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Homeowners turned away from Senate meeting on insurer-backed bill

State: 
FL

Homeowners turned away from Senate meeting on insurer-backed bill

By Julie Patel, for Sun-Sentinel.com
Click here for original article

People who showed up Monday to weigh in on a sweeping bill backed by insurers were turned away when a Senate meeting ran out of time.

Some were homeowners who had traveled to Tallahassee to speak up about the bill. Sen. Chris Smith, D- Fort Lauderdale, who was leading the Senate banking and insurance committee meeting, allowed two homeowners from the Keys to speak because they had traveled the furthest. (They said the bill does not do enough to protect consumers.)

But Smith said state rules don't allow him to extend the meeting for the others.

The bill, SB 408, aims to strengthen insurers by allowing certain rate hikes and lowering claims-related costs, including costs for sinkhole claims that have escalated in recent years.

The insurance committee postponed a decision on the bill a second time because it hadn't gotten through changes proposed by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

The changes, including requiring insurers to provide policyholders with a copy of an insurer's engineering report on a sinkhole, generated some debate and heated moments. A legislator remarked that requiring a copy of the report was probably drafted by attorneys for policyholders.

Fasano shot back: "Why do we keep denying the homeowner something in this bill?...I can easily suggest this whole bill before us was written by the insurance industry."

He also proposed defining damage from sinkholes instead of leaving it up to insurers.

But Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said Fasano's idea of defining damage as cracks larger than one-sixteenth of an inch is "arbitrary."

Juan and Lorey Espinosa, Pasco County residents, said their insurer determined their home is on a sinkhole and reported that to the county so potential home buyers can be made aware of the information. But they said the insurer denied the claim, saying cracks in the walls and in a window, which is leaking, do not meet its definition of damage.

Juan Espinosa said he could barely afford traveling to Tallahassee, much less fixing the damage. "No bank will loan money on an unrepaired sinkhole home," Lorey Espinosa added.

Fasano, Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, voted for the change. But the majority, including South Florida Senators Bogdanoff, Smith and Joe Negron, D-Stuart, did not.

At one point during the meeting, Fasano was asked why he was withdrawing one of his proposed changes. He replied, "I already know it’s already been predetermined that all of my amendments will fail. So I’m doing my best to get to the ones that truly have."

"I haven’t been told to vote on any bills or any amendments," Negron said, triggering an apology from Fasano.

As the meeting ended, Smith encouraged legislators to make time for those homeowners who stopped by their offices before leaving town.

Policyholders can also weigh in by contacting their legislators.