The Texas insurance industry is the most powerful special interest operating in this state.
It employs an army of professional lobbyists and distributes many thousands in campaign contributions to its favored political candidates.
Does this awesome political power impact the lives of Texas individuals? Yes, you bet it does.
Texans pay more money and get less insurance coverage than those in other states.
Let’s begin with homeowner insurance. According to a Dec. 13, 2013, report by the National Association of Insurance Consumers, the Texas homeowner pays an average insurance premium of $1,672. Texans pay higher insurance rates than homeowners in 47 other states.
Since 2002, Texas homeowner rates have increased by $640 per policy. Most of this increase went to higher insurance company profits and expenses.
Following Hurricane Celia, insurance carriers stopped providing coverage for wind and hail damage.
In 1971, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association was formed. Its purpose was to provide Gulf Coast property owners the opportunity to purchase affordable windstorm insurance. This consumer legislation was passed into law by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.
The insurance lobby opposed TWIA from the beginning because it required those operating in Texas to supplement the TWIA fund when losses exceeded the association’s premium revenues. When a disaster depletes the fund, the insurance industry is legally required by state law to refund TWIA.
Unfortunately, the insurance industry has failed to meet this legal obligation. TWIA is owed $400 million by the Texas insurance industry.
In my six terms in the Texas House of Representatives, most of my time was spent fighting big insurance’s efforts against local homeowners. In one session, former Rep. James Hury, State Sen. Chet Brooks and I were honored by local business and education leaders at Moody Center for our success in protecting the rights of local property owners.
To protect their constituents, every local Democratic member of the Texas Legislature that followed has been forced to wage similar war against big insurance. This includes Mike Martin, Patricia Gray and Craig Eiland.
In a special session in 2011, Republican legislators passed H.B. 3. This legislation stripped consumers of their constitutional legal rights to a judge and jury. Instead, it created a complicated system that made it more difficult for windstorm insurance policy holders to recover damages.
In the last legislative session, Republicans attempted to pass additional anti-consumer TWIA legislation.
Fortunately, it was defeated by Senate Democrats in the closing days of the session.
Expect more Republican efforts to weaken homeowner consumer rights in the upcoming 2015 legislative session.
Beware of candidates for state and local legislative offices whose campaigns are heavily financed by big insurance special interest PACs.
Remember, “State Farm is not your good neighbor.”
Lloyd Criss of La Marque is chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party.