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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More dead flowers: From Florida to New York--With Love, Big Insurance

by Ana Maria

Last week was a banner one for homeowners all over the country. Nope, I’m not talking about the mortgage crisis which is bad enough. I’m talking about the other financial crisis that has yet to catch national attention: homeowner’s insurance policies with prices skyrocketing out of control . . . or being canceled.

Yet, property & casualty insurance costs for home and business owners have skyrocketed out of control hitting lower and middle income families with a powerful financial punch to their pocketbook whether they live inside Katrina Land or out.

In a post-Valentine’s Day gift to its homeowner customers, State Farm delivered dead flowers to its customers in Florida and New York. Yes, you read that correctly: New York. As in Long Island, New York.

Florida: State Farm Dumps Coastal Homeowners

New York: State Farm defends decision to terminate LI homeowner policies

This past Sunday, the Times-Picayune—a New Orleans paper—ran an article whose contents packed another heart-wrenching punch.
At Their Limit: As local homeowners insurance rates continue to rise, the elderly and others on limited incomes are fighting to keep their finances afloat
Talk with any two-income income family around here, and the fight is all the same. Skyrocketing premiums for less coverage while dropping wind coverage which forces policy holders into the expensive state government wind pool.

One friend of mine got home from work the other day to find that the family's home owner’s insurance bill increased by $500 a year—and the company is only covering fire and theft! They are expecting to learn that their state government wind insurance policy will rise, too. This is in addition to the nearly $2,000 rise in premiums last year.

The 55% of Americans who live within 50 miles of the nation's coastline need wind damage coverage on their homeowners' insurance.

Whatever is happening here inside Katrina Land--from the denial of wind-related claims to the exorbitant and extortion-like premiums to being dropped as customers without cause--will eventually spread to the rest of the nation. We'd like to spare the nation's families the incredible injustice and financial rip-off that we've experienced.

In yet another post-Valentine’s Day gift, Big Insurance delivered dead flowers to those of us living inside—or trying to return to our hometowns in—Katrina Land. The card on the dead flowers essentially read as follows:
Yo, baby: No new insurance policies & dropping you long time, loyal customers at renewal time. C' ya! - Big Insurance [Read Katrina Families, Dead Flowers, and Big Insurance]
Huh? Well, how else can Big Insurance protect tens of billions of dollars in annual profit flow to their boards of directors?! It's the only "insurance" about which these two-fisted greedy gutted goons apparently care. Remember the industry booked $108 billion in profit the year of Katrina and the year after.

By canceling homeowner policies or raising their premiums to exorbitant rates, it appears that members of the Big Insurance Brotherhood are essentially telegraphing that they want out of the wind insurance business. This is not the case.

What Big Insurance wants is to cherry pick from among homeowners those for whom it will drop coverage versus those it will require to pay almost extortion-like premiums . . . all the while employing various tactics to deny us payment on legitimate wind-related claims. Embedded in the fine print, Big Insurance inserts its "concurrent causation clause" into its contracts. In essence, this clause says that they won't pay for any wind damage if so much as a drop of water caused any damage to our property.

Clearly agents wouldn't sell very much if they actually mentioned this when making their pitch to us. From what was stated at the Insurance Reform Town Hall meeting last August here in my home town, agents didn't know about this ridiculous clause that would deprive homeowners of the very protection for which they were paying premiums in the first place. To hear this commentary on how Big Insurance kept their agents and their customers in the dark, see video below.

Congressman Gene Taylor explains in down-to-earth language the problem that this insurance "gotcha "clause creates for America’s homeowners.

To solve this horrible position that Big Insurance has placed America’s homeowners, Taylor sponsored the multiple peril insurance legislation to permit those homeowners who are eligible to purchase our nation’s flood insurance to have the option of buying wind coverage. The result is that the homeowner would have one policy for both wind and flood—something that the private insurance companies have chosen not to offer for the last 40 years.

Last September, Taylor's bill passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi became elected as Speaker of the House, she implemented the fiscally responsible PAYGO rule: pay as you go. Any legislation with a price tag attached to it must pay for itself. What this means for the multiple peril insurance legislation is that the rates for the wind insurance will pay for the costs of the coverage. Thank you, Congresswoman Pelosi for the return of fiscal responsibility! The bill went to the U.S. Senate where it now awaits action.

While the U.S. Senate wonders what to do about this mounting homeowner crisis, homeowners all over the nation are wondering what they are going to do about skyrocketing property insurance that is eating away like a cancer on their household’s budget.

What needs doing is rather straightforward. The U.S. Senate should simply listen to the two U.S. Senators from Louisiana and the one from New York who are championing this important bread-and-butter issue: Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), David Vitter (R-LA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). All three support Taylor's multiple peril insurance legislation.

While many homeowners are raising hell with their individual insurance companies, we can all raise some political hell where it will do some collective good. For today’s political hell raising activity, let’s call our two U.S. Senate offices and ask them to follow the lead of Senators Landrieu, Vitter, and Schumer.

On his re-election campaign website, Congressman Gene Taylor has a unique call-to-action piece specific to this insurance crisis that is crippling his constituents' recovery inside the Katrina-ravaged region. [To watch Mississippi Gulf Coast business leaders discussing Big Insurance's negative impact on Katrina recovery, click here.]

Taylor's website requests the following.
Please, contact your two U.S. Senators. Simply ask each U.S. Senator to become a partner with us and support Insurance Reform. Specifically, ask each of your U.S. Senators to pass legislation in the U.S. Senate that is similar to what the House of Representatives passed in H.R. 3121, which reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program and included flood insurance customers an option to have one policy for both wind and water.
The site provides a phone script to use and a link to obtain the phone numbers of our two U.S. Senators. Taylor also provides a link through which to share the phone script page with friends and family throughout the nation. Good stuff.

Taylor's campaign website also hosts a fantastic compilation of news articles, editorials, and videos on how insurance reform is critical to Katrina families' ability to rebuild their homes and communities and how the homeowner insurance crisis continues to spread throughout the nation's coastal states. Click here for his Insurance Reform page.

From sea to shining sea, Big Insurance is dropping coverage, dropping customers, and skyrocketing premiums. Reading through all the articles on Taylor's campaign website makes us realize that the homeowner crisis is beyond just that of the current mortgage crisis. We can begin to solve the homeowner insurance crisis through letting our fingers do the walking and our mouths do the talking to our Senators. We did not create this crisis. Solving it, though, rests in our hands.

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About is dedicated to providing information about formaldehyde poisoning in FEMA trailers and RVs sold to the general public. Eighty eight percent of FEMA trailers tested by Sierra Club were over safe limits for formaldehyde, and EPA tests showed average levels three times over the limit. Please e-mail if you think you are having problems with formaldehyde.

For more information, click here.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Baria's insurance bills getting chilly reception in Jackson

By Dwayne Bremer
Feb 15, 2008

One of state Sen. David Baria's major campaign pledges was to help reform the way Mississippi conducts business with insurance companies.
Upon taking office in January, Baria promptly introduced seven bills which he said would help reform the system.
Unfortunately, there is now a very strong chance none of his bills will even make it to the Senate floor for consideration, he said.

Baria said Friday he was told by Insurance Committee Chairman Eugene Clark his bills will not make it out of the committee stage--which has a deadline of Tuesday for presenting bills to the full Senate.

If a bill is not submitted by the deadline, then it cannot be reviewed again until the next term in 2009.

"It's very frustrating," Baria said. "It is two and a half years after Katrina. The people on the Gulf Coast are suffering with the insurance situation. I think another year of waiting will only prolong the suffering."

Baria said there is nothing in all of his bills which will in any way adversely affect the rest of the home-owners in the state. In fact, the bills will potentially help all Mississippi home owners, he said.

Some of Baria's ideas include giving credits or better rates for homes which are constructed with techniques which reduce the amount of potential loss; putting the burden of proof on the insurer; defining certain concurrent causation exclusions as unfair; disallowing the commissioner of insurance from receiving "gifts" from insurance companies; setting limits on the reasons for cancellation; requiring explanations of claim denials; and requiring that insurance companies cannot deny coverage on the basis of credit reports.

One of the concurrent causation exclusions Baria said he is fighting hard to eliminate is an exclusion policy which allows for insurance companies to be exempt from coverage when wind causes damage which in turn results in rain water damage, but the home also has surge damage.

Baria said he has garnered a lot of support from his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

"They are very receptive," he said. "They want to help the Coast. They would like to have a chance to vote on these issues."

Baria said Clark, a Republican from Hollindale told him Thursday that the reason why the bills are not being brought from committee is because Clark said he is new to insurance issues and he wanted more time to study the situation. Baria said the people of the Gulf Coast are tired of waiting.

"My folks cannot wait any longer, it's been two years," he said.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Katrina Families, Dead Flowers, and Big Insurance

by Ana Maria

The day after Valentine's, Big Insurance delivered Katrina's families a bunch of dead roses. Big Insurance announced that it is refusing to sell us new homeowner policies here inside Mississippi's Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast region. Adding insult to injury, Big Insurance also informed us that it might not renew wind policies of its loyal customers either. The equivalent of more dead flowers.

Next up in this string of bad news, we learned that the government's wind pool insurance —the state's insurer of last resort—is increasing the rates for those customers. Yes, those wind pool customers are the ones whom Big Insurance discarded.

Let's look at Big Insurance's impact on one South Mississippi resident, Mr. Rex Chastain, who is retired military.

Chastain had hoped for some insurance relief in 2008, but instead finds his family "insurance poor."

Hurricane Katrina forced the Chastains, along with thousands of other South Mississippi residents, into the state wind pool, where residential rates jumped 90 percent in 2006. The wind pool is the insurer of last resort for 36,000 South Mississippians, who must carry a separate private policy to cover fire, theft and liability.

The Chastains' total homeowner insurance bill jumped 147 percent.
Geeze, Louise! How in the living heck are we to rebuild our homes, businesses, and communities if we can't purchase affordable property insurance? This bad news means that our recovery stops. The end. We cannot pass go nor collect $200.

Of course, would that Mississippi to be aggressive in its approach to protecting its humble people against the Insurance CEOs to whom I fondly refer as two-fisted greedy gutted goons in Gucci suits. Unfortunately Mississippi's State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney sounds just like his predecessor, George Dale, whom voters rejected last year for being in the back pocket of Big Insurance. Here's Chaney's reaction to the bad news for Katrina recovery.
"If they quit writing wind for existing customers, that's really going to put more pressure on the economy," said Chaney, who added that he is working to keep private carriers in the six southernmost counties and bring in new business.
How long did it take Chaney to memorize and spit out that George Dale talking point?!

How could other communities in any other part of our nation that would be able to thrive if these same financial straight jacket conditions were imposed on their homeowners and developers?

If this were the end of it, today's bad news would be just awful. But today's news gusts keep picking up speed where Katrina recovery is concerned. In the Mississippi State Senate, Katrina insurance bills may die without vote. Well isn't that just ducky! We're sitting here some 30 months after Katrina blew through with her zealous hurricane force winds and we have a bunch of blow hards in the state senate huffing and puffing a bunch of hot air zealously guarding the status quo.

Down here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the status quo means Katrina families cannot rebuild their homes, businesses, and communities. The status quo means that even the already r-e-a-l-l-y . . . s----l----o----w pace of recovery simply stops. How exasperating!

Add to this madness the ridiculous building codes that FEMA is imposing primarily in one tiny area of the Katrina ravaged-Mississippi Gulf Coast of Bay St. Louis, the hometown of Congressman Gene Taylor. Seems to me that this smells more like political revenge because Taylor is hell-bent on creating affordable home owner's insurance for his constituents and for rest of the 55% of Americans who live within 50 miles of our nation's beautiful coast lines.
“Populations and built environments in coastal watersheds are growing rapidly, with 55 percent of the U.S. population already living within 50 miles of the coast.”
To make this a more toxic recipe for ruining opportunity for recovery, let's remember that Governor Haley Barbour wants to swipe more Katrina funds to build a road for a Toyota plant. If Mr. Barbour likes roads so much, perhaps he should drive himself down here and plop a squat for a few days listening to one after another Mississippian talk about the tremendous hardship of life here some 30 months after Katrina. Housing, insurance preventing house building, insurance preventing business reopening, housing costs, did I mention the insurance crisis?

Last, but not least, in the Katrina rebuilding madness is the latest from FEMA on its formaldehyde-filled trailers.
"FEMA first received complaints about health problems and high formaldehyde levels nearly two years ago," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. "If FEMA would have taken the complaints seriously from the very beginning, this issue could have been resolved already... They must now act swiftly to find adequate housing for those living in trailers across Mississippi and Louisiana, instead of at the pace they moved when first receiving complaints."
Today's rash of bad news makes it so obvious that Katrina recovery here in South Mississippi is intimately tied to our ability to obtain affordable insurance for our homes and businesses. The solution is now awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.

As you may recall, the U.S. House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support Congressman Gene Taylor's Muliple Peril Insurance Legislation (H.R. 3121). That bill permits homeowners who are eligible for and purchase flood insurance the option to buy wind coverage as well. As with all bills since Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took the reigns of Speaker of the House, this bill includes a provision to require that the bill's cost pays for itself. This is fiscally responsible and sound.

We now need to contact our two U.S. Senators to ask each to support, to push, to take the lead on this critical legislation so that we can get the post-Katrina recovery moving. Click here to Become a Partner in Insurance Reform!

This is where you will find a phone script you can use. Of course, you will also find a link to the phone numbers for each of your two U.S. Senators. When you are finished, please use the link provided after the phone script to contact all of your friends, family, and colleagues around the nation to ask them to join in our effort to help pass this critical Katrina recovery legislation.

Our phone calls from all over the nation—even our voice mails—can stir up these much needed hurricane force winds of change. This is how we create the resources that those of us inside the Katrina-ravaged region need for that vibrant recovery we desire. Who'd have ever thought that real insurance reform would be the new chocolate and flowers?!

© 2008 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rep. Taylor Comments on Officials' Findings on Formaldehyde in FEMA Trailers

FEMA should have addressed concerns in the beginning

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Gene Taylor released a statement today about the recent findings by federal health officials that confirm toxic levels of formaldehyde in FEMA trailers and suggest occupants be moved immediately.

“FEMA first received complaints about health problems and high formaldehyde levels nearly two years ago,” Rep. Taylor said. “If FEMA would have taken the complaints seriously from the very beginning, this issue could have been resolved already. I requested that FEMA and the Center for Disease Control conduct a detailed study a year ago, and the results are just being released today. They must now act swiftly to find adequate housing for those living in trailers across Mississippi and Louisiana, instead of at the pace they moved when first receiving complaints.”

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Taylor Announces No Money in President's Budget for Mandatory Buyouts

Assistant Secretary states that no funding for buyouts will be available in 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Gene Taylor today announced that there is no money for the mandatory buyout of properties that were either destroyed or damaged in Hurricane Katrina in President Bush’s federal budget request for 2009, which spans from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on Feb. 7 on agency budgets and priorities for fiscal year 2009. At the hearing, Rep. Taylor asked Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Jr. if there is money in the budget request specifically for mandatory buyouts. Woodley responded, “I don’t know of any money in the president’s budget for that purpose.” Woodley also said at the hearing that he would put into writing, upon Rep. Taylor’s request, that there would be no mandatory buyouts in 2009.

The Corps of Engineers’ study of comprehensive improvements for the Mississippi coast was supposed to be presented to Congress by Dec. 31, but it still has not been received. Because of this, no funding has been requested for items in the study, which would include projects such as coastal restoration, barrier islands restoration and flood damage reduction.

Woodley sent Rep. Taylor a letter in January in which he noted that the non-structural alternatives being evaluated by the Corps of Engineers to provide reduction of risk from future storms would be voluntary.

“It is my understanding that a strictly voluntary non-structural plan, including elevation of structures, buyouts and/or relocations, is one of the alternatives being evaluated as part of the study process,” Woodley stated in the letter.

“I am glad to finally get the record straight that there will not be any funding for mandatory buyouts in 2009,” Rep. Taylor said. “I look forward to the release of the Corps of Engineers’ final study for coastal improvements.”

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Gov. Barbour, South Mississippi needs answers

February 7, 2008

Gov. Haley Barbour needs to talk directly to the people of South Mississippi about the status of the recovery process and other issues.

And he should do so soon.

What does he need to talk about?

First: How does he justify the allocation - or reallocation - of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid? The governor has championed pouring money into expanding the port in Gulfport instead of spending more money for housing. He even thinks things are going so well in South Mississippi that some recovery money can be used to build a road in North Mississippi. But many are wary of this diversion of funds. If the governor has the facts and figures to prove that the needs in the coastal counties have been or are being met, then he needs to come here and confront his critics.

Second: The governor should share his thoughts on making insurance coverage more available and affordable. Is he interested in a regional approach? Is he lobbying senators - and the president - for a federal response, such as a national multi-peril policy?

Third: Why is the governor so sold on using the Pascagoula River and the Mississippi Sound to flush out a salt dome at Richton? Many of his constituents are alarmed at the proposal and are stunned that the governor says simply: trust the system.

South Mississippians need to personally hear the governor make his case on these and other matters. And they need to hear from him soon.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Insurance companies in Florida used loophole in law to bypass required rate savings

BY JULIE PATEL | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Originally published 07:10 a.m., February 6, 2008
Updated 07:10 a.m., February 6, 2008

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It appears some of the state's biggest insurers tried to use loopholes in a law to skirt a requirement that they pass savings from a state-backed financial safety net to homeowners.

That's one of the conclusions drawn Tuesday after two days of Senate hearings on compliance with a law passed last year to quell Florida's property insurance crisis.

Executives from insurance companies testified under oath about why they didn't reduce prices for consumers, as the Legislature demanded last year in exchange for offering insurers cheaper backup storm coverage.

With the annual legislative session starting in March, lawmakers said they could consider fixing loopholes in last year's law.

In one such gap, the law didn't explicitly indicate methods insurers can't use to predict risk and ultimately set insurance policy prices, said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach.

Insurers such as Allstate Floridian Insurance Co. and Nationwide Insurance Co. of Florida based rate increase requests last year on storm risks over the next five years instead of the customary 100 years. A special state commission approves risk prediction methods, but use of unapproved methods, such as the five-year projection, results in higher insurance rates.

"This is the single most significant issue that we've heard," said Geller, co-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Property Insurance Accountability, formed last month to hold insurers accountable for rate cuts that legislators pledged to the state's homeowners last year. "If we simply resolved that issue, I think we'd resolve half the disputes we're having."

Another issue senators may want to look at during the regular session, Geller said, is whether to clarify a state law enacted in 2006 that allows insurers to earn "reasonable profits."

State insurance regulators have recommended insurance companies use a 3.7 profit margin — not including income earned on investments — to calculate property insurance prices. But executives from companies such as Allstate Floridian, Nationwide and Hartford Insurance Co. of the Midwest testified that they used profit margins of 15 percent or more to calculate rate requests last year. What's more, Hartford officials said they used $1 billion last year to buy back stock. Allstate also has bought back stock in recent years.

The Senate committee might continue its hearings on Feb. 18 or 19 to discuss findings and recommendations such as those outlined by Geller. If there's time before the Feb. 29 deadline for final drafts of new bills for the coming legislative session, the committee might ask rating agencies, risk predicting companies and reinsurers to testify about their relationships with the insurance industry.

This week's hearings are the latest battle in a long feud between state government leaders and the property insurance industry. Last year, legislators expanded the state reinsurance program and expected insurers to pass along the savings by cutting homeowner coverage prices. But many insurers requested rate increases that were rejected by regulators.

One insurer, American Strategic Insurance Corp., managed to reduce rates last year by a statewide average of 20 percent, and senators praised the company during the hearings.

In December, Gov. Charlie Crist threatened to sue the insurance industry, and state Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty last month tried banning Allstate Insurance Co. and nine affiliates from selling new insurance policies statewide until they turn over all the financial documents his office wants as part of an investigation. A state appeals court blocked McCarty and now the two sides are locked in litigation.

State insurance regulators and legislators at the hearings said they thought modeling – or methods used to predict the risks of hurricanes that help set policy prices – had been addressed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. That's when insurers said they needed computer models using tens of thousands of years of hurricane data to help predict risks in the long term to level out drastic fluctuations in the short term.

Legislators in Florida and several other states approved the models even though rates shot up. But after damaging hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, industry officials started saying they needed to project risks five years out because they believed this is a time of increased hurricane activity, in part because of warming sea surface waters.

State law doesn't explicitly prohibit insurers from using the models, according to testimony at the hearings. Allstate and Florida Farm Bureau General Insurance Co. use the near-term methods to estimate risks that ultimately determine rates.

Insurance executives said the near-term projection helps them better assess risk and is backed by scientists at modeling companies.

State officials said modeling company executives developed the five-year method to meet demand from insurers.

"The short-term model was developed at the behest of the insurance industry," Deputy Insurance Commissioner Belinda Miller said.

Some senators said they think the law passed last year will work as long as regulators continue rejecting proposed rate hikes. Rate requests from Allstate, Hartford and Florida Farm were rejected last year and are pending negotiation or final decisions.

"They can use the models all they want until the cows come home, but (regulators) haven't approved a penny" in situations where they thought insurers were unreasonable, said Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge.

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6 Coast Democrats oppose Barbour road plan

JACKSON -- A roundup of Tuesday's action at the Capitol:

• Citing Hurricane Katrina concerns, six South Mississippi Democrats said in a statement they oppose Gov. Haley Barbour's plan to spend $25 million in Katrina savings for road improvements in north Mississippi.

Since a rules change allowed the state to avoid paying millions to match federal spending on Katrina rebuilding projects, Barbour wants to use about $108 million of $268 million that had been socked away to replenish the "rainy day" fund and to make $25 million in improvements that would benefit a Toyota plant in Lee County.

Sens. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, Debbie Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, Ezell Lee, D-Picayune and Reps. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Sellers, Randall Patterson, D-Biloxi, and Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian, were listed on the statement.

"Many residents of the areas directly impacted by Katrina still reside in FEMA trailers, insurance remains unaffordable, small businesses are struggling and Hancock County doesn't have a jail," the statement said. "To us, this is simply a matter of priorities and our priority is rebuilding the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We hope that this 'found money' will be used to further our recovery from Katrina."

• Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds would be allowed to hire and fire Department of Education personnel without taking matters to the personnel board under a bill the Senate Education Committee agreed on. The provision, designed to give the department more flexibility to reorganize, would be for a year.

• The Senate Education Committee voted to authorize a mentoring program for young teachers. The program, which would utilize retired or long-serving teachers and pay them up to $1,000 a year, is designed to combat the loss of many of the state's recently hired teachers.

• The committee also approved longevity pay increases of up to $794 a year for teachers who have taught at least 25 years.

• The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would restrict eminent domain from being declared on a parcel for a commercial venture, but the law would still allow governments and utility companies to use eminent domain for roads, utility work and levees and other projects for the public.

• The House Military Affairs Committee approved a tuition waiver for spouses of those serving with the National Guard. Spouses could forgo paying up to 50 percent of their tuition at both four-year and two-year schools.

The bill would also give "tuition stabilization" for up to $4,500 for active duty members of the National Guard. The bill has been referred to the appropriations committee.

• Members of the Legislature will meet this morning at the Capitol to ride to memorial services in Bay St. Louis for Joseph P. "Jody" Compretta Jr., son of House Speaker Pro Tem J.P. Compretta, who represents Hancock County. Compretta, 39, died in an accident at the Endymion parade in New Orleans on Saturday.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Secrets, Lies And Documents - The Sequel

The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 4, 2008

Even after we agreed to accept more risk in our policies, big insurance not only reneged on their promise to lower rates for Floridians, they continued to increase them.

And while the Office of Insurance Regulation should be applauded for its decision to hold hearings to find why we were lied to, they are also getting a real sample of what lengths insurance companies will endure to fatten their bottom lines at the expense of consumers.

Having battled these entities for over 20 years, I have seen firsthand how they will do anything to avoid exposing upper management tactics that would confirm our fears about an industry that has done everything possible to avoid accountability.

Furthermore, having chaired the American Association for Justice's Bad Faith Group, I also have been witness to the much-sought-after Allstate-McKinsey documents along with similar unfair claims tactics used by carriers as far back as the early 1990s.

In Missouri, Allstate chose to pay a $25,000 a day fine rather than turn over key management documents regarding the tactics and goals of its claims practices.

In Michigan, State Farm was sanctioned for failure to produce over 2,000 McKinsey-related documents when ordered to do so. The landmark case of Campbell vs. State Farm, which began in Utah and made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court over a course of 23 years, uncovered documents detailing a systematic program to underpay legitimate claims.

Yet another regulatory action in South Dakota cost Farmers Insurance Company and its shareholders a $750,000 fine for having a program where cash incentives were used to encourage adjusters to underpay claims.

These tactics of secrecy represent an underlying business strategy to prevent public scrutiny of a highly regulated business that involves the public's trust. They delay and deny with the hope that the other side will simply give up as we become numb to high rates and the broken promise of fast and full payment on legitimate claims. Policyholders, governments and even shareholders suffer as insurance industry's management thumbs its nose at us.

While hearings and commissions will reveal more bad news, special-interest promises remain the biggest blockade to establishing true reform. Until the army insurance lobbyist roaming our capital is removed, along with their influence on the political system, it will remain broken.

It is time for us to enforce honesty and fair play upon an industry, which agreed to be regulated in order to do business in our state, with nothing less than an iron fist.

William F. "Chip" Merlin is managing partner of Merlin Law Group in Tampa.

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AG says State Farm lawsuit based on 'lies, speculation and innuendo'

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. -- A lawsuit filed by State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. that accuses Attorney General Jim Hood of using the threat of criminal charges to force settlements in civil lawsuits is based on "lies, speculation, and innuendo," Hood said in court papers.
State Farm sued Hood in September, claiming he violated his part of a January 2007 settlement in which the attorney general's office agreed to end its criminal investigation over the company's handling of Hurricane Katrina claims. A judge ordered Hood to temporarily shut down the probe.

The accusations in court documents have intensified over the past week as both sides prepare for a hearing on Wednesday.

"Before allowing State Farm to use this court as a three ring circus to parade its inflammatory evidentiary rhetoric of innuendo, guilt by association, and smears, there should be some factual basis alleged to support a conclusion of retaliation and/or harassment," Hood said in papers filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

Jonathan Freed, a State Farm spokesman told The Associated Press on Friday, that the insurer is ready to "proceed with our case and we're looking forward to airing these issues in court."

Hood asked the court to dissolve the restraining order and allow him to resume his investigation. Hood's 19-page filing came just days after State Farm used some of the strongest language yet in accusing the second-term attorney general of wrongdoing.

The company claimed Hood and wealthy plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who is facing corruption and contempt charges in other cases, participated in an "extortion conspiracy" by trying to force the company to settle civil litigation with private attorneys.

The court battle heated up when State Farm began urging a judge to allow the company to question Scruggs under oath. Hood has called Scruggs his "confidential informant" and has said Scruggs provided allegedly incriminating information about State Farm.

"General Hood is clearly concerned that his co-conspirator will either tell the truth or invoke the Fifth Amendment on specific questions related to their extortion conspiracy," State Farm said in a motion filed Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills on Friday ordered Scruggs to submit to the questioning by 5 p.m. Monday. Scruggs will likely invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when questioned because of the pending charges against him.

Scruggs, one of the most influential plaintiffs lawyers in the country, is facing federal charges that he conspired with several associates to bribe a judge in an unrelated dispute over $26.5 million in fees from a mass settlement of Katrina claims. He's facing contempt charges in Alabama for allegedly violating a federal judge's order by giving leaked Katrina assessment documents to Hood rather than returning them to the company from which they were taken.

Scruggs has denied wrongdoing in either case. Scruggs is not a party to the lawsuit State Farm filed against Hood, but the company claims he worked in collusion with Hood.

The January 2007 agreement that State Farm claims Hood violated by resuming a criminal investigation was part of a broader settlement that called for State Farm to reopen and possibly pay thousands of policyholder claims. However, a federal judge refused to sign off the terms of deal and State Farm later entered into another agreement with George Dale, who was then Mississippi's Insurance Commissioner.

In August 2007, State Farm received a new subpoena for records from a grand jury. Less than a month later, the company sued Hood in an effort to stop the grand jury's investigation.

Hood claims he wasn't reopening the same investigation, rather he was probing new claims.

Hood has argued that he never provided "blanket immunity" from future investigations.

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