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Fasano receives hero's welcome at Citizens sinkhole insurance rate hearing

After unsuccessfully fighting a property insurance bill that led state-run Citizens Property Insurance to propose massive increases for its sinkhole policies, state Sen. Mike Fasano received a standing ovation and thunderous applause at a rate hearing Tuesday.

Nearly 200 property owners turned out for the hearing, many of them traveling to the Tampa Convention Center in a three-bus caravan coordinated by Fasano. They were there to protest proposed rate hikes that will add $1,200 to some sinkhole policies. Citizens officials say the increases are necessary because current premiums aren't enough to cover payouts, which they blame on fraudulent and frivolous claims.

"I'm encouraged that so many people were able to come tonight," Fasano told state insurance regulators, who hosted the hearing. "They are the human face of this very real crisis."

Other lawmakers also spoke to regulators, including Sen. Ronda Storms, who, like Fasano, voted against SB408. She told regulators that the spike in sinkhole claims has been caused not by fraud but, at least in the parts of Hillsborough County she represents, by bad water management policies, which lead to overpumping and cause sinkholes that damage homes.

Representatives Richard Corcoran and Jimmie Smith, who actually voted for SB408, also spoke against the huge rate increases, arguing for letting the provisions of the bill intended to limit fraud take effect and see if that reduces the need to raise premiums. Corcoran promised that legislators would revisit the issue in the upcoming session.