Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Texas Windstorm Insurance: Insanity in the Texas Legislature

Representative John Smithee, (R) Amarillo, has introduced HB911, which would, if passed and signed by the governor, cause the price of windstorm insurance - required of all coastal property owners - to soar by as much as 60 percent. Additionally, it wouldn’t cover nearly as much and for certain properties, it would not be available at all.

Smithee is the Chairman of the House Committee on Insurance. He cites a need to replenish the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state risk pool, after the onslaught of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Ike in 2008. The Association became the only insurer available for millions of coastal Texans after many insurers pulled out of windstorm coverage after the hurricanes.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association currently carries 215,537 policies totaling $58.6 billion in exposure. According to a December 2008 Texas Windstorm Insurance Association status statement, 43,079 of those policies are in Nueces County, with a total exposure of $11.4 billion.

House Bill 911 would, among other things:*
• Assess windstorm insurance rates based on geographical location, meaning coastal residents would pay more than inland residents. Rates could go up 60 percent for current coastal policy holders.
• Require coastal homeowners to purchase federal flood coverage.
• Cap windstorm insurance coverage at $250,000 per residence (homestead), well below the current $1.7 million cap, leaving thousands of homes uninsurable to their current value.
• Exclude coverage for rent houses, second homes, condominiums, apartments or other multi-family units.
• Decrease the maximum coverage for commercial buildings from $4.1 million to $1 million.
• Decrease the maximum coverage for government structures, such as schools and courthouses, from $4.1 million to $2.1 million, meaning those entities would have to use tax dollars to purchase more expensive, private insurance, if it’s available, to make up the difference.
• Create a 60-day waiting period before losses could be sought, as opposed to current policy, which prevents new coverage once a hurricane is in the Gulf of Mexico.
*Source: House Bill 911 and an analysis from the Galveston Windstorm Action Committee Inc.

I have no problem with higher premiums for coastal policyholders. That is simply accurate underwriting. Happens in all types of insurance. But don’t be fooled. If rates go up at the coastal states, they will rise state-wide. Texas is a windy state.

But that’s where my agreements end. The rest of this bill is trash.

Here are the elements of the bill I oppose:

Caps on windstorm coverage - Don’t cap coverage, charge the proper premium amount for the risk.

Requiring coastal property owners to buy Federal Flood insurance - it’s tyranny to force a property owner to insure for flood. If the owners want to remain uninsured, it is their right. That doesn’t mean a lienholder could not require flood insurance as a requirement for a mortgage. But that is a collateral protection issue. The federal government does not have a security position in a homeowner’s property without some mortgage in place (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, VA loans, etc.) To require flood insurance is a violation of property rights.

Excluding coverage for non-homestead dwellings, rental homes, apartments and condos - what kind of idiocy is this? There are millions of second homes, rental houses, condos and apartment buildings in the 14 coastal Texas counties. How would making them uninsurable help the situation?

The 60-day “deductible.” Texas law now states that, once a hurricane or named storm enters the Gulf of Mexico, new coverage cannot be purchased. But those storms usually make landfall, if at all, within a few days. In addition, in the peak of the hurricane season, storms are seldom 60 days apart. Look at Katrina and Rita, about 30 days apart. This proposal hurts Texans.

Smithee is from Amarillo, a city over 650 miles from the Texas Gulf Coast. That’s a distance equal to the distance from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. I know that’s somewhat obscure, but this nut case is a long way from the water. It illustrates just how far out of touch with reality he is.

So, if a bunch of insurers have stopped writing windstorm coverage in Texas, and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is the insurer of last resort for many Texans, where are they supposed to go to get insured to value?

This kind of legislative nonsense could bring the Coastal economies to a screeching halt. Lenders would stop lending on properties that could not be insured to value. Insureds with losses could lose everything.

Texans, both inland and coastal, need to bombard their elected representatives with their opinions on this very bad bill and demand that it be rejected.

In the film industry, there is the widely known name of Alan Smithee. It is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project because they were so disgusted with the final product. I can only hope that someone paints the name “Alan Smithee” on this horrid bill.

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