TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said Florida legislative leaders agreed to hold a special session after the Nov. 8 election and before the end of the year to address the state’s crumbling property insurance industry, an issue with increased urgency in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
During an event in Fort Myers, DeSantis also said the Legislature will provide property tax rebates to areas affected by the catastrophic storm, which left more than 100 people dead and destroyed some coastal communities.
The governor said incoming House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo had indicated they were “ready, willing and able” to get the property insurance market “on a stable footing.”
“It costs way more to replace a roof today than it did just three years ago,” DeSantis said. “So we need to do everything we can to push back on that and fight for a more competitive market where rates are incentivized to go down.”
Florida has seen private insurers either collapse or scale back their coverage options in recent years while the state-created Citizens Insurance, which was designed to be an insurer of last resort, has ballooned in size. Citizens now has more than 1 million policyholders.
Florida’s insurance market already was in a shaky position before Ian slammed into southwest Florida. More than 500,000 claims worth an estimated $6.45 billion have already been filed with private insurers, but that number is expected to continue to grow.
This would be the second time this year that legislators will have been asked to grapple with property insurance.
The Republican-controlled Legislature held a special session in May in which the state agreed to use taxpayer money to add a $2 billion layer of reinsurance for private insurers. State legislators also agreed to pump $150 million into a program to help hurricane-proof homes and made a series of changes designed to take aim at litigation that insurers say had made it more expensive for them to operate in the state.
The upcoming special session will be the fourth this year — the same number as in 2007.
DeSantis, while noting the Legislature previously met to deal with property insurance, did not offer specifics on what policy measures could be considered in the upcoming special session.
“There were some very positive reforms that were done,” DeSantis said. “But there also were things we wanted to do that the Legislature at that time was not willing to do. I think we will be able to do that in this special session.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is running for reelection, on Wednesday announced a raft of proposals he wants legislators to pursue, including banning homeowners from letting contractors who fix their homes directly bill insurers for the repairs.
He also wants to create a special prosecutor who will be assigned to tackling property insurance fraud.
DeSantis also said Thursday he was issuing an executive order to delay the property tax payment deadlines for businesses and homeowners whose structures were left uninhabitable by Hurricane Ian.
He said the Legislature would provide tax rebates for those property owners in the upcoming special session.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing all we can to clear the burdens folks are dealing with when it comes to recovering from this storm,” the governor said.
There were no immediate responses from the Florida Democratic Party.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat who is trying to win back the governor’s mansion, responded to the special session announcement by calling DeSantis the “worst property insurance governor in Florida history, period.”
“No one believes that Ron will finally do the right thing and fix his broken insurance market in his last month in office,” Crist said in a press release.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is trying to unseat Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), on Oct. 3 called for a “unified effort” including a special session to respond to the property insurance crisis.
“Our response to this storm must go beyond sandbags and plywood — we owe it to Florida families to build an insurance system that is accessible and affordable,” Demings said.