TALLAHASSEE (The News Service of Florida) — Insurance companies could face tougher penalties if they impose higher rates, refuse to issue or cancel auto or homeowner policies due to gun ownership, under a measure backed by a House committee Tuesday.
Florida law already prohibits such action, but Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said his proposal (HB 255) would provide a remedy other than with the state Office of Insurance Regulation by allowing a policyholder to sue if an insurer took such an action.
"It just gives greater access to courts," Gaetz said. "It's unlawful now, but the only entity that has the ability to enforce it right now is OIR."
A staff analysis of the bill notes that "an issue with the current law is that it lacks specific authority to take action against any insurers which violate the proscribed behavior."
Gaetz added that while such actions by insurers haven't been seen in Florida, cases have been tracked in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
"In Florida that has not been a circumstance, but this is a prophylactic in the event that events we've seen in other parts of the country proliferate here," Gaetz said.
Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, an insurance agent, cast the lone vote on the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee against the measure. He called the measure "unnecessary."
"If an insurance company wants to exclude assault-type weapons, it seems to me that it is good to exclude if they desire to," Rader said. "Certainly I know on animal exclusions they exclude Doberman pinschers and rottweilers."
Gaetz said insurance companies wouldn't be prohibited from asking potential policy holders about gun ownership, nor would they face state scrutiny if they lowered rates for a gun owner based on an actuarial determination that gun ownership reduced the risk of burglaries.
Insurers also wouldn't be prohibited from charging a supplemental premium, as long as it's not deemed unfairly discriminatory, to insure a firearm or firearm collection.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer said the issue was raise due as Citizens Property Insurance Corp. had included a question in its new policy clearinghouse regarding gun ownership.
"The only reason for insurance companies to start asking you about what guns you want is so they can discriminate against gun owners," Hammer said. "They have no right to ask those questions."
A spokesman for Citizens said the question is no longer a part of the clearinghouse questionnaire.
The question was included in early testing of the site, as one of the four private companies currently set up to potentially receive new policies, United Property & Casualty Insurance Co., has been allowed by OIR since 2005 to consider firearms when underwriting policies.
Sandra Starnes, OIR director of property and casualty product review, said United is allowed to exclude homeowners if they are "in possession of dangerous firearms."
Assault and rapid fire weapons could be classified as "dangerous," but game hunting rifles and shot guns would be excluded from the prohibition, she said.
The measure must still get through the Civil Justice Subcommittee and Regulatory Affairs Committee.
The Senate companion (SB 424) has already been backed by the Banking and Insurance and the Criminal Justice committees, and has only to clear the Appropriations Committee before reaching the Senate floor.