Florida Legislature begins special session on insurance, hurricane relief

Bonds

The Florida Legislature’s special session began Monday with lawmakers looking for ways to help residents cope with the rising costs of property insurance.

Lawmakers will meet through Nov. 9 and will also debate ways to provide more help for the victims of Hurricane Idalia, fight anti-Semitism and bolster support for Israel while broadening sanctions against Iran.

The aftermath of Hurricane Idalia in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, in August.

Bloomberg News

“Property insurance costs continue to be top of mind for the Florida families,” said Kathleen Passidomo, president of the state Senate. “I understand the frustration, I share it, and I am always talking with stakeholders and trying to find new solutions.”

Passidomo said she had several meetings over the summer with insurance companies, reinsurance companies and insurance agents as well as with the state’s insurance commissioner.

“I remain committed to reforms we passed in 2022 and earlier this year, but I know those measures will take time to impact the market in a meaningful way,” she said. “The good news is we are already seeing new insurers and new private capital enter Florida.”

In Florida, some insurance companies , including Farmers and Allstate’s Castle Key subsidiary,insurance companies have announced reduction or cessation of home and condo coverage while seven firms entered liquidation in the last 18 months.

In July, the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association sold $465 million of tax-exempt fixed-rate bonds and $125 million of variable-rate bonds to help fund claims from insolvent insurance companies in the state.

Last December, lawmakers met in a special session to address the challenges facing the state’s insurance market.

However, current insurance prices are still taking a toll on family budgets, Passidomo said, adding that increased resiliency initiatives could help slow rising insurance costs.

Anew roof or storm windows, she noted, can make homes safer while reducing insurance premiums, but these resiliency enhancements often are expensive and out of reach for many families.

“Among the reforms passed last year to help stabilize the property insurance market and reduce cost for homeowners, the ‘My Safe Florida Home Program’ has been widely popular,” she said.

The state, she said, has seen widespread use of the program by those who want to fortify their homes against natural disasters while at the same time reducing their property insurance premiums.

“During the special session, we would like to address the backlog of applications for the current program and begin the discussion of steps we can take to support this initiative moving forward,” she said.

The Legislature will also look at ways to help the victims of Hurricane Idalia, who are still dealing with the damage.

The Category 3 hurricane came ashore in the Big Bend area of Florida in August with winds of up to 125 miles per hour and brought record storm surge to some parts of the state’s Gulf Coast.

The total damage and economic loss from Idalia in the Southeast could total between $18 billion and $20 billion, according to AccuWeather.

Idalia was the second major storm to hit Florida in the last two years. In 2022, Hurricane Ian hit a more densely populated area and caused damage and economic loss of $180 billion to $210 billion to the region.

“We know Idalia’s impact on our agriculture industry was catastrophic and debris removal remains a challenge,” she said. “We will build on the tremendous and ongoing state response to Hurricane Idalia with key funding to support the Floridians and communities who are recovering and rebuilding. This includes tax relief for families and businesses, key assistance for agriculture and aquaculture producers, and aid for local governments.”

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Also this week, the Legislature will look at ways to help the state of Israel after it suffered a deadly terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

“Following the horrific atrocities committed by Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas against Israel, I am calling on the Florida Legislature to act swiftly to ensure our state does not send a penny to the Iranian terror state,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. ”I am glad to see the Legislature’s willingness to convene and address this along with other important issues for the state.”

DeSantis is asking lawmakers to increase sanctions against the Iranian regime by broadening the industries on Florida’s scrutinized companies list and strengthening state prohibitions against investing in companies which are doing business with states that sponsor terror. 

“Florida must not be complicit in funding state-sponsored terrorism against America’s great ally, Israel,” he said.

Lawmakers will also look at providing additional state security infrastructure to guard against anti-Semitic violence and hate crimes.

“We must also be careful to guard against threats on the home front. In recent years, we have increased state support for security at our Jewish day schools,” Passidomo said. “With incidents of anti-Semitism on the rise, we need to make certain that entities at risk for hate crimes have the security resources and infrastructure they need.” 

Separately, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced on Oct. 31 the state Treasury has invested an additional $120 million in Israel bonds.

The action came after the state bought $25 million in Israel bonds earlier last month and brings Florida’s current investment in Israel bonds to $200 million, the largest total ever held by the state Treasury.

Since 2017, the state Treasury has purchased $310 million in Israel bonds to diversify the state’s investment portfolio as part of its long-range investment strategy which has generated roughly $6.4 million in interest from the investments.

“Israel bonds are a prudent use of state funds and offer a consistently positive return on investment. As we’ve seen throughout history, Democracy and freedom are fragile, and Florida proudly stands with Israel, the only democratic nation in the Middle East,” Patronis said.

“This is not only a smart and sound investment for the citizens of the state of Florida, but it is an investment that supports the people of Israel as they fight to protect their country from the terrorists of Hamas,” said Mark Ruben, executive director of Israel Bonds.

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