Thursday, 03 October 2013 07:59
Louisiana officials, lobbyists didn't see the Water rise with Biggert-Waters
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GNO-FEMA-LandrieuI picked up my daily newspaper on the first day of October, and three stories dominated the news.  “The Government Shuts Down,” blarred one headline.  We have been hearing about this possibility for months as Republicans and Democrats, alike, have dug in their heels, with little effort to avert the closure of numerous government facilities.

 

Obamacare kicked off on the first day of the month facing a continuing barrage of criticism and unanswered questions.  Again, this is a story that has been examined in massive detail since the day the healthcare law passed over two and a half year ago.

Then there was Biggert-Waters.  Huh?  Never head of it, you say?  Well, it was federal legislation, passed without a discouraging word of protest, with the support of virtually every member of the Louisiana and Gulf Coast and East Coast legislative delegations.  What will this new legislation do?  Stick property owner in flood prone areas with rate increases that some news reports peg as high as 3000 percent.

“But we didn’t know,” protest many members of congress.  Here’s what one of the main authors of the legislation had to say after these new unaffordable rate increases were authorized:  “As one of the primary authors of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and a longtime advocate for the people of southern Louisiana, I can state that it was never the intent of Congress to impose the types of punitive and unaffordable flood insurance premiums that residents of southern Louisiana are currently facing,” Maxine Waters said. This is the lady who wrote the law, yet she candidly admits she had no idea of the detrimental effect she produced.

Unfortunately, the statement that “we didn’t know,” is true – and this should be of grave concern to every citizen.  How does a law this damaging, or any law for that matter, just slip through the cracks? Don’t congressman and senators have staffs trained to monitor proposed legislation that directly affects their districts?  Where’s the oversight; the checks and balances?  It would seem that in way too many instances, members of congress just don’t know what they’re voting on, or what effect a new law will have on their constituents.

That’s hard to believe, considering the number of representative factions that supposedly keep a close eye on the daily activities of congress,  The average congressman has a staff of 15 employees and the average U.S. Senator hires 35 assistants.  In addition, these same members of congress have access to various committee staffs.  And that’s just the beginning.  There are over 300 caucuses with staffers who supposedly keep an eye out for important legislation affecting their particular interests.

Then there are the lobbying interests.  Highly paid lobbyists are retained by special interest groups galore, and numerous public bodies hire such lobbyists to look out for their country, parish, or city interests.  In my home state of Louisiana, a number of former congressman and senators are well paid to keep an eye out for what can help or affect the local public bodies.

State officials have national organizations with Washington offices that have a paid staff to look out for legislations that can be detrimental on the local level.  When the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was first introduced, one could assume that it was immediately monitored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  Did this staff let Insurance Commissioners know that flood insurance rates could dramatically rise?  Did members of the NAIC take defensive action?  Apparently not.  The same goes for staffs of the National Governors Association. Why didn’t coastal governors speak out in opposition to the drastic rate increases that are in the process of taking place?

With all these eyes watching out and reviewing this federal legislation, it would seem impossible for a proposed law to “slip through the cracks.”  We would assume that one congressman, one senator, one staff member, one committee member, one lobbyist, one member of one association representing all these coastal states, would say:  “Hey, this is really important.  This could have huge ramifications on property owners. We’re talking about massive rate increases. Maybe we should look this over much more closely.”

Congressional members from coastal states are hollering for delays in rate increase implementation, something they should have been doing before the legislation was passed into law to begin with. The only proactive state so far is Mississippi, where state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney is suing the federal government, demanding a delay based on “new flood elevation maps that are riddled with errors,” requiring that consumers,  “pay for new elevation certificates to prove they are not in a flood zone.”  He may have a decent case here.

Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, who for years has been critical of the poor property insurance regulatory climate, is proposing the creation of a state run flood insurance company to help stabilize escalating property insurance rates.  It’s a good idea, but Louisiana has for years been less than creative in trying to solve its massive insurance problems, which has led to Louisiana having the highest property and auto insurance rates in the nation.

The short-term answer is for congress to delay the implementation of flood insurance increases for the coming year.  This gives coastal congressmen and senators, particularly those who dropped the ball along the Gulf Coast, to heavily lobby their cohorts for a workable solution.  But the first step in the process for those who represent us in Washington is simply this:  start paying attention.

 ********

 “The problem is that most members of Congress don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”   Senator John McCain

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.

- See more at: http://www.jimbrownla.com/blog/?p=10645#sthash.YNsnl2LX.dpuf

Jim Brown

Jim Brown is a Louisiana legislator, Secretary of State and Insurance Commissioner.  

Website: JimBrownla.com
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