Members of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators were unable to bring a resolution supporting a natural catastrophe backstop system to a vote last week but will continue to debate the issue at the group’s next meeting in July.
At a hearing on catastrophic insurance issues, members of NCOIL said they would delay a possible vote on the resolution to allow insurance industry officials to provide state legislators with detailed statements outlining their views on the legislation.
Florida State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, who chairs NCOIL’s subcommittee on Natural Disaster Insurance Legislation, noted in bringing the matter up for debate that he has been making the effort to get a resolution passed “for about six years now,” and added jokingly that “it seems to be that we’ll pass it out of the subcommittee when the Messiah comes.”
Even prior to the resolution coming up on the agenda, New York State Sen. William Larkin, R-Cornwall on Hudson, said he was “deeply concerned” about the measure, which he saw as “reaching out” from the traditional NCOIL method of producing model acts that all states could decide to pass for themselves.
The resolution, he argued, was effectively designed to help the more hurricane-prone coastal states such as Florida. “I don’t think NCOIL should be endorsing something so state-specific,” he said. “I just think we’re out of line.”
The resolution, Sen. Geller noted, closely resembles legislation sponsored in Congress by Reps. Ron Klein and Tim Mahoney, both Democrats from Florida.
H.R. 3355, the Homeowners’ Defense Act, would allow states to take their pooled disaster risk and transfer it to the private market through the use of catastrophe bonds or the purchase of reinsurance.
Additionally, the bill would establish a National Homeowners Insurance Stabilization Program to provide low-interest federal loans to states impacted by severe natural disasters.
The proposal, which has yet to be acted on in the Senate, drew criticism from members of the House from less catastrophe-prone states.
Just as the sponsors of the federal bill did, Sen. Geller pointed out that much of the country is vulnerable to major natural disasters of one form or another, many of which would far surpass the costs of hurricanes striking Florida.
The most costly hurricane strike, he noted, would actually be nowhere near Florida, but along the lines of the “Long Island Express” that struck in the 1930s.
Although that storm did not hit New York City directly, Sen. Geller noted that should a hurricane follow a track only slightly deviated from the one in the 1930s, it would cause major damage to Manhattan and parts of New Jersey that could total as much as $250 billion.
“We need to recognize, and I know some people don’t want to, that there are certain mega-disasters that no state can deal with,” he said.
Sen. Geller added that different states can withstand different levels of catastrophe. While a $50 billion storm loss would be a major event in Florida, he noted, a loss of only $5 billion would have an equal effect on North Dakota.
Ultimately, the committee agreed to postpone further consideration on the resolution until the next NCOIL meeting, but Sen. Geller made sure to block out 90 minutes for discussion and a possible vote, as opposed to the 45 minutes the committee had allotted last week.
He said that while he is being “turned out” of office in November due to term limits, he “will not go gently into that good night” on the issue.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mahoney urged state legislators here to persuade members of the U.S. Senate to support his legislation. “I want to make sure that everyone here today understands that this is not just a Florida problem–it is a national problem,” he said.
“It is clear that states all around the Gulf Coast from Texas to Maine are facing a homeowners insurance crisis,” he added, citing “my colleagues in California with earthquakes and fires” and “my friends in Oklahoma and Ohio with tornadoes and floods. We all are facing the same challenge.”
Rep. Mahoney said his bill “works because it encourages states to adopt their own natural catastrophe plans, as well as modern building standards.”
In addition, he said, the National Insurance Stabilization Program wipes out the timing risk involved for states seeking to create a reinsurance plan.
“The bill eliminates cross-subsidization,” Rep. Mahoney said. “Because the bill utilizes federal loans that must be paid back by affected states, never again will the farmer in Nebraska or the miner in West Virginia have to write a check for a natural disaster.”
He added that “it is imperative Congress create a fiscally-responsible natural catastrophe plan that does not leave American taxpayers from all around the country on the hook,” he added.