What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Horror stories told

Congress members listen to locals


BAY ST. LOUIS --Members of Congress listened Monday evening as frustrated local homeowners and business leaders lambasted the insurance industry and shared their stories of trying to recover after being denied payoffs on policies after Hurricane Katrina.

It was alternately a time of thunderous applause, laughter and near-tears as a capacity crowd filled Our Lady of the Gulf Community Center. But the message to the 10 congressional representatives invited here by U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, was direct: The Coast champions Taylor's insurance reform measure that is pending in Congress, and wants his House colleagues to champion it as well.

The unofficial delegation, made up of all Democrats, included House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina.

It was the second trip to the Coast in a year for Pelosi, who visited last August before assuming the powerful speaker's position. "We began a conversation a year ago," she said Monday. "I'm here to continue that conversation, as speaker of the House of Representatives."

Taylor has sponsored H.R. 920, a bill that was included as a provision in another measure introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California. Taylor's measure calls for multiperil insurance that would allow property owners to purchase wind and flood insurance in a single policy.

Supporters hope the bill would prevent homeowners from getting "no pay" decisions from insurance companies in the event of hurricanes or other disasters, as happened to thousands of policy holders after Katrina. The Waters bill, H.R. 3121, is being hotly contested by the insurance industry, but was passed by the House Financial Services Committee on July 26.

Congressional representatives heard from a panel whose members detailed their experiences and those of friends and neighbors. They included Wesley McFarland, a retired physician who locked horns with State Farm after the company refused to pay on the loss of his Bay St. Louis home.

After a nasty legal battle, McFarland and 600 other State Farm policy holders finally received a 100 percent settlement.

"The insurance companies have raped the people in this community," the blunt-spoken McFarland said to loud applause. "They cheated. They stole. They were crooks."

"We need seamless wind-water insurance coverage now," Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, told the congressional group. She said excessive insurance costs are stalling recovery and threatening small businesses.

Williams recently took a sampling among chamber members to track the rise in insurance costs. For one small retailer in Old Town Bay St. Louis, the annual insurance has risen to $30,000 from $8,000 before the hurricane, she said. And a real estate agent reported a 420 percent increase in insurance costs since Katrina.

George Schloegel, president and CEO of Hancock Bank, told the group that even his bank - the largest in Mississippi - is going without insurance for the reopened branch at Main Street and Beach Boulevard. "We don't have insurance because we can't buy it," he said. And two years after the hurricane, he said, "We still do not have flood maps."

Schloegel urged the Congress members to fight for Taylor's bill when they return to Washington from their August break. "The status quo of doing nothing is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Originally published on August 14, 2007. View here.
View the Sun Herald's photo gallery of the Congressional Democrats' Katrina tour along the Gulf Coast.

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