tampabay.com

Senate votes down storm shutter requirement

By JENNIFER LIBERTO AND TOM ZUCCO
Published May 1, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - The Senate voted Monday to kill two legislative proposals that would have required tens of thousands of homeowners to buy shutters to defend against hurricanes.

In the first hour of discussion, it voted 21 to 12 to kill a provision that would have required customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to get shutters, thanks to Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Thirty minutes later, it voted 22-to-12 to delete the rest of the bill that would have required those in homes insured at $300, 000 or more in the wind-debris, or coastal, zone to install shutters as a condition of doing any other significant work on the house. Anything requiring a building permit, from adding a fence to replacing an air conditioner, would have meant adding shutters.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, orchestrated its defeat.

The shutter bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, has argued that such protections are "bad medicine" necessary to prepare the state to survive hurricanes. January's special legislative session lowered insurance premiums by shifting the risk to the taxpayers' shoulders. Posey said the risk would be far less if more people hardened their homes.

Lawmakers who gutted the bill agreed, but said the cost of mandating shutters was too much.

"They can't afford the premium they're paying now, " Fasano said, "and now we're going to force them to have to spend thousands of dollars in order to comply with another mandate that the legislature puts down on them."

The vote was an about-face for the Senate, which on Friday passed - without debating - a requirement that homeowners in wind-debris zones to get shutters if they wanted to pull a permit in 2008. That measure has no companion in the House, and House leaders have said its future is uncertain.

The average cost for aluminum shutters on a 2, 000-square-foot home was expected to be about $3, 900, according to a legislative analysis. Posey said homeowners could have covered the cost of the shutters with the money they got back from mandatory breaks on their insurance premium.

But Citizens officials have acknowledged that a premium discount given to a resident who hardens his home could mean added costs to a resident who doesn't. State-backed Citizens has estimated discounts will cost the company $200-million annually starting with its next rate increase, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 1

"I don't think they (senators) really understood what Posey was trying to do, " said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "One way or another, we have to spend money on (damage) mitigation. But people don't want to deal with it right now."

But Newton said the insurance industry must help out, beyond offering premium discounts. "To expect us to invest all our money on mitigation and they get all the profits, that doesn't seem fair."