The Florida State Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a measure yesterday expanding the scope of the state’s property insurer of last resort.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 8-1 with only Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, dissenting.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist made a rare appearance to urge passage of the bill, and in the process tussled with insurance industry representatives urging its defeat.

The legislation now faces scrutiny before the Judiciary and General Services committees before a full vote in the Senate, which is expected before the last day of the session, May 4.

A companion bill in the House has yet to be heard by any relevant committee, said committee aide David Peacock. Republicans control both chambers.

Senate Bill 2498 would make it easier for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to compete with the private market by allowing consumers to be covered if a private insurer is more than 15 percent higher than comparable coverage from Citizens.

Historically, Citizens had been restricted to offering residential insurance to policyholders who can’t find coverage on the market at any price, keeping it out of direct competition with insurers.

Additionally, the bill seeks to prohibit insurers from establishing wholly owned subsidiaries that operate only in Florida. The bill would allow existing Florida-only subsidiaries to continue doing business until their certificates of authority expire.

An insurance industry group has come out strongly against bill.

William Stander, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said the larger the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation becomes, the greater the financial crisis that could occur when a major storm hits Florida.

He termed the legislation a short-sighted, quick-fix approach to the state’s property insurance crisis.

“We are now heading down a path that could result in all Floridians bearing a much greater cost through assessments and higher taxes,” Mr. Stander said.