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Hurricane Ian may expose Florida’s property insurance crisis


Charlie Crist was on the attack Monday, ripping Gov. Ron DeSantis over his mishandling of the Florida property insurance mess.

“Gov. DeSantis let these insurance companies double Floridians’ rates and they’re still going belly up when homeowners need them most,” Crist said. You pay and pay and pay, and the insurance company isn’t there for you in the end anyway.”

Did I say mess? That might understate the issue because it could be a full-blown catastrophe when Hurricane Ian finishes tossing the state around like a ragdoll.

DeSantis, of course, won’t listen to Crist and will dismiss his charges as politically motivated. However, there is someone the Governor should have listened to long ago, and it’s a member of his own Republican party.

DeSantis said he has taken steps to fix the gaps created by several insurance companies leaving the state or being declared insolvent.

““We just did a Special Session. We put $2 billion into a fund to provide a backstop that kept a lot of them from going out of business,” DeSantis said, referring to money allocated for reinsurance.

“And this is a problem that we’re going to continue to tackle,” DeSantis said. “Clearly, there’s other things legislatively that I’d like to see done. I think we will get that done soon, but this is something that we will respond to.”

However, that’s still not good enough for outgoing state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

He was a modern-day Cassandra on this issue, repeatedly warning what could happen if a big hurricane struck. Hurricanes are a part of life here. I mean, this is Florida.

Brandes begged, pleaded and did his best to convince DeSantis and lawmakers to realize what was happening to Florida’s insurance market. He dug deep into the weeds on this issue. Brandes knew the fuse was burning.

Instead, during the Regular Legislative Session this year, the Governor remained fixated on scaring the bejeebers out of his base on nonissues like critical race theory. Rather than demand insurance reform, DeSantis focused on marginalizing LGBTQ+ people and banning books.

And why work to solve a problem that affects millions of Floridians when you get air time on Fox News for attacking Disney?

So, the insurance market is teetering, and homeowners in the path of this storm could pay the price. Oh, and Disney still rakes in cash.

When the Governor finally called a Special Session to deal with the issue, it was widely seen as a giveaway to insurance companies at homeowners’ expense.

It didn’t stop the bleeding. Rates are still increasing past what many can afford, and thousands of customers face turning to state-run Citizens Property Insurance.

“Socializing more risk into the government-run insurance company is NOT the answer,” Brandes said in a Facebook post on Sept. 1. “Fixing the litigation/insurance market IS. Florida can’t be the most hurricane-prone state and also the most litigious state. Those two things cannot coexist and have lower property insurance rates.”

In August, United Property & Casualty Insurance Co. announced it would leave the Florida market.

Five companies were declared insolvent earlier this year, and FedNat could become the sixth Florida company to leave customers in the lurch. Florida’s Department of Financial Services petitioned to put the company into receivership.

And here comes Ian.

Brandes, who exits the Senate because of term limits, nailed it in comments to City and State Florida.

“We can dig ourselves out, but understand, if you walk five years into the jungle, you don’t turn around and walk out in five days,” he said.

“It’s going to take time, but frankly, we have to turn around first. The Legislature has turned 40 degrees, but it hasn’t turned 180.”

It doesn’t seem like Ian is willing to wait that long.

Joe Henderson has a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

(For’s A.G. Gancarski contributed to this report.)