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Lawmaker wants to pay half on insurance hikes

Published September 23, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - State Sen. Mike Fasano wants the state to create a $500-million grant program to help moderate-income residents pay spiking homeowners insurance bills.

His draft legislation would give up to $1,000 for homeowners to help pay increases to premiums starting July 1. It would be limited to homes with an assessed value less than $300,000, where the applicant has lived for at least the last two years.

"We want to have it ready in case the governor calls a special session," Fasano said of the proposal Friday.

The grant would pay for half the increase in annual premiums. The increase would have to be at least 1 percent of the owner's income.

For example, a premium would have to rise at least $250 for a person earning $25,000 a year to qualify. For a $250 increase, that person would get $125 from the program.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and a spokesman for Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation said Friday it is unclear how many people could be eligible. While the proposal would provide money directly to ratepayers in nine months, the bill does not address long-term issues of availability of policies or industry regulations.

The money would be given to each county to distribute based on how much insurance premiums increased there, and how many properties are homesteaded for property tax purposes.

The $500-million would come from state housing trust funds, but Fasano said enough surplus money is available to avoid taking from other affordable housing programs.

"It's there for the purpose, for making housing affordable," said Fasano, noting rising insurance bills are making people's homes unaffordable.

The Legislature allocated $433-million of the $945-million in the trust fund, which receives taxes on real estate transactions.

Jaimie Ross, affordable housing director for the 1000 Friends of Florida public interest group, said insurance hikes make it hard to keep housing affordable. But Ross worried Fasano's proposal would take away from other affordable housing programs.

"I think you have to consider what impact that it will have, and what kind of leverage it will bring," Ross said.

Gov. Jeb Bush and top lawmakers have said a special legislative session is possible this year if a consensus on reforms is reached. If there's no special session, Fasano said he will file the bill for next spring's regular session.

[Last modified September 22, 2006, 23:51:15]

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