Fla. Considers Storm Supply Tax Break, New Claims Law Glitch

March 30, 2007

Flashlights, radios, tarps and other hurricane supplies would be tax free for 12 days at the beginning of hurricane season, under a measure the Florida House has under consideration.

Floridians received a similar tax break last year leading into hurricane season, which begins June 1.

The bill would also allow tax breaks on special weather radios with “specific area message encoding,” a provision aimed at boosting readiness for tornadoes. That idea came up in the wake of the deadly tornadoes that hit central Florida on Feb. 2.

The House took up the bill (HB 211) on Wednesday but didn’t take a vote. Once the chamber votes, the measure then goes to the Senate for approval. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs.

The House also debated a measure aimed at fixing technical glitches in a broad hurricane insurance bill lawmakers passed in a special session in January. That bill was meant to force property insurance rates lower, after residents complained of huge increases in property insurance costs since the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

But what was supposed to be a simple technical fix generated some debate and a largely partisan vote on provisions dealing with how quickly insurance companies must deal with hurricane claims.

That section of the new law, known as the 90-day Prompt Pay provision, requires insurers to investigate and either pay or deny claims within three months.

The glitch bill (HB 7077) the House is considering would remove condominium associations and businesses from the law, meaning insurers wouldn’t have to follow the 90-day rule for that type of property.

Several lawmakers, mostly Democrats, complained the measure erased some of the consumer-friendliness that most legislators had touted in the bill just a couple months ago.

“There’s no reason to backtrack on this,” said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach.

Democrats also complained that the new legislation would prevent people from suing companies that don’t meet the 90-day rule, requiring them instead to pursue remedies through regulatory agencies.

The Republican-dominated House voted 63-47 to keep the changes in the bill.

A final vote on that bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, could come as early as Thursday.

The items that would be covered by the hurricane readiness tax break include flashlights up to $20, weather radios up to $75, tarps under $50, gas cans or tanks, batteries, cell phone chargers, coolers and generators up to $1,000.

State economists have estimated the bill would cost the state about $20 million in lost revenue. This year’s tax break would run from June 1 through June 12.

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