A federal judge heard arguments over whether he should block a key part of a new property insurance law in Florida, with a Hillsborough County construction company arguing the measure violated First Amendment rights .

Gale Force Roofing and Restoration LLC filed a lawsuit last month challenging part of the law designed to prevent contractors from advertising to entice homeowners to file roof damage claims. The company claims the law violates speech rights and its lawyers have requested a preliminary injunction.

U.S. Chief Justice Mark Walker held a hearing on the injunction request on Friday, but had not yet released a ruling on the court record.

Lawmakers passed the insurance measure (SB 76) on April 30 as property insurance rates skyrocketed and insurers abandoned policies. Supporters of the bill and insurance industry officials have argued that dubious and even fraudulent claims for roof damage have played a significant role in driving costs up.

The measure would prevent contractors from soliciting homeowners to file roof damage claims through “prohibited advertising,” which could include items such as emails, door hangers, flyers and brochures.

As part of the lawsuit, Gale Force Roofing and Restoration said it is urging homeowners to contact the company for inspections of storm damage to roofs.

“Applicant [Gale Force Roofing and Restoration] will then honestly communicate to owners the nature and extent of the damage, ”the lawsuit said. “The claimant will then encourage homeowners to contact their insurance company to make a claim under their home insurance policy and sign a contract with the claimant to assign the benefits available under the homeowner’s insurance policy to the applicant.”

The lawsuit said the company would be in violation of the new law, which went into effect on July 1. He also said the law aims to reduce the number of insurance claims filed, not to fight fraud.

“The law is an impermissible attack on the right of homeowners to receive truthful information about how to repair and pay for repairs to repair damage they may suffer to their property,” the company’s lawyers wrote. “In reality, this is a thinly veiled attempt to stop anyone from helping homeowners make valid insurance claims to fix their homes.”

But in a court filing on Wednesday, attorneys for Secretary of State for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Julie Brown, the defendant named in the case, disputed that the restrictions in the law violate First Amendment rights. .

The record stated, for example, that “Targeted digital ads or emails, door hangers or brochures distributed in person are prohibited if, and only if, they encourage a homeowner to make a roof insurance claim.” Radio and television advertisements are permitted because they do not target “any particular person”.

The record also says Florida has a “compelling state interest” in ensuring homeowners are protected against soaring insurance rates and have access to coverage. The document indicates that fraud by contractors increases costs.

“This translates into hundreds of dollars in increased premiums for some homeowners and denial of coverage for others,” Brown’s attorneys wrote. “In Florida, this type of fraud is particularly prevalent given concerns over roof damage from hurricanes and the propensity of unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of homeowners who cannot easily assess whether their roofs need a repair. maintenance. Clearly, the state’s interest in regulating this kind of commercial speech is substantial.

Jim Saunders reports for the News Service of Florida.

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