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TWIA Bill Storms the Legislature

‘I want your attention,’ Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) loudly told a distracted House of Representatives during

A House bill affecting insurance rates on the Gulf Coast stirred up a storm on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives recently.

On May 2, bill authors Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) and Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) spoke on behalf of HB 4534. Well, Lucio spoke; Hunter’s remarks got heated after listening to questions from the floor.

“You haven’t heard me complain this whole session,” Hunter said, voice raised. “Now, I’m getting out of my chair, now when I hear us attacked.”

The bill, which was approved by the House in a vote of 122-10, was sent to a Senate committee for further discussion. The bill puts on hold a 10-percent rate increase approved by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency last year. The rate hike was due to go into effect January 1 of this year.

Governor Greg Abbott placed a moratorium on any increases until June 1, after the 86th Legislative Session. Lucio’s bill would extend that moratorium until the 87th Legislative Session in 2021. He wants to use the interim to study TWIA and any proposed hikes.

“There are two very distinct opinions on whether TWIA is solvent or not,” Lucio said, diplomatically adding that both opinions “make good cases.” An interim study could clarify some of what he calls TWIA’s complicated layered funding.

“This bill creates a two-year impactful study, so we can come here and provide you with clear directions on how to move forward with TWIA funding,” Lucio told his fellow legislators. “And, we can decide whether rate increases are merited or not.”

Pushback came from representatives Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) and John Smithee (R-Amarillo). Both said they did not want their constituents to pay for property damages from hurricanes and windstorms on the Gulf Coast.

As the debate continued between those for and against the bill, other House members chatted at their desks with colleagues on unrelated topics — a steady hum could be heard in the background. Hunter paced behind and around the podium waiting his turn to speak. When he stepped up to the microphone, his voice boomed.

“I WANT YOUR ATTENTION,” he yelled, repeating it until chamber chatter stopped. “Mr. Smithee, I disagree with you one thousand percent. Let me tell you something, members. I get calls every day from people saying they can’t live here (on the Gulf Coast) anymore because of TWIA rates and property taxes. I have constituents who have been living in tents because of TWIA.”

He continued with an outline of what the bill would do.

“It’s about studying rates so we can quit coming back here,” he said. “I’m tired of TWIA and of all this coast bashing. Here’s what I hear: ‘We love you Gulf Coast, but we want you to dry up.’”

The majority of the House agreed with Lucio and Hunter.

HB 4534 is now waiting to go before a Senate committee. From there, it would go onto the Senate floor for a vote. The only thing standing in its way, at the moment, is timing. The 86th Legislative Session is set to adjourn for 18 months on Memorial Day, which is Monday, May 27, the 140th day of the session.

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