More Red Meat at the Expense of Serious Issues

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
The Florida Legislature is set to enter a special session scheduled for May 23-27, ostensibly to solve the state’s very real property insurance crisis. That’s an ambitious plan under any circumstances. However, our governor and many legislators have been signaling that they also intend to use it for the sake of some political theater on divisive issues like gun rights and abortion restrictions. Once again, it looks like serious, immediate problems facing so many Floridians will take a back seat to culture war grandstanding.

Homeowners across the state have been facing skyrocketing property rate insurance increases, with some homeowners losing their coverage altogether as companies continue to pull out of the state. Since 2017, six companies have liquidated with two more in the process of doing so. The crisis has spread from homes and commercial buildings to condos with some experts predicting that the entire system is on the brink of collapse.

The roots of the crisis are varied and complex. One issue has been predatory roofing contractors who scour neighborhoods offering free inspections to homeowners following every storm, inevitably finding some sort of supposed storm damage and telling them that they are entitled to a replacement. If you are a homeowner whose roof has got some miles on it, the idea of replacing it for "free" is beyond attractive. The contractor then pushes the owner to sign an assignment of benefits form, which gives the contractor the right to file an insurance claim on their behalf.

When the insurer's claims adjuster finds little or no damage, the contractor can bring legal action against the insurance company, demanding payment for the original quote. And because the benefits were assigned to the contractor, they do not even need permission from the homeowner to file suit. Meanwhile, the insurance company now has the choice of paying to fight the litigation or paying the costs to settle. Either way, their costs go up.

Don’t have too much sympathy for the insurers, however, as another driving factor is the highly-opaque reinsurance market. Carriers use reinsurance (essentially insurance for insurance companies) to lay off some of their risk, mitigate volatility in earnings, and improve their financial leverage, allowing them to issue more policies. But while they often blame hikes in reinsurance for their woes, many of the opaque, offshore companies are actually owned by the companies themselves. Sarasota’s Paige St. John won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for an investigative series that exposed many of the inner workings of the industry. Beyond that, there has been no shortage of brazen greed, such as this story I covered in 2016.

Again, this seems like an enormous undertaking for a three-day special session when lawmakers were unable to get it done in 60 days, despite it being the biggest issue they faced. But instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, it’s increasingly looking as if much of that time will be spent elsewhere. Governor Ron DeSantis has said that he will get a "constitutional carry" law on the books this year, which means, absent of its own special session (which is very unlikely), lawmakers will have to sort through that mess as well. Constitutional carry is a form of open firearm carry but without all of those pesky permits and regulations. If you've got a gun, you can wear it on your hip, right out in the open. 

This is a serious change in policy deserving of much debate and consideration. Most tactical firearm experts agree that carrying in the open isn't a good strategy, as it gives up the element of surprise and makes you a likely first target for an active shooter. But again, and I can't stress this enough, this isn't about the real world. It's about political theater. The consideration lawmakers should be making, however, is how a state that is already deeply divided politically might look when a bunch of boneheaded counter-protestors with assault rifles slung over their shoulders set up camp across the street from a peaceful demonstration they don't agree with. Any way you slice it, it won't make things better.

In light of the leaked draft ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade, there are also rumors that right-wing legislators are considering an effort to pass even narrower abortion restrictions, and perhaps even an outright ban on the procedure that would be triggered by the ruling. Neither of these issues are at the forefront of the minds of the majority of Floridians. In fact, it doesn’t seem like either has majority support or even close to it. But we’ve gotten to a place where none of that matters, where politics are sport, and the fans who show up are all that matter to those playing the game. 

In Washington, our federal government has already ceased to function as a governing institution, wasting all of its time and resources on culture-war theatrics, leaving the courts to decide what should be codified in law. The same can be said for our local governments, which are spending more and more time litigating culture war issues and riling up their base at the expense of citizens who just want problems solved. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Tallahassee is abdicating governance for a state of permanent campaigning and fundraising just like the rest. 

It’s been hard enough to function as a society with the wheels of government turning at an unbearably slow pace for decades. We need to start imagining a world in which they have ground completely to a halt—save the energy that is directed to doing the bidding of their special interest paymasters—and demand better. The very viability of our future depends on it.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.

Reader Comments
Russell Owens
MAY 16, 2022  •  Pretty soon we will be seeing hitching post and water troughs around our stores for the gunslingers and marshals to park their horses. We are sliding back into the past.
James F Tierney
MAY 15, 2022  •  Well said Mr. Maley ! Our state reps and senators should be ashamed of their actions and lack of action on one of the states most important issues Insurance!
Beatriz Niemeyer
MAY 15, 2022  •  Great article, and excellent reporter, makes me want to subscribe again to the newspaper to keep this kind of investigative reporting going
MAY 15, 2022  •  Thank you for trying to open all eyes! We have to start holding our government responsible for working for us! Great article!