Aug. 07--TAMPA -- The battle over sinkhole insurance premiums has reached the Republican state Senate primary between John Legg and Rob Wallace.
Wallace is objecting to a mailer that blames him for increases in the premiums. It was sent out by an independent political committee funded by legislative leaders.
Wallace contends Legg is more to blame than he is; Legg denies having any knowledge of the mailer but says it's correct that Wallace, as a then-member of the Citizens board, is to blame.
Legg, a state House member from Pasco County, and Wallace, a former state House member from Tampa, are seeking the Republican nomination for state Senate District 17, eastern Pasco and northwestern Hillsborough, along with John Korsak.
With no Democrat currently on the ballot, the winner may replace outgoing state Sen. Jim Norman.
The mailer came from an organization called Good Government for Florida Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized as an "electioneering communications organization" under Florida law.
According to campaign finance reports, that committee has received money through a maze of other committees that can be traced to outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon.
Most of its spending has gone to a Gainesville-based consulting firm working for candidates backed by Senate leaders.
Meanwhile, the state Ethics Commission has rejected a complaint filed by Wallace against Legg, charging it's not legal for Legg to continue representing his House district now that he has moved in to a home in the Senate district.
The commission said in a letter to Wallace dated Friday that it doesn't have jurisdiction in the case; Wallace said Monday he hadn't yet seen the letter.
A spokesman for the Good Government committee couldn't be reached for comment.
The sinkhole rate increase stemmed from a law passed by the Legislature in 2011 and a subsequent rate request by Citizens.
The law came partly in response to pressure by legislators and Gov. Rick Scott to raise Citizens' rates so the government-run insurer would stop undercutting private firms, taking on too many policyholders and losing money.
The law contained measures to cut down on widespread fraud in sinkhole damage claims, lifted a 10-percent-a-year cap on Citizens' rate increases, and mandated a rate study.
In September, the Citizens board, including Wallace, voted for an increase averaging a third statewide, but far more in certain sinkhole-prone areas including Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
The state Office of Insurance Regulation later cut down the size of the increase.
Wallace said the request was "only following the law," which Legg voted for.
"Eight volunteer board members can't raise the rates by themselves," Wallace said.
Wallace, who resigned from the board to run for office, said the law required Citizens to move toward "actuarially sound, market rates."
Legg denied that, saying the point of the law was to cut down on fraud and that Citizens failed to take the decreasing fraud costs into account when it proposed the rate increase.
"Citizens jumped the gun," Legg said. "They used old data and tried to raise the rates dramatically," which is why the state regulators cut the increase.
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