If Florida lawmakers hold a special session to deal with the troubled property-insurance market or to put additional requirements on condominium buildings, it won’t come from a directive by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis, appearing Monday in Wellington, said he’d “welcome” the return of lawmakers to Tallahassee to address either of the topics if a special session is called by legislative leaders.
“If they can get an agreement, they should do it,” DeSantis replied when asked about calling a special session on either topic.
“I'm confident we're going to see something along those lines at some point within the next year, whether it's soon, whether it's closer to the (election), I don't know,” DeSantis said. “I think that they realize that that’ll be something that we can do. So, I'm ready. I've got a pen ready. And so, if they do it, we'll be very receptive to that."
Lawmakers might be forced to return to Tallahassee for a special session on congressional redistricting. DeSantis has vowed to veto a redistricting plan that lawmakers passed, and new congressional lines need to be in place for the November elections.
But legislative leaders have not signaled they will call a special session on the property-insurance and condominium issues. The governor also has power to call special sessions.
Asked about DeSantis’ comments Monday, Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Wilton Simpson, pointed to comments Simpson made to reporters on March 11.
Simpson, R-Trilby, said the Senate had a “pretty good bill” on property insurance and that there’s a chance lawmakers will be called back to Tallahassee as “we have many companies going out of business.” But those comments followed Simpson saying property insurance changes made in the 2021 session need time to take hold.
"Last year, we passed a really good insurance bill, property insurance bill. Part of it is still working through the court system, I believe, but it's starting to work,” Simpson told reporters. “We were disappointed we couldn't get more done this year, but that's part of the process. So, we decided it’d be better to wait for the next Legislature to take that issue up."
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, made similar comments when asked about the insurance situation after the regular legislative session ended March 14.
“What I would also ask people to remember is that we just passed an incredibly significant reform last session,” Sprowls told reporters. “It did things like amend the attorney fee statute for the first time, I think, in 100 years.”
Last year lawmakers approved a series of changes that included a new formula to limit fees of attorneys who represent homeowners in lawsuits against insurers and a reduction from three years to two years the time to file claims. They also passed a proposal aimed at preventing roofing contractors from advertising to spur homeowners to file insurance claims, though a federal court has blocked that part of the law on free-speech grounds.
“You know, everybody in the insurance (industry) that you talk to always says reforms take 18 months,” Sprowls said. “We're not six months into that. So, it's frustrating for me as a homeowner. It's frustrating for a lot of people. But I want to make sure that we're making the right reforms that are going to have an impact on the marketplace and don't inadvertently have an adverse impact.”
The 2021 law also allows larger rate increases for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has seen a huge growth in policies as private insurers have shed customers and raised rates to reduce financial risks.
As of Feb. 28, Citizens had 792,616 policies. That was up more than 200,000 from April 30, 2021, and almost 340,000 from two years ago.
Lawmakers also considered bills during the regular session to place increased requirements on condominium buildings after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South last year in Surfside killed 98 people. The bills dealt with issues such as required inspections and financial reserves to make repairs, but the House and Senate could not agree on a final version.
The House wanted to go further than the Senate on issues such as reserve requirements for condominium associations.
“It's sort of like property insurance in that respect, and that sometimes you can work out the differences or remove things and get a product that everybody agrees on. But it wasn't one of those times,” Sprowls told reporters March 14.