Crist signs insurance bill

Published January 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - On the job less than a month, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation Thursday that slows the dramatic rise in the cost of homeowners' insurance but exposes taxpayers to much greater financial risk if a catastrophic hurricane hits.

"This is a day to celebrate how far we have come," Crist said at an outdoor bill-signing ceremony. "We have a message for the people of Florida: Help is on the way."

The scene on the Old Capitol steps featured Crist flanked by dozens of lawmakers from both parties celebrating the recent results of a one-week special session.

Lacking overcoats, many of them shivered on a 45-degree morning.

The bill Crist signed is expected to reduce homeowners' premiums by 5 to 22 percent, beginning in June of this year.

It also repeals two previously-approved major rate hikes for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort, and expands Citizens to make it more competitive with private insurance companies.

More than a bill-signing ceremony, Thursday's event underscores a new, civil tone in state politics.

"It shows that when we work together, anything can happen," Crist said.

Senate president Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said "The people won, because this is the people's governor."

The phrase called to mind a slogan used by former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a populist Democrat, who said: "This time, the people win."

After signing House Bill 1-A, Crist passed out blue felt-tip pens to lawmakers as souvenirs.

He took a parting shot at the insurance industry, which has said provisions in the law might make some firms want to stop writing policies in Florida.

"They shouldn't fear-monger that way," Crist said. "That's wrong for them to do, and that day is over in Florida now."

The governor then hit the road with five lawmakers, three Republicans and two Democrats, and held ceremonies in North Palm Beach and Port Charlotte - two areas where devastating hurricanes in 2005 led to policy cancellations and skyrocketing premium increases.

The Port Charlotte event was at the home of Stan Whitney, 78, who had written a letter to Crist complaining about his skyrocketing premiums. During last week's legislative wrangling, Crist at one point urged lawmakers to "remember Stan."

Crist visited the North Palm Beach home of Charlie and Becky Isiminger to highlight another part of the bill.

The couple saw their premium jump from about $2,300 a year to almost $7,000 when they were forced out of Citizens and into a private company as part of a state effort to curb the growth of Citizens.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at sbousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.