AUSTIN -- The Senate Business and Commerce Committee considered a package of bills on Wednesday aimed at improving the state agency that offers insurance to Texans who live in hurricane prone areas.
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association was intended as the insurer of last resort for homes in the coastal regions of the state, but big storms like Ike and Rita brought billions of dollars in claims, and many private insurers stopped writing policies in the region. With more and more of the insurance burden pushed on TWIA, legislators are looking to improve the transparency, operation and organization of the state insurer.
Five bills considered before the committee Wednesday contained similar provisions. The measures offered by Senators Rodney Ellis of Houston, John Carona of Dallas, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, and Mike Jackson of La Porte, all provided for increased transparency. The bills would insure that TWIA board meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act, and would require meetings to be broadcast live on the Internet.
One of the problems TWIA had in assessing claims came from what are called "slab-claims". These are situations in which a storm completely destroys a structure, leaving only the foundation behind. It is difficult to determine to what extent the damage was caused by wind or by water. To address this, bills by Jackson and Fraser would require TWIA to use a panel of experts to develop a formula based on collected data to determine what proportion of the damage was caused by flooding and what proportion was caused by high winds. Carona's bill contained an additional provision, requiring homeowners in high risk areas to carry flood coverage equal to windstorm coverage.
The bills also addressed the claims and appeals process, designating where policy holders can go to appeal claims decisions. Fraser's bill would use binding arbitration at the State Office of Administrative Hearings to settle claims disputes. The bill would also add protection for TWIA against excessive litigation, preventing claimaints from suing for treble damages.
Though the bills considered Wednesday came from a number of different members, Fraser said it doesn't matter who carries the bill, as long as the problems at TWIA are addressed. "There is no pride of authorship here," he said.