by Bethany Blankley
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three bills into law passed by the state legislature during a recently convened special legislative session. The new laws provide “the most significant property insurance reform in recent history,” disaster assistance to those impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole and extend toll relief to commuters.
On Friday, he signed SB 2-A, to help stabilize the state’s property insurance market, increase competition, and strengthen consumer protections.
“The issues in Florida’s property insurance market did not occur overnight, and they will not be solved overnight,” DeSantis said. “The historic reforms” in the new law, he said, will “create an environment which realigns Florida to best practices across the nation, adding much-needed stability to Florida’s market, promoting competition, and increasing consumer choice.”
The new law eliminates one-way attorney fees for property insurance claims, designed to disincentivize frivolous lawsuits and bring down costs for homeowners. It also enhances the Office of Insurance Regulation’s ability to complete market conduct examinations of property insurers after a hurricane to hold accountable insurance companies and prevent abuse of the appraisal process. It also reduces the timelines for insurers to make payments and provides additional funding to provide temporary reinsurance support.
It was the second property insurance reform bill the legislature passed in a second special legislative session called this year to address the issue.
State House Speaker Paul Renner said the state legislature “faced the challenge of stabilizing the property insurance market and providing Floridians affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole with critical resources to recover quickly and efficiently. We are all feeling the effects of inflation and rising insurance premiums, so we took action to deliver consumer driven reforms that expedite the claims process and curb frivolous lawsuits that drive up costs. The results of this Special Session provide Floridians with the peace of mind that they will be able to access a robust property insurance market and our local communities will have the financial assistance to recover and rebuild better than before.”
DeSantis also signed SB 4-A into law, allocating $750 million in additional disaster relief to Floridians impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The funding allocation came after the Biden administration denied Florida’s request for assistance.
“We have taken an all hands-on deck approach to cut through bureaucracy to help our communities recover from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole,” DeSantis said. He thanked the legislature “for bringing additional disaster relief to communities across the state” as they continue to recover from one of the costliest hurricanes on record.
The new law enacts property tax refunds and extends deadlines and discounts for Floridians whose homes were destroyed or rendered unhabitable, extending relief the governor provided in October through executive order.
“When the Governor and I walked through the communities impacted by Ian in the days that followed the storm, the devastation was almost indescribable,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said. “The Governor made a promise that he would be here every step of the way as we work to recover, and he has kept that promise.”
The new law “will make a huge difference for impacted communities in Southwest Florida and across our state,” she said. It “provides tax relief for owners of destroyed homes, housing assistance for displaced Floridians, and funding for reconstructing impacted beaches and essential water infrastructure,” among other things to help communities “rebuild stronger and better than ever.”
The new law allocates $150 million to support affordable housing hurricane recovery efforts, including $60 million towards home repairs and $90 million for the Rental Recovery Loan Program. It also allocates $150 million for beach renourishment and shoreline fortification and $100 million for a new Hurricane Stormwater and Wastewater Grant Program. It also authorizes the state to pay $350 million to assist local governments with FEMA Public Assistance match requirements.
“This important matching money may provide up to $7 billion in reconstruction and recovery projects undertaken by local governments depending on the applicable federal cost share,” the governor’s office said.
DeSantis also signed SB 6A into law establishing the Toll Relief Program through the Florida Department of Transportation. It gives Floridians who use toll transponders like SunPass, and have 35 or more toll transactions per month, a 50 percent credit. It’s expected to cut in half the cost of tolls for roughly 1.2 million commuters, saving the average commuter nearly $400 next year.
“I promised Floridians that I would find additional ways to provide toll relief for Florida families,” DeSantis said, adding that he and the legislature “are keeping that promise to help hardworking families keep more money in their pockets.”
In August, DeSantis implemented the SunPass Savings Program, which was expected to provide nearly $40 million in savings to commuters who use Florida’s Turnpike System and FDOT-owned toll facilities. Since it was introduced September 1, it’s saved an average of 371,000 commuters more than $13.3 million, according to state data. Set to expire Dec. 31, the new program begins Jan. 1 and goes through December 31, 2023.
– – –