Waco Tribune-Herald editorial: Insurance industry shouldn’t have special protections that everyday Texans, businesses lack

EDITORIAL: Insurance industry shouldn’t have special protections that everyday Texans, businesses lack

May 21, 2015

Waco Tribune-Herald

The Texas AARP director calls it “the worst consumer bill in living memory.” A Texas consumer watchdog group dubs it the “Insurance Immunity Act.” We brand it the most crooked bill of the 84th Texas Legislature — and given Central Texans have been living under the threat of hail, rain and high winds for much of this month, more of us ought to be paying close attention to this sorry, self-serving legislation.

Fortunately for state leaders, they have constituents so whipped up about such things as Shariah law, same-sex marriage and Navy SEALs and Green Berets confiscating our guns come summer that everyday Texans — those who expect insurance companies to cover claims when their roofs suffer wind, hail or rain damage — may find they’ve been cleverly outmaneuvered by elected officials.

Senate Bill 1628 would allow insurance companies to significantly reduce their chances of facing lawsuits, even if businesses and homeowners believe they’ve been cheated of valid property damage claims. Not only would it hinder those who feel they’ve been shafted on legitimate claims (and when they’re most vulnerable), it penalizes possibly innocent mistakes by the consumer while creating an uphill legal battle to hold professional insurance company personnel accountable.

Oh, did we mention the bill’s author, Sen. Larry Taylor, is an insurance agent? Surely no conflict of interest there.

Taylor says all this will lower premiums and end “catastrophic weather lawsuit abuse.” That’s a worthy enough goal, given the murky world of fly-by-night roofers and lawyers who press excessive claims in the wake of damaging storms. But this legislation oversteps its effort at needed reform, safeguarding the insurance industry to such a degree it places policyholders among the powerless and the guilty.

And, frankly, we’re getting a little tired of a political party intent on making it harder and harder for ordinary citizens to pursue legal redress even as it sues the federal government with great abandon and glee. Republicans are right to press legitimate constitutional issues in court. So why is it wrong for homeowners and businesses to do the same about basic rights?

As an Amarillo businessman sufficiently burned by his insurance company wrote in protesting this bill: “I want all of my rights, including those to fight in state court, and to punish insurance companies that have treated others the way I have been treated.”

Greatest irony: This bill could actually render insurance policies worthless if more consumers conclude they won’t get a fair shake. Honest insurance industry magnates should be rallying against this legislation.

Many businesses are understandably resisting, including Austin car dealer Steve Late, who expressed to legislators his amazement that such a law might penalize him: “The problem, however, is that the scope of the damage and the cost of the repairs is precisely the matter likely to be in dispute between a policyholder and an insurance company. To criminalize the efforts of a business like mine to receive every dollar we are owed under our policy would have a chilling effect on Texas’ business environment.”

Sen. Rodney Ellis put it best before the Texas Senate passed this bill: “Through all of the nuances and details of this bill, let’s be clear what it does: It offers immunity to those who break the law and denies consumers the ability to hold wrongdoers accountable. It defies logic that we should offer immunity to a whole set of bad actors — no matter how dishonest or unfair they are — simply because they happen to work for an insurance company.”

This is the latest of a long line of bills where lawmakers seem more beholden to industry lobbyists than constituents back home. Sen. Brian Birdwell, whose district includes Waco, should be ashamed of his role in voting for this. It’s further evidence Texans will quietly lose their individual freedoms, one by one, in the Statehouse in Austin — and not at the hands of the U.S. military.