Monday, March 3, 2014

Sen. Landrieu endorses House flood insurance bill -- will urge Senate to pass it

March 03, 2014 at 4:09 PM,

WASHINGTON --  Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Monday endorsed a House flood insurance billthat she called "far from perfect," but sufficient to provide real protections against unaffordable premium increases. If the bill passes the House, as expected, Landrieu said she would urge the Senate to pass it.

"It looks like victory is close," Landrieu said. House leaders had tentatively slated a vote for Wednesday.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., also endorsed the House bill, calling it an improvement over a Senate-passed bill to delay most of the premium increases for four years.

"The most important strength of the House bill is that it reinstates grandfathering permanently, which means if you played by the rules and built or rebuilt your homes to code, you'll be protected from unaffordable rate increases," Vitter said. "This is a permanent fix, not just a delay, plus it's completely paid for so the program can sustain itself. The Senate bill, which I supported, was important to get the process going, but the House has strengthened and improved the legislation."

Landrieu said Democrats gained some modifications in a flood insurance bill first offered last week by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor - enough to justify Democratic support for the bill. Some of the provisions added to the bill were protections included in a Senate-passed bill.

Democrats, led by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, had asked for a limit of 12 percent per year on most premium increases and ultimately got an 18 percent cap, and had also asked that premiums be capped at no more than 1 percent of the total coverage - or $2,000 on a $200,000 policy, Landrieu said.

House Republicans agreed to language in the bill that calls on FEMA to "strive to minimize the number of policies with annual premiums that exceed 1 percent of the total coverage provided by the policy."

Landrieu conceded Democrats didn't get everything they wanted, but that with the combination of a maximum 18 percent annual premium increase for most premiums, and the non-mandatory request that FEMA cap premiums at 1 percent of coverage she believes Congress is sending a strong message to keep premiums affordable.

It's represents compromise, Landrieu said. "I'm comfortable that it is the best we can do now under the circumstances," said Landrieu, though she vowed to seek more changes as Congress moves later to reauthorize the flood insurance program. 

The House bill represents "considerable progress," Landrieu said, from just several weeks ago when some House leaders House were much ruling out any significant changes in the 2012 Biggert-Waters law that prompted what she and others labeled unaffordable increases in flood insurance premiums.

Landrieu also lashed out at a statement last week by a leader of the conservative R-Street Institute that congressional leaders are moving away from Biggert-Waters for political reasons -- with Democrats wanting to help Landrieu's re-election efforts and Republicans wanting to assist her main GOP challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

A lot of the credit goes to influential groups, representing homeowners, realtors, homebuilders, banks and others seeking to block large premium increases and they acted to "represent their industries," and interests, Landrieu said.

"They are not trying to get me elected or Bill Cassidy elected," she said.

In addition to Landrieu and Vitter, a coalition of nearly 200 civic, business and political groups and individuals is endorsing a House bill designed to block larger increases in flood insurance premiums resulting from a 2012 law.

The coalition, organized by Greater New Orleans Inc., said in a letter that the House legislation "ensures that flood insurance will remain affordable for those who have build to code at the time of construction."

To help pay for the changes in the 2012 Biggert-Waters flood insurance law, the House bill would authorize a $25 surcharge on residential policies, and a $250 surcharge on premiums for non-residential properties and non-primary residences. House GOP leaders are insisting the bill should not add to the federal deficit.

The program has 5.5 million policyholders, including 484,000 in Louisiana.
Cassidy said he appreciated the support from his Senate opponent for the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y and that he is co-sponsoring with others, including Richmond and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.

"This is the next step in providing affordable and accessible flood insurance for homeowners and for strengthening the flood insurance program," Cassidy said.

Among those signing the letter to House members urging passage of the Grimm bill were the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Counties; the Eden Isles Homeowners Association of Slidell; St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister; Stop FEMA Now; and the New Dorp Beach Civic Association of Staten Island, N.Y.

Still, Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos said Congress needs to do more to keep the flood insurance program affordable.

"It (the House legislation) is better than it was, but we still feel they are kicking this down the road," Kasimos said. "We'd like to see FEMA held accountable for its mismanagement with only 44 percent of premiums going to pay actual claims.''

Opposition to the House bill continued Monday from taxpayer advocacy groups, large insurance companies and conservative groups, including the Club for Growth.

"Rather than continue this unfair program that is hostile to liberty and limited government, Congress should end the National Flood Insurance Program and return the flood insurance industry back to the private sector," the Club of Growth said in a statement. Gov. Bobby Jindal attended the Club for Growth's conference last weekend in Florida. Jindal recently voiced his support for protecting homeowners against large premium increases.

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