Rep. Larry Ahern files House version of private flood insurance legislation

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State Rep. Larry Ahern filed a Florida House initiative on Wednesday that would begin to set up a private marketplace for flood insurance in Florida. 

If passed, HB 581 would allow private insurance companies to issue flood policies and contracts with a variety of coverage options, as a way to reduce costs while insuring property against flood damage. Privately issues flood insurance would be an alternative to the federally backed National Flood Insurance Program.

The companion Senate bill, Sen. Jeff Brandes’ SB 542, recently passed its first significant legislative hurdle with unanimous support from the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.

“This is about modest homes and their flood insurance rates soaring four times or more than their current premium,” Ahern said. “This is about mom and dad retiring on a limited income. This is about young couples trying to buy their first home. This is about teachers, firefighters, and police officers trying to raise their families.”

Florida has paid in $16 billion of premiums into NFIP since 1978, Ahern said, while only receiving $4 billion in claims. The Biggert-Waters Act, passed by Congress in 2012, resulted in flood insurance premiums skyrocketing for more than 50,000 policies in Ahern’s Pinellas County district.  

“Florida Realtors are very excited that Representative Ahern has introduced a flood insurance bill that will promote a strong private flood insurance market in Florida,” said John Sebree, Florida Realtors Senior Vice President of Public Policy. “Property owners need an alternative to the outrageous rates of the National Flood Insurance Program and a strong private market is the only way we will see long term rate relief.”

“This is the glimmer of hope that property owners in Florida have been begging for.”

The foundation of Ahern’s plan allows policyholders the option of either covering the remaining balance of their mortgage, replacement costs, or the actual cash value of their property. The bill also clarifies differences between state and federal requirements for flood insurance, so policyholders and insurers can be confident in the emerging private market.

“The flood insurance rate increases have a disproportionate impact on Florida and its housing market; it has a devastating effect on Pinellas County,” Ahern said. “We cannot wait for Congress to accomplish anything amongst the gridlock of Washington, but we can focus on private insurance solutions to increase competition and lower premiums.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.