Florida lawmakers have approved legislation that supporters say will uphold a policyholder’s constitutional right to bear arms by preventing insurers from using gun ownership in underwriting.
The Florida House of Representatives by a 77 to 44 margin signed-off on the bill, which had earlier been approved by the state Senate by a vote of 36 to 3. The bill is headed to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.
Under the bill (SB 424), property and automobile insurers will not be allowed to “discriminate” against policyholders by refusing to issue, renew or cancel a policy or charge rate based on whether they own a firearm or possess any ammunition.
The new law removes any consideration of gun ownership as part of the underwriting process, except in cases where a policyholder is seeking a separate rider to cover specific firearms like antique weapons.
If approved by Scott, insurers found to be discriminating against gun owners could be fined under the state’s Unfair Trade Practice Act $5,000 per each non-willful violation, not to exceed a maximum of $20,000. The act also calls for a $40,000 fine per willful violation, not to exceed $200,000.
The new legislation came about after it came to several lawmakers’ attention that one of the top five providers of homeowner insurance in the state, United Property and Casualty, listed gun ownership as one item that could be potentially considered in the underwriting process.
That manual, and the fact it specifically referred to the controversial assault-type and rapid-fire weapons, quickly drew the attention of the National Rife Association and other gun-rights groups.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), who sponsored the bill in the House, said the legislation is necessary to prevent a state law governing insurance from usurping an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms.
“This ensures that an insurance company in our state doesn’t have the opportunity to discriminate against gun owners over a constitutional right,” said Gaetz.
However, supporters of the legislation offered little evidence to suggest that United or any other insurer routinely used gun ownership in the underwriting process.
Rep. Kevin Rader (D-Belle Glade) pointed to that lack of evidence, saying proponents of the legislation could only present him with six questionable cases of possible discrimination.
“They could barely muster, barely, six weak examples out of the hundreds of millions of policies,” said Rader. “That is not discrimination, those are probably mistakes, six honest little mistakes.”
Rader also expressed a sentiment, voiced by some African-American lawmakers, that to call the legislation an “anti-discrimination act” belittled the more virulent discrimination faced by African-Americans and other minority groups.
“To call this discrimination minimizes what discrimination really is,” said Rader.
NRA and Industry
Supporters of the legislation said that based on the opponents’ own reasoning they had no basis for objecting to legislation.
“This issue strikes me as thou thinks you protest too much,” said Rep.Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala). “If this is not a problem and there is nothing wrong then why are you fighting the bill?”
While lawmakers struggled with the legislation through the majority of the legislative session, the NRA and insurance industry early on reached an accord on the issue.
Insurer groups sought to steer clear of the issue, concluding that there was nothing to gain by stepping into the middle of a contentious debate.
However, the industry did need one provision addressed, one that would prevent insurers from sharing any gun information with a third-party without the policyholder’s permission. Insurer groups gained an exception to that provision for instances of insurers communicating with an agent when a policyholder seeks a separate rider to cover specific firearms or adjust a claim.
Donovan Brown, government counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association, said PCI, along with other insurer trade groups, worked with proponents of the legislation to secure that change and ensure that overall the legislation would not have any unintended consequences.
“The industry worked with stakeholders at the beginning of the process to address any significant industry concerns,” said Brown. “As such, we do not see an additional reminder of a discriminatory practice as being overly burdensome.”
Marion Hammer, president of Unified Sportsman of Florida, the state arm of the NRA, praised lawmakers for protecting gun owners from having their constitutional rights infringed on.
“Because of the publicity, more and more people have come forward having been denied insurance based on their gun ownership,” said Hammer.
Hammer, a former NRA president, commended the insurance industry’s involvement, while saying it remains to be seen whether Florida’s action will serve as an example to other states.
“It was written here with the cooperation of the insurance industry and it will get a lot of attention,” said Hammer. “It may be other states will pick it up, but we take up in this state what is needed in this state.”