Citizens Insurance rates likely to rise

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One in four homeowners is insured by the state's insurer of last resort. It's named Citizens because taxpayers are responsible for any losses.

Rates are capped by state lawmakers and are often 30 percent below what private insurers would charge. That makes finding private companies to write in Florida a challenge.

"I think we would love to see some changes in Citizens. I think that would be good for Florida businesses," said Brewster Bevis, of Associated Industries of Florida.

Because so many are in Citizens, raising rates is politically difficult. So the business group Associated Industries has released an interactive map showing each member of the Legislature how many of their constituents rely on Citizens.

What the map shows is that the vast majority of legislative districts don't have a lot of exposure.

The dark blue areas are less than 10 percent. The hot spots are the Keys, where 99 percent are in Citizens. In Ft. Lauderdale, it's 71 percent; Sarasota, 65 percent; the same in west central Florida.

Advocates for policy holders say the map is an effort to pit lawmakers against one another.

"What this map is suggesting is that the lawmakers from areas of the state that aren't affected with their consumers screw the rest of the policy holders of the state that are dependent on Citizens," said Kevin Cate, of Policy Holders of Florida.

Citizens rate increases are capped at 10 percent a year. But over the next 60 days, lawmakers will decide if that's enough to protect the 3 million homeowners who are not citizens and who are on the hook if a company can't pay its claims.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, who will have a lot to say about rates, has just more than one in five constituents in Citizens. He favors a balanced approach.

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