Storm shutters seen as insurance fix within reach

Published March 14, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Faced with an expansive study that included 55 ways to strengthen Florida's homes against hurricanes, legislators on Tuesday spent much of their discussion focused on one topic:

Storm shutters.

Sen. Bill Posey, chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, said that after reading a 62-page report and hearing a presentation by the study's chairman, he believes requiring insurers to provide discounts for storm shutters would be the quickest, most cost-effective option within legislators' reach.

"I think we're going to be looking for what is the best bang for your buck," Posey said. "We cannot target 50 ways to make your home hardened in this state. We just can't. It gets too hard for the consumer to follow, too complex for the agents and the companies to implement."

The Republican from Rockledge suggested the committee support legislation that would, among other things:

- Require insurers to offer "adequate" discounts to homeowners who have storm shutters.

- Rewrite the building code to prohibit homeowners lacking the storm windows from improving their properties until they are in compliance.

Committee member Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, said the building code requirement would become a nightmare for county governments charged with inspecting homes.

Paula Harvey, zoning administrator for Hillsborough County, agreed with Storms. The logistics of inspecting homes for compliance would be significant, she said. But she also objected to the notion on the grounds of expense.

Consider a young couple struggling to make a house note but also want to add on a room for their coming baby, she suggested.

But they are told they can't do it unless they spend a thousand or more dollars on storm shutters. "That's a huge economic problem for a lot of homeowners," she said.

Posey suggested a hardened home is more important and beneficial than an add-on. "Does (someone) want to tell them when the house blows down that they should have thought about it ahead of time?" he said.

Bill Newton, director of Florida Consumer Action Network, said storm shutters are a good place for legislators to begin but reforms shouldn't end there. "I really think we need a more comprehensive program," he said.