NU Online News Service, Dec. 02, 2:16 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON—The Senate is preparing to vote on legislation next week which would extend the current National Flood Insurance Program for at least six months, confirming that the outlook for a long-term extension for the program any time soon remains cloudy at best.

Officials of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) say the Senate leadership was working on a bill that would extend the program until May 31.

Action is needed promptly because the current extension of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) expires Dec. 16.

Matt Gannon, vice president of government affairs at NAMIC, says whether the extension of a continuing resolution extending all government operations until then, or as a separate bill, won’t be known until late Monday.

An extension until May 31 is more likely than passage of legislation filed Thursday by Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

Vitter’s bill, S 1864, would extend the program until Sept. 30, Gannon says.

At the same time, the Senate Banking Committee is expected to file with the full Senate today a bill reported out by the committee Sept. 8.

Gannon said the short-term extension is needed because it is unclear when the Senate will clear time for floor debate on the legislation containing the long-term extension, but such action is unlikely this year.

If extended, the next short-term bill will mean that, since 2002, there have been 13 last-minute reauthorizations of the NFIP, and on four occasions the program was allowed to lapse for extended periods of time.

However, that bill does not contain any portion of an amendment, proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., that would deal with the controversial wind-vs.-water issue.

Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Wicker, says the filing was expected. He said the Wicker provision to address the wind-vs.-water issue in only slab cases is still on track to be added when the debate begins.

That is inconsistent to what the leadership of the committee, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman and ranking minority member of the panel, told Wicker Sept. 9, the day after the banking panel passed its version of legislation that would extend the program until Sept. 30, 2016.

Tom Santos, vice president of federal affairs at the American Insurance Association (AIA), acknowledges, “In the short-term it is critical that the program not be allowed to lapse. Another temporary extension may be necessary to give Congress the time it needs to enact a longer term bill.”

“AIA is pleased that the Senate Banking Committee will file its NFIP reform bill,” he adds. “This is an important step in the process toward enacting a long-term reauthorization.

But, he said, AIA will continue to advocate for a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP to protect consumers and help increase stability for real estate transactions and policyholders.

“Necessary reforms include movement toward risk-based premiums and reduced price subsidies,” Santos said.

Charles Symington, senior vice president of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, said the trade group “greatly appreciates” the Senate Banking Committee for formally filing the Flood Insurance Modernization Act in the Senate.

“This bipartisan bill unanimously passed the Senate Banking Committee, and we urge Senate leadership to schedule floor time for debate on this needed legislation at the earliest opportunity,” Symington said.

Additionally, he said the IIABA “appreciates the ongoing efforts by Sen. Vitter and others to ensure that there is a short-term extension of the NFIP in order to avoid a lapse in the program that would be harmful to the market and consumers.”

Ben McKay, senior vice president of federal government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), said, “We are pleased the Sen. Vitter is calling for a flood insurance extension through September of next year.”

He said that, “Our priority is preventing another NFIP lapse.

“However, the proposed extension of the flood program does not alleviate the need for a long-term reauthorization.” McKay said.