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Florida Lawmakers to Hold Special Session on Property Insurance Crisis Ahead of Hurricane Season




Florida lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Monday to begin a special legislative session to address problems in the state’s property insurance market ahead of the impending hurricane season.

The property insurance crisis is a persistent and multifaceted one, especially in South Florida — a region vulnerable to hurricane damage.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, property insurance premiums in Florida are expected to jump 30-40% on average in 2022, with many likely seeing renewal increases well over 50%.

There is added urgency to pass legislation ahead of hurricane season, which in previous years has seen Florida battered with powerful storms, such as the Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018, the Associated Press reports.

So far, AP reports that three carriers — Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp., Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co. and St. Johns Insurance Co. — have been declared insolvent and placed into receivership since February.

This has left tens of thousands of homeowners scrambling to find new coverage just weeks before the start of hurricane season.

NBC 6’s Alina Machado spoke to an insurance attorney about the property claims lawsuits filed last year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called the session after lawmakers could not reach an agreement on insurance changes during this year’s regular session, according to News Service of Florida.

The regular session, which ended in March, was dominated by bills dealing with abortion, race, gender and sexual orientation. Separately, lawmakers finished another contentious special session in April on congressional redistricting and legislation to dissolve a private government Walt Disney World controls on its property in Florida.

Legislative leaders announced that this upcoming session, which runs from May 23 to May 27, will focus on issues such as roof-damage claims, litigation and reinsurance.

“I believe the legislation I will file for your consideration during the special session will address the many issues leading to the instability of the current property insurance market in our state,” Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, wrote in a memo to senators. “The proposal balances fair costs and protections for consumers while adding reasonable guardrails for insurance companies against the frivolous litigation and fraudulent claims that drive up rates for everyone.”

NBC 6’s Alina Machado has the latest on the trials and tribulations homeowners face amid the current property insurance crisis.

Outlines released by the House and Senate indicated that a major part of the legislation will deal with roof-damage claims, News Service of Florida reports. Insurers blame questionable, if not fraudulent, roof-damage claims for driving up costs.

Insurers also have long blamed litigation for troubles in the industry, according to News Service of Florida. The legislation, in part, would put additional restrictions on what are known as “contingency fee multipliers” that can substantially increase fees paid to attorneys who represent policyholders in insurance disputes, according to the outlines.

The legislation also would authorize $2 billion to expand insurer access to the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, a state program that provides relatively cheap reinsurance. The House outline said insurers who take part would have to reduce rates for policyholders to reflect the savings.

Many insurers need to have reinsurance contracts by June 1 and are struggling to find the critical backup coverage, News Service of Florida reports. Industry officials say global reinsurers have increased prices and limited the amount of coverage they are selling in the Florida market.

According to News Service of Florida, the state Office of Insurance Regulation approved an agreement May 13 that will lead to FedNat Insurance Co., Maison Insurance Co. and Monarch National Insurance Co. canceling 68,200 policies. The three insurers are part of the same holding company.

Property Insurance Crisis

As an outgrowth of the problems in the market, thousands of policies a week have poured into the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp, which was created as an insurer of last resort. Citizens had more than 851,000 policies as of the end of April and is expected to top 1 million this year.

According to AP, lawmakers could also exact changes to Citizens Property Insurance.

In his proclamation calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted several issues that have contributed to rising insurance rates in the state, AP reports. The issues include high rates of insurance litigation that drive up premiums and massive underwriting losses for insurance companies that have resulted in insolvency or canceled policies, among other things.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, in an interview, also stressed the problem of litigation, saying the state last year accounted for 9% of all claims filed nationally but nearly 80% of all the property insurance lawsuits. Florida law makes it highly profitable for lawyers to sue insurance companies even if the amount won is relatively small, and previous moves to limit attorney fees have not stopped the crush of legal fees, AP reports.

NBC 6’s Alina Machado has the latest on what hardships local homeowners are facing amid the property insurance crisis.

“The market right now is experiencing challenges that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in my 16 years of being in Tallahassee,” Patronis said. “We’re at a stage right now where the fraud and litigation abuse is deterring capital markets from wanting to deploy money into the Florida market.”

Still, AP reports that Patronis, a Republican, warned that next week’s legislative package won’t grant financial immediate relief to homeowners.

There has been growing consensus among lawmakers for the need to reform aspects of property insurance law, with DeSantis saying the goal would be to “bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market.”

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78,000 Pounds of Infant Formula Arrives in US




Enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis.

The formula, weighing 78,000 pounds (35,380 kilograms), was being transported by military plane, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Joe Biden flew from South Korea to Japan.

It is the first of several flights carrying infant formula from Europe expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the U.S. The flights were authorized by Biden.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment in Indianapolis.

The Biden administration — which has struggled to address a nationwide shortage of formula, particularly hypoallergenic varieties — has dubbed the effort “Operation Fly Formula.” The crisis follows the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February due to safety issues.

The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula was to leave Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the U.S. Another 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula were expected to arrive in the coming days. Altogether, about 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas, which are hypoallergenic for children with cow’s milk protein allergy, are expected to arrive this week.

Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semitractor-trailers and taken to a Nestle distribution center about a mile away where the company will do a standard quality control check before distributing the supplies to hospitals, pharmacies and doctor’s offices, according to an administration official on site.

U.S. & World

Air Force planes are transporting the initial batch of formula because no commercial flights were available this weekend.

The flight was the first of several to provide “some incremental relief in the coming days” as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday.

Reese told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Sunday’s flight brought 15% of the specialty medical grade formula needed in the U.S., and because of various actions by the government, people should see “more formula in stores starting as early as this week.”

Longer term, he said, the U.S. needs more formula providers “so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains.”

Under “Operation Fly Formula,” the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are authorized to request Department of Defense support to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster, according to the USDA.

Alfamino is primarily available through hospitals and home health care companies that serve patients at home.

U.S. regulators and the manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, hope to have its Michigan plant reopened next week, but it will take about two months before product is ready for delivery. The Food and Drug Administration this week eased importation requirements for baby formula to try to ease the supply crunch, which has left store shelves void of some brands and some retailers rationing supply for parents nervous about feeding their children.

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Climate to Conflict, Davos’ Post-COVID Return Has Full Plate




Davos — the hub of an elite annual gathering in the Swiss Alps — is back, more than two years after the coronavirus pandemic kept its business gurus, political leaders and high-minded activists away. There’s no shortage of urgent issues for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to tackle.

With their lofty ambition to help improve the state of the world, forum organizers have their work cut out for them: there are soaring food and fuel prices, Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate change, drought and food shortages in Africa, yawning inequality between rich and poor, and autocratic regimes gaining ground in some places — on top of signs that the pandemic is far from over.

It’s hard to predict if the high-minded discussions will yield substantial announcements that make headway on the world’s most pressing challenges.

The war in Ukraine will be a key theme. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak on opening day Monday by video from Kyiv, while the country’s foreign minister and a sizable delegation of other top Ukrainian officials will be on hand. They’ll be joined this week by leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“There’s no business as usual,” forum President Borge Brende told The Associated Press, saying Ukraine is not the only worry. “It is also climate change. It is also that the global growth is slowing, and we have to avoid that this very weak recovery ends with a new recession because we have very limited ammunition to fight a new recession.”

“A new recession will lead to increased unemployment, increased poverty,” he added. “So much is at stake.”

President Vladimir Putin’s war means Russian business and political leaders haven’t been invited to Davos this year. There will be no traditional “Russia House” social festivities with caviar and vodka spreads for the elite attendees of its evening fun.

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Instead, critics — notably including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s Foreign Ministry — have seized on some symbolism and vowed to voice their disgust, which is shared by many around the world.

“This year, Russia is not present at Davos, but its crimes will not go unnoticed. The ‘Russia War Crimes House’ takes place inside the former Russia House,” organizers of the rechristened venue said in a press release.

Opening Monday, the venue will feature photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating. Some victims will speak out — including Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, a town near Kyiv where images of killings of civilians drew outrage worldwide.

“It’s important to understand what is really happening in Ukraine,” said Bjorn Geldhof, artistic director of PinchukArtCentre, which is helping organize the exhibit. “Part of this exhibition is also to bring back a human face to those people who have become victim of these Russian war crimes.”

Brende, the forum president, says scores of CEOs and other business leaders will be looking into ways the private sector can support Ukraine, “in the situation where Russia is breaking international law, international humanitarian law, and not sticking to the U.N. Charter.”

Not everyone believe Davos is the place where solutions can be found.

A few dozen anti-capitalist demonstrators marching behind a “Smash WEF” banner clashed Friday with police in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, a sign of simmering antagonism against economic elites whom they accuse of putting profits over people. Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse the crowd in what was deemed an unauthorized gathering.

While Ukraine will capture attention on the meeting’s first day, climate and environmental issues will be a recurring, constant theme as the forum looks to future challenges as much as the current ones.

One-third of the roughly 270 panel discussions through Thursday’s finale will focus on climate change or its effects, with extreme weather, efforts to reach “net zero” emissions and finding new, cleaner sources of energy on the agenda.

Forum managers — who have faced criticism about hosting wealthy executives who sometimes fly in on emissions-spewing corporate jets — have increasingly tried to play their part and inoculate themselves against accusations of hypocrisy: Over the last five years, they say they have offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the organization’s activities by supporting environmental projects.

Experts say offsets can be problematic because there’s no guarantee they’ll deliver on reducing emissions.

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