Bennett: Insurance Deregulation Could Be Done This Year
A compromise bill to deregulate some property insurance rates could be worked out between lawmakers and the governor's office and passed during a special session, the Senate sponsor of the proposal said Tuesday.
In an interview, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said legislation that would allow some insurers to raise premiums as much as the market will bear without having to get approval from state regulators could be worked out with “some minor tweaks” that might allow it to become law.
Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the legislation last year.
Rep. William Proctor, R-St. Augustine, who sponsored the bill last session in the House had already filed the legislation for next year's regular session – and said Tuesday that he had no particular indication that anyone from Crist's office was close to agreeing on some sort of compromise, but that he was willing to follow Bennett's lead.
“In a special session we can work together to come up with a compromise, I think it's some minor tweaks,” Bennett said Tuesday.
Bennett didn't say whether he has had any discussions about what might need to be changed in the legislation to meet the governor's approval, and officials from the governor's office and the Office of Insurance Regulation have declined to comment substantively about what they might be willing to accept.
“The question is can we find the tweak?” Bennett said. “That was a good bill – we need consumer choice.”
Bennett did acknowledge, however, that a straight-out override of the governor's veto wasn't an option for evident political reasons.
“You've got a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor in a Senate race,” Bennett said. “It ain't gonna happen.”
The measure passed easily in both chambers last session, and Bennett said lawmakers had studied the issue thoroughly in the spring – making it likely many would be comfortable addressing it in a quick special session. That's in contrast to oil drilling, another issue some have raised for possible consideration during a fall special session, said Bennett. He is lukewarmly supportive of lifting a moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf, but thinks such a controversial issue should wait until the spring when it can be fully debated.
Proctor said Tuesday that he hasn't been approached about revisiting the insurance deregulation issue up this year – though he's heard some are pushing for it.
“I have not talked with anyone about whether or not we're going to try to run a bill like that in a special session,” Proctor said, noting that adding something to a special session agenda would require leadership support and that it's not certain yet whether lawmakers will even meet before year's end.
There's talk of a possible October or November special session because legislative approval would be needed to ratify a compact Crist signed last month with the Seminole Tribe that would allow the state to get a cut of revenue from the tribe offering expanded gambling options. While lawmakers are scheduled to be in town for committees in October, staff and some lobbyists said Tuesday that November was looking more likely for any 2009 special session.
Proctor said he's also considering what changes need to be made to the insurance bill, but hasn't spoken with anyone from Crist's office about what he might need to do to get the governor's approval – leading him to think more in terms of trying to get the bill approved in the 2010 legislative session.
But Bennett “has been around the track longer than I have and I'd probably follow his lead,” Proctor said.