Fla. Rep. Waters: Hurricane Party Mentality Has Been Replaced by Hurricane-Stress

June 6, 2006

The hurricane party mentality is gone, replaced by hurricane stress, Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Pinellas, told the Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters at the group’s June 5 meeting in Tampa, Fla.

Waters described the battle that took place within the Legislature when the property bill came on the floor; said she supports the federal National Catastrophe Fund; and predicted Florida’s no-fault and PIP insurance laws will be key issues on the 2007 Florida Legislature’s agenda.

“We have to keep PIP and no-fault and strengthen it,” Waters said.

Waters said she was disappointed when Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the no-fault PIP bill, indicating the bill wasn’t the best and didn’t have enough teeth, but could have been amended at a future date.

Waters described talking to a Colorado representative about that state’s experiences after eliminating no-fault and PIP. It was a disaster in which emergency services and hospitals couldn’t get paid and policyholders had to hire attorneys and settle claims in court.

“We didn’t want to go down what looked like it would be a nuclear path,” Waters said. “If we had spent more time on auto it would have detracted from property-casualty issues.”

Supports National Catastrophe Fund

“As part of preparing to implement the National Catastrophe Fund, every state should set up its own fund and beef up building codes to qualify for funding whenever nature goes wild,” Waters explained. “If congressmen in Kansas or Missouri are not interested, then at least we should do the coastal states.

“Since Katrina and Wilma took out Poe Financial, we have been looking at the problem differently,” Waters said. “The public has to realize that this is not social service, insurance companies are in business to make a profit.

“You can’t tell 7-11 to sell white and chocolate milk, and you can’t tell insurance companies how to conduct their business.”

P-C discussions tumultuous

The speaker pro-tempore and the highest-ranked woman in the 120 member Florida House, described lengthy and often frustrating efforts to pass comprehensive property insurance legislation in Tallahassee.

Waters described the Legislature as having 120 CEOs on the floor and each member had their own agenda, representing their own district and wanting to add input into the legislation.

The most important provisions in the legislation described by Waters were: keep the Catastrophe Fund strong; provide funding for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.; and promote a culture in Florida of preparedness.

“It’s important for homeowners to ‘harden’ their homes,” Waters explained. “If homeowners make an effort to mitigate their homes so there is less damage, they can stay in their homes during a hurricane and at the same time there will be less impact on insurers.”

Encourage small insurers

The representative also pointed out that provisions of the bill could encourage small insurers to come to Florida. At the same time she pointed out reinsurers in Bermuda and London were closely watching the Legislature and could be encouraged by its efforts to promote mitigation before the storm season begins.

Meltdown occurred

Waters said the atmosphere in the House when the property bill was introduced as “a meltdown.” She described the public mentality at that time as one in which insurance companies should be told, “If they do not write property insurance in Florida, tell them to get out of the state.

“Members of the house were one-by-one suggesting amendments,” Waters said. “As each amendment was proposed, proponents in the back rows stood up and gave ‘high-fives’ and yelled their support, it was a complete melt-down.”

Time-out called

Waters said even the members of the House were in turmoil until a time-out was called, after which everyone cooled off and upon their return settled-down and got to business.

She said that after that everyone worked hard to add only constructive amendments to the bill, on which the vote was taken and passed at 11:45 p.m., with the session set to expire at midnight.

Record budget
Waters said Florida’s $71 billion budget was the best Florida had ever seen and everyone who received funding last year could assume they would receive the same amount of money this year.

The representative from St. Petersburg, Fla. was ecstatic over the elimination of joint-several tort, proclaiming there would be “no-more deep pockets.

She acclaimed the benefits of two bills, the hurricane tax relief bill and a bill requiring gas stations to install generators as being very beneficial to Floridians.

“The hurricane tax relief bill puts money back into consumer’s pockets,” Waters proclaimed. “Enabling them to prepare for hurricanes without paying state taxes.”

She said provisions of a bill requiring gas stations to install generators met a lot of opposition, but after talks with station owners, a compromise was met which would initially require “some but not all” stations operating in one are under one brand to install generators.

In concluding, Waters stressed to CPCU members how important it is to keep in constant contact with legislators and let them know your opinion. She advised everyone to become involved in the political process.

Waters, who is in her last term, said she “always enjoyed hearing from her constituents.” Although she will not run for another term as a representative, she has plans to run for another government office within the next few years, perhaps for Congress.

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