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How Will The Florida Legislature Tackle Property Insurance Rates? Good Question, Says Senator

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Getting a handle on property insurance rates is a top priority in the upcoming Florida Legislature 2013 regular session, but it's no easy task, according to popular consensus at Monday night's Town Hall session hosted by WLRN and the Miami Herald

"The legislature is in a terrible box," said Mary Ellen Klas, the capital bureau chief for the Miami Herald and a panelist at Monday's event. "This is one of the tough issues they have to grapple with."

As members of the 600-person-strong audience offered questions and comments about Citizens Insurance and the rising cost of property insurance in Florida, panelists Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) echoed their concerns. Both also emphasized the lack of readily available solutions. 

"People are being insured out of their houses; they're not being property taxed out of their houses," said Smith, who said that he had experienced his own house insurance "more than doubling" last year under Citizens. 

"We're looking for ideas," Smith said. "A lot of ideas are being floated around and none of them are perfect. I've been going around looking for 'ideas, ideas, ideas'."

Smith said one option includes asking Gov. Rick Scott to consider "joining with other coastal states in sharing the risk." 

The Orlando Sentinel last week reported on Senate Democrats efforts to get Scott to "call on governors in other states to form a multi-state property insurance effort" that would "spread risk and therefore reduce rates." The hypothetical state compact would include Atlantic and Gulf states. 

At Monday's Town Hall session, Smith said the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed other coastal states, like New Jersey and New York, that "they're in the cone of disaster." 

There may be something there for other states to consider. As the recent "Climate Assessment Report," overseen by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, notes, the northeast will  be subject to even more cases of extreme weather and property damage if current climate change patterns persist. 

Smith said he thinks this is the year the Florida Legislature will join together to work on getting property insurance rates lowered. Latvala, a coastal resident, agreed, but said the issue of the "North Florida/South Florida" divide will come into play. This is particularly true for Florida legislators who live in inland areas or in northern parts of the state largely unaffected by tropical storms. Latvala said these legislators don't "understand coastal issues." 

This regional disconnect should provide extra incentive for voters to monitor the Florida Legislature heading into the 2013 regular session, which convenes March 5. To learn more about the topics covered at Monday's Town Hall session -- including more about property insurance issues -- tune in to WLRN at 11 a.m. on Thursday to hear the live broadcast in its entirety. Or, watch video of the event here.