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Insurance industry frustrated by lack of progress in Legislature

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The insurance industry isn’t happy.

For the last two years, the industry has pressed the Florida Legislature to pass legislation aimed at curbing a spike in lawsuits over disputed water claims from homeowners, particularly in South Florida. But House and Senate versions of what to do are dramatically different, raising the possibility that nothing will ultimately pass this year to address what one Miami area insurance agent called a “growing cancer.”

“We are holding this press conference today, because we are here halfway through the 2017 legislative session and it appears another year may pass without reforms,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick at a rally at the Florida Capitol Building.

She said if reforms do not come, consumers are looking at rate increases to offset the cost of litigation. She said Citizens Property Insurance is looking at a 50 percent rate increase “all because the Legislature is tolerating an undeniable problem.”

Suarez-Resnick was with a press conference organized by a group calling itself The Consumer Protection Coalition, which includes Citizens Property Insurance Corporation officials, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.

To address water claims, insurance companies have backed legislation that would make it harder for contractors representing consumers to get attorneys fees paid for if they take the insurance companies to court over claims. The way it works now, is that a homeowner can do an “assignment of benefits” that allows a contractor to sue an insurance company on their behalf to get claims for work paid.

The House is moving with a bill to do what the insurance industry wants. But in the Senate, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, is moving a bill that doesn’t address the attorney fee issue at all, and instead focuses more on requiring water restoration companies to get licensed in Florida.

After the press conference Farmer was unapologetic about pushing a bill that the insurance industry opposes. He said the assignment of benefits process is a key resource for homeowners to get insurance companies to pay up claims and avoid getting low-balled when they have a legitimate claim.

“The Assignment of Benefits enables consumers to get claims more quickly,” Farmer said.

PHOTO: Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier was part of a press conference on Thursday at the State Capitol Building urging the Florida Legislature to pass reforms to halt a surge in lawsuits related to water loss claims.