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House/Senate plan to delay flood insurance act

October 30, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Brand new legislation in flood insurance rates is being introduced and could be great news to residents and business owners who have ground level/pre-firm structures on Fort Myers Beach if it passes.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate reached a tentative agreement Monday to delay rate increases for millions of consumers in the nation's flood insurance program. The legislation based on the lawmaker's agreement would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete an affordability study before increasing any flood insurance premiums in the future.

As of press time, the deal was expected to be shaped into legislation and filed in the Senate on Tuesday by a group of lawmakers mostly from Gulf Coast states, including Florida's U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who filed a similar measure of his own in the Senate last month.

The agreement the lawmakers reached was drafted in a letter dated Friday that had already been signed by a half-dozen members of Congress. Nelson signed the letter upon his return to Washington D.C. Monday afternoon.

"This is great news for many Floridians who've been told their flood insurance rates were going way up," said Nelson, whose own legislation would have delayed the rate hikes for at least a year. "If people can't afford the coverage, what good is it going to do?"

Last year, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in an effort to make the nation's flood insurance program more financially sound. The program was in a downward spiral mostly since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in 2005.

Biggert-Waters eliminated certain subsidies that were being given on many homeowners' flood insurance policies. When the subsidies expired Oct. 1, residents began to see their rates increase drastically.

Attempts by Nelson and others to address the issue were temporarily slowed during the recent 16-day government shutdown. Now, because lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle and both legislative chambers have agreed, it is anticipated their legislation could pass quickly. The lawmakers, including Nelson, have already asked legislative leaders to find a way to bring the bill up for a vote.

Beach Mayor Alan Mandel was delighted to hear the news.

"It's great to see progress, and I look forward to reading about this legislation getting passed," he said. "I really appreciate the efforts of Congressman (Trey) Radel and Senators (Marco) Rubio and (Bill) Nelson. If this passes, a four-year delay certainly gives us ample opportunity to make it go away completely or come up with some other mechanism."

Efforts for such proposed legislation were orchestrated at the local level. It is believed local officials also made an impact on their recent trip to Washington D.C.

"There were a lot of people to help lobby for this from banking associations to Real Estate associations as well as leaders of different municipalities," said Mandel. "In addition to our people in Washington D.C., I think those people should be commended and thanked as well."

Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker had been planning a town hall meeting to discuss the topic. He may still do so and invite state and federal officials to attend.

"If legislation goes through, we can look back to a lot of grassroots efforts and local effort by many people that made a difference in Washington D.C.," he said.

Kiker referred to the passing of a House vote regarding the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. He hopes local success also provides positive legislation for the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

"I think the same kind of grassroots effort will make a difference on the flood insurance act," he said. "Lee County staff, commissioners, local mayors as well as Chris Heidrick (Heidrick & Co. Insurance and Risk Management Services) have been working on it for a long time."

The extensive increase in flood insurance rates would affect many residents and businesses that have structures on the ground or constructed before the National Flood Insurance Program was implemented in 1968. The proposed increases would not affect many other businesses or residents. For example, Beach resident Tom Merrill stated he pays under $500 a year for flood insurance and was set to face no increases because he lives in a piling home that conforms to flood requirements.

Overall, Mandel believes the federal government should look into a national disaster plan to cover hurricanes, fires, ice storms, floods and other disasters.

"If we could get everybody across the United States to pay very little into it, it would give the country a huge pot of money for natural disasters," he said.

SOURCE: Sen. Bill Nelson's office



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