute interview. “It’s a choice I made, and I saw it through, and when you call anyone in Tallahassee and ask who has been the insurance watchdog…I think people would universally say Jeff Atwater.”