A Senate banking and insurance committee meeting got heated yesterday during debates over sinkhole insurance reforms. First, Sen. Mike Fasano said he expected all of his consumer-friendly amendments to the bill to fail and said he’s been told that. Sen. Joe Negron took offense, saying he wasn’t told how to vote any of the amendments, prompting a veiled apology from Fasano.

But Fasano was right. Most of his amendments are failing. Most significantly yesterday was an amendment that would have defined sinkhole damage as greater than a 1/16-inch crack that was shot down. Fasano introduced the amendment as a way to limit frivolous claims but require insurance companies to pay for more than just a house that collapses into a sinkhole. All along, he has been arguing that because the bill removes a requirement that companies offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance, no one will offer it and claims will only be paid in extreme cases.

Things got testy when Fasano’s amendment requiring that homeowners receive an engineer’s report after repairs are made came up. Sen. J.D. Alexander argued against the amendment, starting out by speaking broadly about the problems with sinkhole insurance claims and then charging that Fasano’s amendment was probably written by a plaintiff’s attorney.Fasano shot back that he didn’t need to be lectured on the sinkhole insurance issue, and wondered why nothing benefitting homeowners was included in the bill. “I could easily suggest this whole bill before us was written by the insurance industry,” Fasano stated.

The committee had planned to vote on the bill on Monday, after hearing 10 minutes of public testimony. But bill sponsor and committee chairman Sen. Garrett Richter backed off that schedule after hearing from a Pasco County serviceman about to be deployed to Afghanistan who said he can’t get his insurance company to pay for sinkhole damage to his home, and he can’t sell the home as long as it’s damaged.  Richter said he wanted to give the gentleman’s insurance company a chance to comment. “This is a complicated issue,” Richter said. Discussion of the bill will continue at a future hearing.

The latest news is that the bill we resume its debate on Wednesday but no homeowner favorable changes are expected if we base our opinions on what has transpired the past several times the issue has arisen. Clearly, the insurance companies are winning this battle as of now and homeowners will feel the effects soon.

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