Senate Moves to Pass Key Insurance Reforms

Hoping to avoid a special legislative session this summer, the Texas Senate passed legislation that would restore Texas' depleted windstorm insurance fund.

Gov. Rick Perry has warned he could call a special session if the reforms aren't enacted. The windstorm fund, which provides storm insurance coverage to property owners in coastal areas, needs to be replenished before Texas is hit by another hurricane, officials say.

The windstorm insurance reforms were tacked onto a disaster preparedness bill early Thursday that cleared the Senate as legislators continued to meet into the wee hours.

They barreled past a midnight deadline with the help of a little legislative trickery: A Senate aide simply unplugged the lock at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, allowing senators to keep debating as though midnight had never arrived.

"If we don't get a windstorm bill out of this session then we'll be back," said Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, who put the measure into his disaster management bill. "This is kind of our last hope to be able to work on this issue and hopefully, hopefully resolve it in the few days that we have left."

Senators approved adding the windstorm language to the bill on a 27-4 vote. It came after top leaders had been huddling all day in an effort to get the reforms moving. Perry, a Republican, has been pushing the Legislature to agree on a windstorm package or face a quickly called special session.

"It's a top priority of the governor's to get something done on this issue this session," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "It will have a great impact on the state if a hurricane does hit Texas and this is not fixed."

The state-chartered Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is the only wind insurer for property owners in 14 coastal counties. The legislation restoring it had technically died with a slew of other bills Tuesday night when House Democrats blocked a GOP-backed voter identification bill.

Windstorm insurance was an item Perry designated for emergency status this year after Hurricane Ike ransacked Galveston and southeast Texas in September.

The windstorm legislation by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would allow the windstorm association to issue bonds before or after a storm of up to $600 million, to be paid for through charges to TWIA policy holders and other property and casualty policy holders in Texas.

The bill appears to be headed for a joint House-Senate committee that will iron out a compromise.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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