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Senate agrees to cap on flood insurance hikes

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to roll back steep increases in flood insurance premiums, clearing the way for President Obama to sign the measure into law.

The legislation, approved 72 to 22 in a bipartisan majority, would cap rate increases at 15 percent of the average policy in a flood zone, or 18 percent for any single policy, providing some relief to hundreds of thousands of property owners who had been facing far larger increases, including tens of thousands in Massachusetts.

The White House has offered no indication it would veto the measure, which sailed through in the House 306 to 91 last week. The effort to ease the insurance rate hikes has been pushed most strongly by lawmakers representing coastal states, where a 2012 law led to dramatic increases in premiums for many residents.


“We did a good thing for coastal America but the flood issue is an issue in all 50 states,” Said Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia.

The legislation would block sharp rate hikes from being applied to properties that would fall under a set of new, official flood maps.

In Boston, the number of properties included in the new maps could jump from 8,000 to 18,000.

The Senate vote drew support from both sides of the aisle, uniting Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Opponents said scheduled rate hikes should remain in place to promote the sustainability of the cash-strapped federal flood insurance program, which is nearly $24 billion in debt.

“I’m for causing these programs to pay for themselves, and I just didn’t want to undo the reforms that we had put in place not long ago,” said Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee.


The federal program insures about 5.5 million policyholders nationwide, including 60,000 in Massachusetts.

In January, the Senate approved a bill that would have delayed some federal flood insurance hikes for four years. But House majority leader Eric Cantor said that approach was a “nonstarter,” leading to the less-generous compromise that passed Thursday.

Uncertainty over whether Congress would revise those reforms had slowed the local real estate market, with prospective property owners unable to calculate their insurance premiums. The new legislation would protect properties from immediate increases if the property changes hands.

Anthony Frangie, a realtor on the South Shore, said that any law clearly laying out insurance changes for properties would be helpful, citing a prospective buyer last year who backed out a home sale after finding out insurance rates would rise 25 percent yearly.

“People need to know what to expect,” Frangie said.

Kimberly Railey can be reached at .