Fla. Task Force Begins Talks on How to Solve Hurricane Insurance Crisis

A 12-member Task Force on Long-Term Solutions for Florida’s Hurricane Insurance Market meets today in Tallahassee to discuss how to help Floridians obtain hurricane insurance, amid complaints that consumers don’t have a seat on the panel.

The task force will address a number of issues, from future demands on Florida’s insurance industry to Citizens’ operations and role in the state’s insurance market.

The Legislature created the task force as part of its legislation passed in May to make changes to Florida’s insurance industry. Gov. Jeb Bush, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, Senate President Tom Lee and House Speaker Allan Bense each named three people to the task force. The group is required to deliver a report and recommendations to state leaders by April 1.

The group likely will have hearings in various parts of the state to get input from as many Floridians as possible, said Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who will sit on the task force but will not be a voting member.

The task force was ordered by the Legislature last spring to address issues lingering from the 2004 hurricanes. It is required specifically to look at the thousands of policies major insurers are now turning away, forcing more homeowners into the state-run Citizens Property Insurance.

The legislation requires Gov. Jeb Bush’s three appointments to include a voice for “insurance consumers.” In that slot, Bush named Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes Inc., a group founded by the state’s largest insurers.

“Our whole organization is focused on homeowners. I think mitigation is the center pin of the solution for this whole challenge, which is why I think we’ve been brought to the table,” Chapman-Henderson, a former Allstate corporate relations executive told the Fort Myers News-Press.

Consumer needs— from broad coverage to affordable premiums to prompt claims payment — are most often voiced by insurance agents, task force member David Cobb, president of the Tampa-based Freedom Insurers agency told the News-Press.

Bush also appointed Florida Home Builders Association President Dan Gilmore, a Pensacola home builder.

Seven other members named by CFO Tom Gallagher and Senate President Tom Lee include Robert Hartwig from the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.

Required by the legislation to appoint industry representatives, Gallagher said he would have Steve Burgess, the state’s insurance consumer advocate, follow the task force closely.

House Speaker Allan Bense added Allstate Floridian general counsel George Grawe, a dogged advocate for making it easier for insurers to pay hurricane claims out of the policyholder-funded Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Allstate is withdrawing some 95,000 policies in Florida while seeking a 28 percent rate increase.

Today’s task force agenda includes presentations by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Also on the board:

• Andrew “Blair” Glenn, a Jacksonville executive with Wachovia Mortgage Corp.;

• Randy Dumm, a Florida State University associate professor on insurance risks;

• Richard Cain, representing State Farm, Florida’s largest property insurer;

• Jim Wurdeman, president of Poe Financial Group, a Tampa holding company for three small insurers, including Atlantic Preferred, the largest recipient of policies from Citizens; and

• Tony Grippa, a Leon County commissioner, former executive director of the Florida Workers Compensation Insurance Guarantee Association who works for Brown & Brown Insurance and its Public Risk Insurance Agency in Tallahassee.