Texas Windstorm Insurance Association

Texas Legislature faces tough compromises on insurance bill

The Texas Senate passed its version of the long-debated Texas Windstorm Insurance Association bill Wednesday, but legislators said it may be impossible to compromise the Senate and House versions of the legislation in conference committee.

The Association legislation has gone through ups and downs throughout the 82nd regular session and during the current special session, but senators are standing behind their version of the bill.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, asked senators to not add amendments to the bill Wednesday and to wait to bring up differences during the conference committee. Although a number of senators did have things they wanted to change about the bill, they will submit them to Carona who said he will work them into the conference committee.

“This bill is basically the same one that passed the Senate during the regular session with a vote of 31-0,” Carona said.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said they will try to work out the differences between the House and Senate version of the bill this week, but they are very different, and Dewhurst hopes the House will compromise.

“The senate bill is a good bill. It needs some tweaks, but it protects the rights of policy holders throughout the state,” Dewhurst said.

Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said the senate’s version of the bill is very different, and he does not see coming to an agreement in the next seven days because there are such fundamental differences in both versions.

“It is my intention to get Smithee and Carona together to get this must-pass bill agreed upon, with the dual goals of protecting our policyholders and not creating more lawsuits and costs [for TWIA],” Dewhurst said.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, authored a bill to create a bipartisan commission that would create all future congressional redistricting maps. The bill, which Wentworth has pushed since 1991, passed the senate Wednesday.

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, stood against the bill and said his opposition had nothing to do with which party controls the legislature. He said he believes it is unconstitutional for any entity other than the legislature to set congressional maps.

Because of harsh criticism from various Republicans, the bill is unlikely to pass the House.

Perry tacks on items to legislative agenda includes immigration

Upcoming legislation:

Sanctuary Cities Ban
Gov. Rick Perry added legislation to the special session which bans cities from preventing police officers from inquiring as to a suspect’s immigration status.

The bill was originally defeated by democrats during the 82nd regular session but has already passed the House during this special session. The Senate will vote on the measure June 16, but because the two-thirds rule does not apply during special sessions, it will likely pass the Senate as well.

The following cities currently have sanctuary policies: Austin, Baytown, Brownsville, Channelview, Denton, Dallas, El Cenizo, Ft. Worth, Houston, Katy, Laredo, McAllen and Port Arthur.

Texas Windstorm Insurance Association
Perry also added the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to the special session Wednesday, claiming it is imperative to address the operation of TWIA now that hurricane season is forthcoming.

The legislation would limit the amount of time homeowners have to file a claim after a storm and would limit the number of lawsuits that can be brought against TWIA. The Senate will review the bill June 16.

On the radar:

Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency
A joint committee created by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus will monitor the practices of university regent boards and will conduct deep reviews of statewide university policymaking and other matters.
The committee co-head Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, won approval from the House last month to have the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board compile a report for the committee on the best models and practices for governing universities.

Congressional Redistricting Map
The congressional redistricting map, which passed in the Senate on Monday, is being criticized for violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Democrats and minority leaders argue that the map unlawfully silences the voices of their constituents and improperly redistributes democratic seats over to republicans.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, predicts the map will receive harsh criticism from the Texas Department of Justice and will be re-evaluated in coming weeks.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is enacting a number of reforms this summer that officials say will protect homeowners by making the organization more efficient and financially stable.

Last week Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 3, which allows the quasi-governmental agency to limit the amount of damages homeowners can recover to a maximum of double the costs plus court fees and limit the number of lawsuits brought against the association, saving it court and lawyer fees.

Rep. Jon Smithee, R-Amarillo, authored the initial bill and said it was an important piece of legislation to pass during the special session because of the approaching hurricane season and the shortfall the association faces. It was originally proposed during the 82nd regular session and was one of Perry’s “must pass bills.”

The Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1 and will last until Nov. 30, but the most severe storms usually come in September and later. However, hurricanes currently brewing in the gulf could hit land in coming weeks.

The association struggled to recover financially after hundreds of policy holders sued after Hurricane Ike in 2008. The association distributed approximately $1.9 billion in claims and court fees to Houston and Galveston area residents. Its officials said they could not match that amount if another serious hurricane hit Texas this season.

John W. Polak, the association’s new interim general manager, said he believes the agency is ready for another hurricane if it were to hit the coast, because the agency learned a lot after 2008. The reforms that occurred during the special session helped prepare the agency for the hurricane season and will benefit its policy holders, Polak said.

“Anytime you have a significant event, like in 2008, you learn from the experience, and there are things we learned that we could do better,” Polak said.

Most of the complaints from policyholders after the 2008 hurricane were that the insurers didn’t meet deadlines required by law and the organization had poor communication with its policy holders.

The agency has gone through a number of changes and currently has a larger staff, a more articulated catastrophe response plan and most importantly and a better communication plan than in the past, Polak said.

“People forget the typical ways you get in touch with people don’t work after a hurricane,” he said. “Home phone lines don’t work, cell phone towers are often out. As a result, we’ve established call centers so that we can do a better job with proactive communication and communication after an event.”

Polak said the association is currently working their way through the new legislation, and it will take effect by the end of September.

Adriana Escalante, a Plan II and international relations and global studies junior, had to evacuate her family’s house in Kemah, on Galveston Bay, for Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. Their roof was destroyed after Ike, and Escalante said it took years for everything to get back in order.

Although Escalante’s family was not insured by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association at the time of the storm, she said the reforms would not help her town much because of how devastating hurricanes can be.

“It took a lot of time to for our community to recover after the hit,” Escalante said. “No matter what kind of reforms happen [with the association] it will take a very long time to build up a community again if another hurricane hits this summer.”

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: New state legislation liability when processing windstorm claims

Sen. Kel Seliger speaks with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst during the special session Monday afternoon. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association bill was given the Senate’s stamp of approval this Wednesday and will be sent to The House of Representatives for further approval.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate passed its version of the long-debated Texas Windstorm Insurance Association bill Wednesday, but legislators said it may be impossible to compromise the Senate and House versions of the legislation in conference committee.

The Association legislation has gone through ups and downs throughout the 82nd regular session and during the current special session, but senators are standing behind their version of the bill.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, asked senators to not add amendments to the bill Wednesday and to wait to bring up differences during the conference committee. Although a number of senators did have things they wanted to change about the bill, they will submit them to Carona who said he will work them into the conference committee.

“This bill is basically the same one that passed the Senate during the regular session with a vote of 31-0,” Carona said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said they will try to work out the differences between the House and Senate version of the bill this week, but they are very different, and Dewhurst hopes the House will compromise.

“The senate bill is a good bill. It needs some tweaks, but it protects the rights of policy holders throughout the state,” Dewhurst said.

Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said the senate’s version of the bill is very different, and he does not see coming to an agreement in the next seven days because there are such fundamental differences in both versions.

“It is my intention to get Smithee and Carona together to get this must-pass bill agreed upon, with the dual goals of protecting our policyholders and not creating more lawsuits and costs [for TWIA],” Dewhurst said.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, authored a bill to create a bipartisan commission that would create all future congressional redistricting maps. The bill, which Wentworth has pushed since 1991, passed the senate Wednesday.

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, stood against the bill and said his opposition had nothing to do with which party controls the legislature. He said he believes it is unconstitutional for any entity other than the legislature to set congressional maps.

Because of harsh criticism from various Republicans, the bill is unlikely to pass the house. 

Senator Juan Hinojosa, D-Hidalgo, and Senator Jane Nelson, R-Denton, talk during a break in the senate session. Four bills purposed by the GOP for the special session are currently on their way to becoming laws.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Republican lawmakers have rubber-stamped most of the legislation Gov. Rick Perry added for the special session, leaving Democrats voiceless. Four major bills are hurtling past the final roadblocks to becoming law after passing at least one chamber this week.

Redistricting
On Wednesday, the House passed its final procedural vote on its version of the congressional redistricting map that divides Travis county into five different districts, all Republican leaning.

“The members provided much input and direction on maps that reflect the population changes in our state,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in a press release.

Democrats argue the maps silence the voices of growing communities; particularly Hispanics.

Austin legislators stood up against the map, stating it discriminates against minorities in Travis County because more than 50 percent of the county’s growth has been Hispanic. The map divides the minority population into separate Republican-leaning districts.

“You couldn’t have done a better job of carving out minority neighborhoods unless you were a surgeon with a sharp scalpel,” said Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin.

The Senate will vote on the legislation next week, but Democrats expect the courts to rule on whether the maps violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Texas Windstorm Insurance Association
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association bill received a legislative OK on Wednesday from the House of Representatives with a 99-41 vote.

Under the new bill, the quasi-governmental agency will be able to limit the amount of damages recovered for homeowners to actual costs plus court fees and also limits the number of lawsuits brought against the association.


Rep. Jon Smithee, R-Amarillo, said it was a necessary reform that will properly equip insurers for the next hurricane season.

The association has struggled to recover from 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which hit Galveston and Houston. The association distributed approximately $1.9 billion in claims and court fees, a total they will not be able to match if another serious hurricane hits Texas this season.

Sanctuary Cities
Democratic and Hispanic senators tearfully surrendered Tuesday night after they failed to stop the Sanctuary Cities bill, which passed 19-12 along party lines.

Emotions ran high as Democrats tried to convince the Republican supermajority the bill was, as Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, put it, “hurtful, ignorant and offensive.” Those watching from the gallery involved themselves in the conversation — one Hispanic constituent lapped the room with a bold sign reading “shame” before police detained him.
The bill effectively allows police officers in the state to question a person’s citizenship status if they are lawfully accused of another illegal action. If the person fails to produce valid proof of citizenship, they can be detained.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, defended his bill, stating the importance of bringing a uniform policy to the state that allows police officers to understand what they can and cannot do.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, read a letter by the Houston police chief that said to kill this legislation because it would affect how police officers would do their jobs and said San Antonio, Fort Worth and Austin police chiefs shared the sentiment.

The bill will return to the House next week for final consideration.

Budget
Late last week, the House made progress toward passing the 2012-13 budget, which Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered during the regular session, forcing the special session.

The House approved a budget June 9 which cuts $4 billion from public schools with a 83-62 vote.