Insurance commissioner speaks to Chamber

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The election of the next Louisiana insurance commissioner is the second most important election this year, said Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon at Tuesday’s Vidalia Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Donelon was the guest speaker at the chamber’s general membership meeting.

“This office, next to the governor, is the most important vote you will cast,” he said.

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“Insurance affects everyone, both in their homes and their businesses,” he said.

Property insurance woes due to coastal storms are not unique to Louisiana, he said.

“That experience, that hard market, is present from Boston to Miami to Brownsville, Texas,” he said.

Storms in those areas have an effect on Louisiana’s insurance business, he said.

“If a storm comes onshore in Texas or in Florida, it affects us,” Donelon said.

For example, Lake Charles is grouped with Texas by some insurance companies, he said.

Though many insurance companies wanted to pull out of Louisiana after the 2005 hurricane season, in which Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused more than $40 billion worth of damage, a relatively unknown statute kept them in the state, Donelon said.

Written in 1992 in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, the statute states that companies have to continue insuring any homeowner who does not have two non-“act of God” claims on their policy in a three-year period.

A house fire would not be considered an act of God, whereas a hurricane or similar storm would.

“Because of that, 85 percent of our homeowner’s market stayed on,” Donelon said.

Though some insurance companies have stopped writing policies for portions of south Louisiana, all of the companies that were in Louisiana in 2005 are still there, he said.

“Some (of those companies) are even writing new policies in areas likely to be affected by hurricanes, and all of them are accommodating their old customers by writing them new policies if they had to move,” he said.

Donelon praised the Louisiana legislature for passing new, stricter building codes after the 2005 hurricanes.

“It’s a good step to attract (insurance) businesses to our market,” he said.

Donelon also said he was opposed to the idea of making Louisiana citizen’s property coverage cheaper than the private market.

Created for those who cannot obtain coverage on the private market, citizen’s coverage is currently 10 percent more expensive than the most expensive private coverage on the market for each parish, Donelon said.

“It’s unpopular to say this in south Louisiana,” he said. “But it’s important to keep a private market and not make the state the insurer.

“I truly believe that the answer is in the private market.”

Florida has a similar, more readily available program that — while it is very popular with citizens — could present the state with a lot of problems in the event of a major storm, Donelon said.

Donelon is running for re-election this year.