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Insurance relief is the outcry at Pasco rally

About 200 people hear the call for reform from others who are frustrated over skyrocketing rates.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published October 8, 2006


NEW PORT RICHEY - Jerry and Lisa Murphy moved from New York 10 years ago because Florida, they thought, was a place they could afford to live.

Their ballooning homeowners insurance bill has them wondering if that's true anymore.

The Murphys brought three of their four children to a rally over insurance rates Saturday at the West Pasco Government Center, joining about 200 people - many of them political candidates and their supporters - to cry out for reform.

"People with families and the elderly people in this state - they're killing us," Jerry Murphy, a 45-year-old mechanic, said of the insurance companies.

Murphy said his annual premium with a private company started at $400 on his three-bedroom house off Madison Street. After several nonrenewal notices from different insurers over the years, he ended up with Citizens Insurance Corp. and a notice that his bill for next year will be $4,400.

"It just doesn't stop," Murphy said.

Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort, was a lightning rod for criticism Saturday, with speakers spearing it with labels such as boondoggle, disaster and money-sucking nightmare.

Ginny Stevans, president of the group Homeowners Against Citizens that organized the rally, said increases in Citizens rates prompt increases by private companies.

"It's become a ladder effect, and nobody can catch up," Stevans told the crowd.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he will push for legislation that requires companies that provide automobile and life insurance in Florida to also write homeowner policies.

Fasano, who is not up for re-election this year, also offered an apology.

"We haven't solved it," Fasano said. "We are all to blame."

At least a dozen campaigns were represented at the event, from Pasco County Commission to Florida governor. Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Max Linn told the crowd the system is broken and change in leadership is the answer.

That message rang true to Phil and Phyllis Tropea, retirees from Palm Harbor.

They saw their insurance bill jump from $1,440 to $2,400 - and they feel lucky.

"It's not as bad as some other people," said Phil Tropea, who sells real estate to make ends meet.

His answer: new leadership.

"The officials, whether they're local or state officials, all seem to think they're the employer," Tropea said. "We need to knock out all the incumbents."

The crowd thinned after about an hour. The rally ended with the singing of the national anthem.

Stevans said she was pleased with the turnout.

"We need more people, though," she said. "We need every Floridian. They're only going to listen to masses."