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Area chambers of commerce joined together for a second rally to say “no” to a proposed windstorm rate increase. Rachel Denny Clow, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
The Texas House, usually as restless and noisy as a children’s daycare, was unusually attentive on this particular day as state Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi addressed the members on a topic, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, that he has strong emotions on.
He had risen to speak as other members, with only a few weeks to go in this year’s Texas legislative session, demonstrated yet again how little knowledge and how little sympathy there is for coastal issues in Austin.
“I’m tired of TWIA, ” Hunter said, nearly shouting, “and I’m tired of coast bashing.”
Hunter’s defense of a bill on windstorm rates was a singular moment in a legislative session that hasn’t drawn much emotion so far. A recent Texas Tribune column by Ross Ramsey described Hunter’s performance as “heartfelt preachifying.”
The moment occurred as the Texas House was in general session on May 2. Even witnessing the moment in the Texas Legislature’s online video archives gives a good idea of what Hunter and the other coastal legislators face as they try to pass measures to bring relief to the region which is still struggling with the effects of Hurricane Harvey almost two years after the storm.
WHAT WOULD THE BILL DO?
The anti-coast tone was set even before House Bill 4534 was laid before the full House. The bill would continue the moratorium on raising TWIA rates until the following legislative session, time enough to study what the always-controversial rate setting should be. But the bill before it, which pertained to legal relief for TWIA policy holders whose claims were rejected, ran into flak from the start.
Would other Texans have to pay more because of changes to TWIA? Would shortfalls in the ability of TWIA to pay claims have to be paid by insurance policy holders across the state? State Rep. Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, chair of the House Insurance Committee, tried his best to defend the bill, but the big guns were after the bill.
Notably the biggest gun was John Smithee of Amarillo, a former long-time chair of the House Insurance Committee, who has often tangled with Hunter on windstorm insurance. The bill failed.
The long knives were out again as Lucio laid out HB 4534 immediately afterward. As Lucio noted, coastal policy holders have sustained rapid and sustained rate hikes in recent years, even after so much coast was devastated by Harvey. Gov. Greg Abbott placed a moratorium on the last TWIA rate hike which the bill would extend while a study is done on rates.
But the only thing questioners on the floor wanted to know was, how does this affect my constituents? Smithee took the microphone to tell them. Sure, Smithee said, the Texas coast is needed by the rest of Texas but “if you vote for this bill, it will affect the rates that your constituents pay for insurance.”
Hunter’s anger was already evident as he paced back and forth around the podium. It spilled out when he took the microphone.
“I disagree with Rep. Smithee 1,000 percent,” he said.
He noted that he, as well as other coastal legislators, gets calls every week from constituents saying “they can’t live (in their homes) any more because of TWIA rates and property taxes.”
He mocked earlier comments supposedly expressing support for coastal residents. “I didn’t hear all this concern (since the last meeting of the legislature). I didn’t see all of this help when people couldn’t find houses.”
“‘We love you coast, but we want you to dry up, ‘ “Hunter said sarcastically.
Hunter described how the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey continues for much of the coast. “We don’t even know where some of our teachers are. We still don’t have hotels. We still don’t have restaurants.”
What had seemed like a foregone defeat for the bill had become passage of the bill by a vote of 132-10. The measure was referred on to the Senate. By the time of this writing, it had been referred to the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee. Less than two weeks are left for the 86th Texas Legislature.
What the debate underscored is how much education coastal legislators have to do when it comes to coastal issues, especially windstorm insurance. Legislators for the rest of Texas regard things like windstorm insurance as matters to be taken care of by coastal residents and only coastal residents. Don’t bother the rest of us.
That more insurance losses were caused by hailstorms ($9 billon) in the last 10 years, losses that coastal residents helped to cover, than Hurricane Harvey caused ($1.4 billion) is lost on other legislators. Perhaps that oversight is just convenient.
But on that one day, Hunter reminded them that coastal residents are Texans, too.
Nick Jimenez has worked as a reporter, city editor and editorial page editor for more than 40 years in Corpus Christi. He is currently the editorial page editor emeritus for the Caller-Times. His commentary column appears on Sundays.
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