Fla. Senate Says No to Requiring Storm Shutters in High-Risk Areas

May 2, 2007

The Florida Senate has voted against requiring people with houses worth $300,000 or more in much of the state to buy hurricane shutters the next time they make any major home improvement.

Critics said too many people simply can’t afford installing shutters that cost at least a few thousand dollars and as much as $40,000.

But backers of the proposal said if Florida doesn’t start forcing people to make their homes stronger, a big hurricane season could wipe out the state’s budget and hit every homeowner with big assessments.

Senators who voted against the shutter requirement also stripped from the bill another section aimed at increasing the number of houses having them.

That part of the bill would have required anyone in certain high-risk parts of the state with a $300,000 or better insurance policy from state-backed Citizens Property Insurance, the largest home insurer in Florida, to get shutters to keep their policy.

The effort to strip the two shutter requirements from a broad bill (SB 1864) on hardening homes was led by two Tampa Bay-area Republicans, Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Sen. Ronda Storms of Tampa.

Florida’s residents should be enticed, rather than required, to put hurricane protections on their houses, they said.

“This bill takes a mallet and smacks them over the head if they don’t do it,” Storms said. “It may cost you everything that you have to add shutters.”

But Sen. Bill Posey and others said if Florida doesn’t do more to make residents upgrade their homes, they won’t.

With a big hurricane, Citizens won’t have enough to pay claims, said Posey, R-Rockledge, and that will mean huge assessments for every insurance policy holder.

“It’s a serious, serious dilemma this state faces,” Posey said. “Some of this may seem like its very, very aggressive. That’s because it is very, very aggressive. If it happens and we’re not ready it’s not because I didn’t try to get us ready.”

Posey said legislation passed in January is starting to be reflected in new rate filings that will require bigger discounts on insurance for buying shutters to defray some of the cost. Ultimately, the solution to high insurance rates is less damage, he said.

“The answer to this thing is hardening properties up front, biting the bullet, taking the bad medicine. Nobody enjoys this,” Posey said.

The part of the bill that would have forced many Citizens Property customers to get shutters was stripped on a 21-12 vote. The section dealing with anyone making an upgrade was removed with a 22-12 vote.

While those proposals were rejected this week, it’s possible they could still be approved — a requirement for buying shutters when a home improvement is made is included in another bill (SB 2836) the Senate already passed. Some senators who opposed it said Monday they hadn’t realized the same language was in that bill passed last week. That bill is still available for a House vote, although Storms and Fasano said they’d work with House members to try to remove the shutter language there.

Posey said it didn’t make sense that senators voted it down this week after approving it last week.

“They don’t read the stuff, they’re too busy writing speeches,” said Posey. “They seem adamant that we do everything possible to keep this state unguarded.”

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