Tenacious Storms won't follow the leader

Published January 18, 2007


Ronda Storms charged up the hill Wednesday morning. Her charge was beaten back at first, but she did not go away quietly.

If somehow you have not heard of her, Storms, a Republican, served a tumultuous six-year tenure on the Hillsborough County Commission before getting elected to the Florida Senate in November.

Storms was most famous (and most criticized) at the county level for social-issue stuff, such as cable-TV pornography and being no friend of gay rights. But she also was a keen questioner of bureaucrats and pretty good with the public penny.

On Wednesday, Storms challenged the pooh-bahs of the Senate. Storms is a member of the committee hearing the bill.

She offered an amendment to outlaw "cherry picking" by insurance companies. Companies that sell property insurance in other states couldn't refuse to sell it in Florida, while still doing other kinds of business here.

This is a popular idea. Gov. Charlie Crist campaigned on it. The other chamber of the Legislature, the House, was all for it.

Picture, then, our Sen. Storms waiting her turn Wednesday morning in her leather-back chair on the dais of the immense, semicircular Room 412 of the Knott Building, an annex of the Capitol. Her amendment was No. 16 on the agenda.

The chairman called on her.

"I would like to remind this body," Storms began, that the purpose of this week's session is both to lower insurance rates and to increase the availability of insurance. Her amendment would do just that, she said.

Storms acknowledged that some "more conservative" members of the Senate might consider her bill "anti-American," telling businesses what kind of business to do. But it really was a proconsumer measure that improved the private market, she argued.

A brief silence ensued.

The chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee is Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, a widely respected man. He was intent on running the agenda and getting the bill passed.

"I appreciate very much," Posey began, "the well-intentioned effort to stop the cherry picking." (This is how one must talk. It meant, of course, that he was not in favor of it at all.)

Posey said other states had rejected Storms' idea as unworkable. Companies might even quit selling auto insurance, making Florida's troubles worse. He opposed Storms' amendment, he said, "with a heavy heart."

Now, when a chairman says your amendment is dead, it is most often dead. Each time Posey had said it for previous amendments Wednesday, the senator in question had looked downward and nodded quietly.

But when Posey looked over, Storms had her hand in the air.

"Sen. Storms," Posey said.

"Mr. Chairman," she said sweetly. "My condolences on a heavy heart."

She pressed. Florida is unique among the states, she argued. If any companies were threatening to pull their other business from Florida, then they were bluffing.

Posey stuck to his guns. Enforcing such a law, he said, would be problematic. At last, he called for a voice vote.

"Aye," Storms said. Maybe one other senator spoke up. Posey called for the other side, and maybe one or two senators voted. Most said nothing.

"The amendment," Posey declared, "is not adopted." Storms relaxed, sat back and looked down at her paperwork. She was smiling.

A few hours later, the full Senate approved the "cherry picking" amendment, reversing the committee. The first of the two co-sponsors of that change was Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. The other co-sponsor, of course, was Ronda Storms.