Monday, January 27, 2014

Senate votes 86-13 to begin debate on bill delaying flood insurance hikes for four years



January 27, 2014 at 5:25 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted 86-13 Monday to begin debate on legislation that would delay for four years most flood insurancepremium increases resulting from a 2012 law.
The large margin was a positive sign for those seeking to delay rate increases that they say would price coverage too high for many policyholders. Sixty votes were needed to bring the bill up for debate.
The Senate will next consider several amendments, with a final vote possible as early as Wednesday. The bill has 181 sponsors and co-sponsors in the House, but faces opposition from influential leaders of the House Financial Services Committee where the Biggert-Waters flood insurance reform act originated. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has also expressed opposition, but later said he wants to work on a solution to unaffordable premium increases.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the 2012 Biggert-Waters law is causing rates for hundreds of thousands of flood insurance policyholders throughout the United States to rise -- in many cases dramatically. Biggert-Waters was intended to make the program fiscally solvent, but is proving a disaster for people who could lose their most important asset -- their homes, she said.
'The bill had good intentions, it's had very detrimental consequences," Landrieu said. "And so this bill that we're going to vote to go to debate on, the Menendez-Isakson bill, is really a good-faith attempt to correct some of the problems with Biggert-Waters and to lead us in a direction to a place where the county can have a public-private partnership for flood insurance that actually works.,"
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the bill's lead GOP sponsor, said that Landrieu had it exactly right, and the higher rates are crippling some real estate markets.
Still, there's some strong opposition. Thirteen senators, all Republicans, voted against allowing debate to begin: Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wy.; Tom Coburn, R-Ok.; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Mike Enzi, R-Wy.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; James Inhofe, R-Ok.; Mike Lee, R-Ut.; Jerry Moran, R-Ks.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; and Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., did not vote.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., voted to allow debate to move forward, but not before saying he opposes the four-year delay in most rate increases, as called for under the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.
"The flood insurance program is $27 billion in debt," Toomey said Monday. "I recognize that some flood insurance rate increases under Biggert-Waters could be painful to certain homeowners. That's why I suggest a slower phase-in for rate increases triggered by a home sale and for properties most dramatically affected by remapping.''
"In addition to protecting taxpayers, my balanced proposal provides certainty for homeowners and policy holders. At the same time, slower phase-ins provide the opportunity for affected homeowners to prepare for the future cost of flood insurance," Toomey said.
Last year, Toomey used Senate rules to block a vote on another delaying measure proposed by Landrieu.
Landrieu, used her remarks on the Senate floor, to say that Pennsylvania is having more flood insurance remaps, 1,425, than any other state -- meaning his constituents will be among the most impacted by Bigger-Waters.
George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA NOW, a coalition fighting the higher premiums, said the group is working to contact Toomey and urge him not to scuttle the delaying legislation.
"It seems he (Toomey) will be our biggest hurdle for years to come, especially when re-writing the Biggert-Waters Act," Kasimos said.
He said the delaying legislation, while critical, doesn't go as far he wants because it excludes from the delays second homes, and homes with severe repetitive loss claims due to flooding.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the bill's lead sponsor, said that the bill was written to generate enough support to pass, and there was significant opposition to sparing second homes, and the 1 percent of properties with the most claims from moving to market insurance rates.
Congress recently passed a bill, introduced by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, to delay some of the increases through Sept. 30, 2014. Cassidy, who is running against Landrieu in the fall Louisiana Senate race, said he's glad the more comprehensive bill appears to be moving through the Senate, saying he'll work to pass it, or something similar, in the House.
"I will continue to advocate for a vote for flood relief measures that provide comprehensive help to Louisianans that can soon become law," Cassidy said.
Landrieu was upbeat with the large Senate vote Monday to begin debate.
 "Although it has taken longer than any of us wanted, today's vote in the Senate to begin debate on our bipartisan bill brings us one step closer to providing relief to homeowners who played by the rules and need affordable flood insurance," Landrieu said. "Nothing less than the American Dream -- if you work hard and play by the rules you can have a secure future -- is at stake."

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