The two recent special sessions of the Legislature demonstrate once again that our Governor “Good Hair” is more dedicated to Republican Party politics than he is to the people--particularly to the people along the Gulf Coast. As though it were the most burning issue in the hearts of all Texans, abortion seemed to be the feature of the past two special sessions. And, in the most recent special session, it was almost the only issue considered by the governor or the Legislature.
Sadly, those of us who live on the Gulf Coast are left exposed to impending disaster in the form of another Hurricane Ike.
It is a poorly kept secret that the Republican administration currently in charge of Texas is cozy with the insurance industry. Our homeowner rates continue to be among the highest in the nation, and our Republican courts continue to side with insurance companies about 85% of the time when given the opportunity. TWIA is another example of dancing to the tune played by the insurance companies while the average homeowner pays the fiddler.
A few years ago insurance carriers could not write homeowner’s insurance in Texas unless they included windstorm damage. A solution was supposedly found in the form of TWIA–Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Insurance companies were smarting because of the requirement that they cover windstorm damage in order to tap the lucrative insurance market of homeowners in Texas. The bargain that was struck was that a state insurance association would be created as an option for homeowners who wanted to have insurance coverage on their homes for major storm damage.
Insurance carriers agreed to pony up sufficient amounts of money to fund the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association in exchange for the privilege of writing homeowners’ insurance minus windstorm coverage. Initially, adequate reserves were placed into the windstorm pool to cover damages, and, at the same time, insurance carriers proceeded to write highly profitable homeowner’s insurance without windstorm coverage. The bargain has made millions for our insurance carriers who write policies in Texas.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Ike devastated the pool--in part because of the high number of claims and the great damage wrought by Hurricane Ike, but also in part by the incompetent handling and organization of the state windstorm insurance alliance. After Ike, when the association was needed most by persons who were left homeless by storm damage, it was discovered that the association was being run either by incompetents–to say it kindly--or by crooks, at worst. Thousands and thousands of dollars were paid to non-deserving claimants while legitimate homeowner claims were left waiting for months, and in some cases, years.
It came out that persons were hired as adjusters who had little, if any, experience in adjusting claims and some had records of felony convictions. Probably what should have been done was a major attorney general or grand jury investigation of the whole ball of wax--and someone should have suffered major consequences as a result of the mishandling of this fund.
In typical Republican fashion, however, the response from the legislative leadership–all Republican at the time–was to punish the homeowners and reward the insurance companies. Instead of continuing the system whereby insurance companies, in order to continue writing homeowner policies without windstorm coverage, would pony up enough to fund the program adequately, legislation was passed through the House and Senate putting a cap on the amount for which insurance companies operating in Texas would be liable–an amount woefully short of the needed amount to protect homeowners in the event of storm losses. Following this debacle, the further solutions to try to provide money for TWIA came most often from former Representative Larry Taylor, now Senator Taylor, who proceeded to try to limit claims in draconian ways so that little, if any, money would flow to injured homeowners.
As an example, one of Senator Taylor’s last efforts would have been to restrict claims to a one-year window rather than the current four-year time period for submitting claims. When questioned in committee by Senator Whitmire and other Democrats, Senator Taylor alleged his only motivation was to clear up confusion about when the cut-off date was for claims against TWIA. Senator Whitmire argued that shortening the time limits for people who might not even discover storm damage to their roofs causing leaks in some of their closets was not ending confusion but simply another sop to the insurance carriers. Other solutions to preserve funds for TWIA came in the form of requiring that only employees of insurance companies could be used to adjust the claims. Homeowners would have no say in hiring independent adjusters to assess their damages.
The saddest part of all is that, with impending danger of the approaching hurricane season, our leaders in Austin saw fit to devote their time to passing matters which would burnish their conservative credentials–all looking to run for some higher office. Those of us who live on the Gulf Coast should take note at the next election of which politicians care more for their conservative image and for insurance companies than for us.