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Politics

Matt Gaetz Bill Would Protect Gun Owners from Insurance Discrimination

February 23, 2014 - 6:00pm

Its illegal for property and auto insurance companies to discriminate against Floridians who lawfully exercise their constitutional right to own a firearm.

But if it did happen, theres not a whole lot a gun owner could do about it.

Hiring an attorney, picking a fight with a powerful insurance company and hoping for the best is what Florida law allows. Many residents would be hard pressed to spare the time and money.

Even if they did go down that road, the law lacks enforcement authority because gun owners are not protected under Floridas unfair insurance trade laws.

A new bill advancing through the Florida Legislature would change that.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, offers gun owners the same protections afforded to those who suffer more widely recognized discriminatory abuses.

If passed, gun owners would have a clear path to sue if theyre denied coverage or their premium rates are unfairly raised. Without legal recourse, only the state Office of Insurance Regulation can enforce penalties against insurers.

The law that we have on the books only allows the government to stop an insurance company from discriminating against someone for exercising their constitutional right, said Gaetz.

Critics say examples of insurance discrimination are too few and far between to warrant a change.

Marion Hammer, the first female president of the National Rifle Association and founder of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, is having none of it.

Most insurance companies know that other insurance companies are discriminating, Hammer told a Civil Justice Subcommittee last week.

Why would they oppose a bill that says you cant do something that (they) claim (theyre) not doing? she asked.

According to OIR, a Florida insurance company is on record as having asked an applicant what kind of firearm they owned before they would issue a policy.

Gaetz cites other examples, including a Plantation man who was unable to renew his policy with Castle Key Insurance because it became known he possessed gun ammunition.

Insurance companies operating in Florida, like State Farm, have been known to discriminate against gun owners in other states.

Most notably, Citizens Insurance Clearinghouse, a state-backed property insurance company, asked applicants on its website whether they own guns. The question has since been scrapped.

Gaetz, son of state Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, also wants to keep property and auto insurance companies from sharing gun ownership information with outside groups.

The passage of this bill will transfer power from the hands of the government to the people where they can actually have a remedy, whereas now they would be blocked on the courthouse steps, he said.

Watchdog.org contacted Gaetzs office for comment but didnt receive an immediate response.

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla

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