Lawmakers move closer to allowing private insurers write flood insurance in Fla.

Move comes as efforts to rollback huge rate increases stall in Congress

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers on Thursday moved a step closer to allowing private insurers to write flood insurance in Florida. The move comes as efforts to rollback huge rate increases has stalled in Congress, but plenty of questions still remain.

Homeowners have seen flood insurance rates skyrocket. The culprit: A new federal law designed to make the rates financially sound. The problem: Big sticker shock instead of gradual increases for homeowners.

Florida has been one of the largest contributors to the national flood insurance program. Three of every four dollars Floridians spend on flood insurance go to pay claims in other states.

Under the Floridian plan, homeowners would be allowed to reduce coverage as their mortgage goes down.

Sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, told a Senate committee the bill will help people stay in their homes.

"I believe without the bill, homeowners would not have this option," said Brandes.

The legislation brought tough questions.

"Lot's of limitations. This is essentially unregulated rates," said Reggie Garcia, of the ?Florida Justice Association.

Lawmakers raised concerns over how policyholders would find out what's not covered. The fight's over either putting those exclusions on the front page or burying them inside.

Concerns were raised over the complexity of the legislation.

"I'm just a little bit reluctant to vote on a strike everything amendment when I don't know what's in there and I don't fully understand," said Sen. Jack Latvala, ?R-Pinellas County.

In the end, the committee approved the bill, but only after the promise of more scrutiny from the insurance committee. It was that scrutiny that won Arthenia Joyner's vote.

"We want to make sure it's right," said Joyner. "We don't want people paying for something and at the end of the day, they can get nothing."

The state insurance program would sunset after ten years.

It has been 40 years since private companies sold flood insurance policies in Florida. If the legislation becomes law, those companies could begin selling polices later this year.

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