Fasano to Citizens Insurance officials: Shame on You!

No doubt Citizens has been going through some economic troubles. They claim they collected $32 million in sinkhole premiums, but paid out nearly $250 million in claims. Supporters of SB 408 say that fraud is rampant in the system, and thus strong measures were needed to counter it. Citizens also claims to have received 1,400 new sinkhole claims in the first half of this year, double the amount from the same time period a year earlier.

Tuesday's hearing began at 4 p.m. and was moved out of Tallahassee upon Senator Fasano's request, since the Tampa Bay area is the epicenter of the explosion in sinkhole claims.

And why so many sinkholes, anyway?

Eastern Hillsborough County State Senator Ronda Storms told the Office of Insurance Regulation that she believed one of the culprits was Tampa Bay Water, for excessive pumping of millions of gallons of water a day during deep freezes in the county.

Speaking of her constituents who can no longer get sinkhole coverage, she said, "They are paying for the bad decision for Tampa Bay Water for not turning off the pumping," declaring that "wholly unacceptable."

Citizens officials were on the hot spot, with an angry crowd shouting at some of their actuaries when they didn't speak loud enough to be heard.

In addition to state Senators Fasano and Storms speaking publicly, Republican House members Richard Corcoran and Jimmie Smith also struck a populist tune by angrily denouncing Citizens for the radical rate hikes. That's despite the fact that both gentlemen, as the St. Pete Times reports today, voted for SB 408.

In the last hour of the three-hour-plus hearing, dozens of policyholders, many wearing Policyholders of Florida t-shirts, took to the podium, at times emotionally describing the duress they are under as they contemplate how to pay their burgeoning property insurance bills.

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty says that the Office of Insurance Regulation will make a decision on Citizen's rate hike increases next Monday.

  • Mike Fasano received a hero's welcome at Citizens hearing

Nobody in Florida government has spoken out more publicly and passionately on behalf of his constituency this year than Mike Fasano. The New Port Richey state Senator unsuccessfully fought against the passage of SB 408 this spring, a bill that ultimately led to outrageous rate hikes that Citizens Property Insurance announced earlier this summer for those who require sinkhole coverage.

The insurance company of last resort has become the only company that provides such coverage in the areas of the state most sensitive to sinkholes, namely Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough Counties, where such rate hikes were projected to be over 2,000 percent.

But on the eve of a long-planned public hearing in Tampa on those rate hikes, Citizens Property Insurance board radically revised their original intentions, saying they wanted a more "modest" 50 percent hike, which might only be called modest in this world if you originally were going to 10 times that amount. In Tampa, such rates would rise from $155 to $233. And Citizens hasn't said that they would maintain that 50 percent cap going into 2013.

But Senator Fasano wasn't impressed. In a fiery 14-minute speech Tuesday afternoon at a public hearing in Tampa, Fasano blasted Citizens for making that change at the 11th hour "because they realized the rates they requested just 45 days ago was the wrong thing," adding "It's not only unaffordable, it's an economic disaster waiting to happen."

"Shame on Citizens," he said as hundreds in the audience in Ballroom D at the Tampa Convention Center erupted in cheers.

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