Insurance lobby making stand against bills to help California fire victims

The measures, both opposed by the insurance lobby, were passed by the state Senate Insurance Committee on Wednesday afternoon.|

The property-and-casualty insurance industry is making a last-minute bid to derail or significantly alter two pieces of legislation that would bring relief to fire victims who lost their homes in October, bill supporters said Tuesday.

The measures will be voted on by the state Senate Insurance Committee this afternoon.

“The insurance companies are working behind the scenes to defeat or dramatically water down the bills we have proposed to help last year’s fire victims with additional assistance to get on with their lives,” said state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who has pushed for greater consumer safeguards for homeowners.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, has sponsored one of the measures, Senate ?Bill 897, which would require carriers to pay out at least ?80 percent of the maximum limit under a homeowner’s personal property coverage without requiring policyholders to itemize their losses. The measure would apply retroactively to those who filed claims in the October fires, which have triggered about ?$10 billion in insurance claims in the North Bay. McGuire said fire victims should not have “to relive the most horrific night of their lives and recall an attempt to put a price on their most priceless possessions via a cumbersome itemized list.”

But the insurance industry is opposed to the bill’s language, especially the provision that would make it retroactive to help fire victims from last year. “I don’t believe it’s fair to change the rules midway in,” said Mark Sektnan, vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, has sponsored the other piece of legislation, Senate Bill 894, which would allow policyholders to combine their homeowner policies for different coverage areas - such as their primary dwelling, other structures, contents and living expenses - to pay for any of the covered uses.

One survey has found about two-thirds of North Bay fire victims are underinsured. Many of them want to use portions of their unspent funds in one category toward rebuilding their primary residence. The Dodd bill also would expand the insurance coverage for replacement living expenses from two years to three years, and increase from one year to two years the length that carriers would be required to renew a homeowner policy in the aftermath of such disasters.

Insurers oppose the Dodd bill, arguing that policyholders should only be reimbursed by how much they actually lost, not the maximum amount of their various coverage limits in their overall policy. Sektnan warned that the policy changes proposed in both bills could result in higher premiums for Californians.

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