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DeSantis signs three measures passed in Florida's special lawmaking session this week

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The Florida Channel
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Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a disaster relief bill and legislation on property insurance in Lee County on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Friday a massive property insurance package and disaster relief for communities recovering from recent hurricanes.

Describing it as a “very productive week,” DeSantis then hinted that there’s more to come. “We’ve got much more to do in the not too distant future.”

DeSantis signed the measures on Friday during a ceremony in Lee County, where Hurricane Ian made landfall in September. He touted both measures passed by the newly-elected Republican supermajority legislature this week as especially good for residents in southwest Florida. “We’re fortunate to be able to be here and to sign some legislation, and I think it’s going serve this area quite well.”

Property insurance measure targets litigation, reinsurance costs to drive down rates

In Florida, rates are going up by about 33% every year. The state’s average price for a premium is three times the national average.

DeSantis cited the high costs of litigation for insurers as part of the reason insurance premiums are so high. “Are they going eat those litigation costs? Of course, not,” DeSantis said. “They’re going to pass it on to the consumer in the form of higher premiums.”

The legislation — which passed mostly along party lines — puts an end to “one-way attorney’s fees,” which insurers must pay whenever they lose in court. Instead it offers the policyholder and the insure to collect fees through an offer of judgment process, which is used in personal injury cases to reach a settlement without going to court.

It would also create a $1 billion reinsurance fund that insurers can tap into to help offset the costs of reinsurance in the private market. It lasts one year, which industry experts have said isn’t long enough.

DeSantis and legislative leaders have said that they could do more to help stabilize the insurance market when they meet again next year.

Lawmakers allocate more than $750 million for disaster relief

The disaster relief measure allocates more than $750 million for housing, stormwater and wastewater recovery, beach erosion projects, federal public assistance grant matching funds and property tax relief.

“For the past two months, on almost a daily basis, my staff worked with the speaker’s staff, worked with the governor’s staff in concert seamlessly to put together something that we knew would help you and all of our fellow citizens,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo during the signing ceremony on Friday.

“This is government at its best,” she said. “And I guarantee you we will do this for the next two years.”

House Speaker Paul Renner also touted what lawmakers accomplished with the disaster relief measure, which passed both chambers unanimously.

“We are with you every step of the way,” said House Speaker Paul Renner. “And we have made a huge down payment to making sure we’re taking care of this area.”

Before signing the measure, DeSantis indicated that lawmakers could allocate more funding for disaster relief next year.

The measure also waives property taxes for residents whose homes were destroyed in the recent hurricanes during the time that they’re uninhabitable. It also extends the deadline for residents who lost their homes to pay property taxes levied this year.

DeSantis also signs toll relief program this week

On Thursday, DeSantis signed into law a toll relief program that gives SunPass commuters who record 35 transactions or more per month a 50% credit on their prepaid account for the next month.

“We have people that are paying hundreds of dollars a month in tolls throughout the state,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to have some people that are going to get a thousand, fifteen-hundred [dollars], maybe even more in toll relief.”

The bill allocates $500 million to the state Department of Transportation to provide relief through the program.

The one-year program begins on Jan. 1. DeSantis said the toll relief program was established during the December special session to “get it on the books” sooner.

“We wanted to get it while people needed it,” he said. “Normally you do the legislative session in the spring, things take effect in July of that year.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.