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Officials plead for disaster fund

WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning of another looming hurricane season, lawmakers and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pleaded Wednesday in Washington for a national catastrophe fund to help stabilize an insurance industry that they say has gone berserk in coastal areas.

The Bush administration shot down the idea, however, and a leading Democrat promised only to create a commission to study the issue.

Crist, a Republican, joined Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, on the lead witness panel at a Senate banking committee hearing, saying that rising insurance premiums after recent hurricanes are driving people from their homes. Lawmakers from other Gulf states, the Northeast, and elsewhere have also voiced support for such a national program.

A Bush administration official — joined by some industry representatives — countered that such a program would undermine the private market and ultimately cost taxpayers more.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, said a national fund also would leave taxpayers everywhere paying to cover vulnerable coastal locations, including ritzy beach houses.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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