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Cabinet meets over Florida's dysfunctional insurance market and lingering Russian investments

A small townhouse with no roof
WFSU Public Media
One of the many homes damaged when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Forgotten Coast in 2018.

Roofing claims, property insurance, and Russian disinvestment: On Tuesday, for the first time in more than six months, the Florida Cabinet actually met in Tallahassee to tackle business on a variety of fronts.

Florida’s top insurance regulator tried to get out in front of a fast-moving story – a dysfunctional property insurance market with dramatic increases in premiums for homeowners, two months before the start of another hurricane season. David Altmeier told the governor and Cabinet Tuesday that one factor driving up insurance costs is a major surge in roof claims, and his Office of Insurance Regulation is trying to get a handle on those costs.

“One of the things we’re doing is allowing companies to offer a roof deductible endorsement,” Altmeier said. “We will also allow companies to offer a schedule that would have stated dollar amounts for roof replacements.”

Altmeier said Florida is the ninth-largest insurance market in the world and has 8% of all homeowners’ claims, but 76% of the lawsuits, citing data from 2019.

Critics blasted the Legislature for ending its regular session on March 14 without taking any new steps to protect homeowners from skyrocketing insurance costs.

“There is going to be a need to do more legislative reforms. and we were very clear about that during the (2022) session,” DeSantis said during the meeting.

“You know, we may have another bite of the apple very, very shortly. But we need to just understand that there is going to be a need for the Legislature to do more.”

DeSantis, speaking with reporters afterward, said the issue will be addressed this year and won't wait until the 2023 legislative session.

On another issue, managers of the state pension fund said Florida cannot divest its holdings of about $300 million in Russian companies. The state board of administration’s Lamar Taylor told the Cabinet that Florida couldn’t sell those securities even if it wanted to because Russian markets are closed because of the war with Ukraine.

“If we were forced to divest today, under the circumstances – even if we could – though the markets are closed, the only thing that would do would be to ensure a realized loss for the Florida Retirement System.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the next House speaker told him the best approach is a state law expanding the state’s power to end investments in hostile nations.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried blasted the governor for being "soft on Russia" and said the pension fund managers should have acted faster and more forcefully.

“They dropped the ball,” Fried said. “And you saw again today that they’re trying to shirk the responsibility of this board (the Cabinet) by passing the responsibility on to the state Legislature. You saw today that there was no conversation that when the market opens, that there is a divestment plan in place.”

Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, is the only Cabinet member who is not a trustee overseeing the state pension fund.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.