By Gina Keating
Texas Rep. Todd Hunter on Thursday said he will introduce legislation to sharply curb the powers of the Texas Department of Insurance to hike rates on coastal Texans and to force the agency to disclose potential collusion between its commissioners and the insurance industry. Hunter disclosed details of the bill at a lunchtime meeting with business leaders on Corpus Christi’s Padre Island.
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is the state’s insurer of last resort for wind and hail coverage in the 14 coastal counties and parts of Harris County. TWIA provides wind and hail coverage when insurance companies exclude it from their homeowners and other property policies sold to coastal residents. TWIA describes itself as a ‘pool’ of all property and casualty insurance companies authorized to write coverage in Texas. TDI in May levied a surtax on auto, farm and ranch and commercial insurance policies for residents of the 14 coastal counties to correct a shortfall in the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association’s “pool” arising from claims and litigation following Hurricane Ike in 2008. The rate hike came despite fervent opposition by residents of the affected counties at a series of public meetings. Hunter pointed out that the agency unilaterally raised rates after hearing from outraged coastal residents without explaining how it came to its decision to levy the unpopular surtaxes.
“This is government at its worst… that agency decided without going to the Legislature,” Hunter told the Padre Island Business Association. His legislation, set for the January 2015 session, is designed to “take the offensive against a renegade agency,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who chairs the powerful House Calendar Committee, laid out four basic provisions of the proposed law:
- Reducing the time between reviews that determine whether an agency should be “sunset” or disbanded to 3-4 years from 10-12 years. “If they can tax you, why do they get 10-12 years (to operate without review),” Hunter asked.
- Require the agency to publish on its web site the affiliations of the people who meet with the TDI commissioner and her deputy. “Every special interest — put it on the web site,” Hunter said. “Who is influencing these laws?”
- Require the agency to justify new hires, reveal their salaries and expenses. “When they employ new insurance people we want to know why,” Hunter said.
- Require the agency to make public all contracts it is engaged in on its web site. “We need a reasoning and a justification for where our money goes,” he said.
TWIA in August will review the windstorm insurance rates again, Hunter said.