The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the often-tapped insurer of last resort for Gulf Coast property owners, looks poised to get a major overhaul.
The Texas House on Sunday tentatively approved legislation that would reshape the quasi-governmental body by changing its funding structures and arguably giving coastal Texans more representation in its decision-making.
Supporters say the proposal will make the insurer, which has faced criticism and financial difficulties over the years, more fiscally sound.
“This is a bill that is good for Texas and all Texans,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who pushed the bill in the House.
Currently, insurance agents and coastal residents split representation on the association’s nine-member board, and one inland Texan provides a swing vote that critics say too often leans toward insurers. Under the proposal, insurance companies, coastal residents and inland Texans would each have three members.
Under the bill, payouts for catastrophic storms would come from a mix of premiums, public securities and a catastrophe reserve trust fund.
The chamber advanced Senate Bill 900 in a 80-47 vote that followed a testy debate that saw the agency’s critics – led by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo – propose several failed amendments aiming to advance the notion that payouts from the association boost insurance rates across the state.
“My constituents don’t get any benefit,” Smithee said, saying the state-backed insurer was leveling a “tax” on all Texans.
“Every time there’s a hail storm, or a small windstorm, we are going to be assessed,” he added.
Supporters of the bill repeatedly questioned Smithee’s statements about how much the proposal could affect statewide insurance rates, and at one point in the debate the exclamation “liar” echoed across the chamber.
“Dividing Texas up whenever there’s time of disasters, that’s not historically how we’ve done things,” said Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.
A version of the bill passed earlier by the Senate would rename the body the Texas Coastal Insurance Association. The association would retain its current name under an amendment tacked on in the House.
The question of how to insure property in windy regions has been a contentious topic in the Texas Legislature for years. But it quickly turned into a political tornado after Hurricane Ike roared ashore in 2008 and spawned thousands of lawsuits over systematic claims mishandling by the insurance association.