Jim Beam column:Governor defends storm victims
Published 7:40 am Thursday, March 17, 2022
Gov. John Bel Edwards shined the spotlight on the plight of hurricane victims in the state during his Monday address to the Legislature at its opening session, and three Southwest Louisiana victims were recognized. Legislators will also try to reform the property insurance system at their session.
Edwards said citizens are treated unfairly in the aftermath of a natural disaster, “which, unfortunately, here in Louisiana happens too often.” He said the federal government hasn’t allocated sufficient funds for Louisiana to recover from Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Ida, and “it’s a damn shame that they haven’t.”
People in the nation’s capital say aid is coming, he said, and he said he believes it will … “but I don’t blame folks for feeling like they’ve been left behind.”
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The governor said the unacceptable ways citizens are being taken advantage of when they are at their most vulnerable isn’t just a federal problem. He mentioned landlords “who have used it as an opportunity for a cash grab” and said it’s unacceptable “that many residents are more scared of their insurance companies than the storm itself.”
Edwards said he hopes all of that can be changed. He mentioned Kerry Anderson who had a beautiful home in Lake Charles that was destroyed by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. He said Anderson is still battling her insurance company after 18 months trying to get it to pay even a fraction of what she is owed.
“Kerry is also a breast cancer patient. Her sole focus right now should be on fighting cancer, not fighting with her insurance company,” Edwards said.
Nick Perioux, owner of Pat’s of Henderson of Lake Charles, was in the House balcony Monday. The governor said Pat’s is an iconic restaurant that opened its doors in 1977. Perioux hired a contractor to get the restaurant back up and running after the hurricanes, but Edwards said he had to struggle with his insurance company until November of last year .
The restaurant won’t open until June, the governor said, “nearly two years after the storm. And I can’t wait to go back when it does.”
Edwards said Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church of Lake Charles has endured a similar story. Co-Pastor George Rodrigues wasn’t able to get the benefits to which the church was entitled until last summer and church facilities still aren’t back to 100 percent.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have got to hold insurance companies more accountable,” the governor said.
“Insurance is a wonderful thing,” he said, “when it functions as intended. Unfortunately, companies don’t always work in good faith with homeowners. All we’re asking is that they play by the rules.”
Edwards said his legislative package includes a number of bills focused on hurricane deductibles, claim transparency, enforcing insurance fraud laws against bad actors, and revamping the adjuster registry.
State Sen. Jeremy Stine, R-Lake Charles, is sponsoring a half-dozen insurance bills aimed at problems encountered by citizens all across south Louisiana. They deal with increased penalties for insurance companies failing to pay claims in a timely manner, foreign or alien insurers, mediation to settle claims, clarification of the claims process and the setting up of a registry of adjusters.
Sen. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, wants to limit the number of insurance adjusters on a single claim to three. Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, wants companies to notify policyholders about renewals, rate increases, changes in deductibles, and reduction in limits at least 30 days prior to the policy’s expiration date.
Sen. Rick Talbot, R-River Ridge, wants the insurance commissioner to publish a catastrophe claims consumer guide. Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, wants to set rules for private insurance adjusters.
Rep. Michael Firment, R-Pollock, wants property insurance policies explained in detail for policyholders. Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, wants to create the Louisiana Named Storm Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority.
Other legislators are sponsoring similar bills. More than two dozen deal with property and casualty insurance.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to establish laws that force insurers of homes and businesses to live up to their responsibilities. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and insurance officials have cautioned at every legislative session that the enactment of laws that are too restrictive on companies will result in those companies leaving the state.
While that is true, the hurricanes of 2020 and 2021 have made it clear that changes are necessary. Gov. Edwards made an excellent case for those who have been victims of unfair practices, and many of them are still hurting much too long after the storms.