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Governor Delays Windstorm Insurance Increase

In a letter to the Texas Department of Insurance, Gov. Gregg Abbott suspended an insurance code to give Coastal Bend legislators the entire next legislative session to possibly stop or change a proposed 10 percent increase in windstorm insurance rates by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Illustration by Roland Chiapoco

A 10 percent hike in windstorm insurance rates will not go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, as planned by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Gov. Greg Abbott extended the timetable that legislators have to fight the increase by nine months, giving them an entire legislative session in which to make changes.

Abbott suspended Section 2210.352 of the Texas Insurance Code to move the deadline for local action on the bill from Oct. 15 to June 16, 2019. He explained his decision in a letter dated Thursday, Oct. 11, to Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner Kent Sullivan. He called the increase a “potential impediment” to coastal efforts to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall Aug. 25, 2017.

“As you know, the State continues to recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey,” Abbott wrote. “Such a rate increase at this time would negatively impact the people of the Gulf Coast.”

Under a new umbrella organization called Coastal Bend United, six local chambers of commerce held meetings and rallies, wrote protest letters, and circulated a petition to make their opposition known. Community leaders enlisted state Reps. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), Abel Herrero (D-Robstown), and J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), who are actively working on several pieces of legislation.

Hunter and Lozano are writing bills that would limit TWIA increases to 1 percent and change the composition of the organization’s board. The board is made up of representatives from the insurance industry and residents who live inland as well as on the coast. Hunter wants more Gulf Coast residents to serve.

That imbalance of representation became an issue at the TWIA meeting July 31 at which the rate increase was approved by a 5-4 vote. All the “no” votes had coastal connections, while all the “yes” votes did not.

TWIA was established in 1971 in response to Hurricane Celia, which hit Aug. 3, 1970. The purpose was to provide affordable windstorm insurance to homeowners and business owners unable to obtain coverage on the open market because of their location and high risk of storm damage. One move in the works is to abolish the agency altogether.

“We need to eliminate TWIA and make sure private markets can come in and compete for our business,” Lozano said at a recent rally against the increase.

Hunter pointed out that Celia was the last big storm to hit the area until Harvey.

“So you’ve paid insurance for 47 years, and now it’s taking 47 years to get your claims paid,” he said at the same rally, addressing numerous complaints that the agency has been slow in writing checks. “They are trying to rush a rate hike faster than they are paying their claims, and I’m saying no!”

The United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce was quick in its praise of Gov. Abbott’s actions.

“This is an amazing win for the Texas Coast,” reads a post on the chamber’s Facebook page. “Thanks to Governor Abbott we have a chance to make our case to the Texas Legislature and seek relief from TWIA rate hikes!”

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