By Jeff McDonald, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
August 8, 2020
The public advocacy group that overhauled the California insurance industry more than 30 years ago is calling on Senate President Toni Atkins to intervene in the legislative process to address alleged improprieties related to new legislation that could raise insurance rates.
Consumer Watchdog, the Los Angeles nonprofit that introduced and helped pass Proposition 103 in 1988, said its testimony at a hearing earlier this week against a bill backed by insurance companies was wrongly cut off after only a few seconds even though the group was told it would have four minutes before the Senate Insurance Committee.
Meanwhile, insurance lobbyists were allotted five minutes to make their argument in favor of Assembly Bill 2167, Consumer Watchdog Founder Harvey Rosenfield wrote in a formal request to Atkins, the San Diego Democrat who presides over the California Senate.
“The legislative procedures and protocols that normally safeguard Californians against hasty and dangerous actions have been discarded as the insurance industry tries to ramrod AB 2167 through the Senate,” Rosenfield said.
According to supporters, AB 2167 would make it easier for homeowners to buy insurance in places that are vulnerable to wildfires, which has become a problem in recent years due to the spate of destructive fires across California.
The legislation — which is also opposed by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara —also calls on the Department of Insurance to “fast track” approvals where policies have become too costly or unavailable due to persistent fire threats.
“The procedures that the Senate has put in place in response to the pandemic, though understandable, have aided the industry’s strategy by greatly restricting public scrutiny of AB 2167,” Rosenfield said.
Rosenfield is asking Atkins to delay consideration of the legislation until next year, because the precautions taken by lawmakers to protect against COVID-19 have inhibited public debate over the bill, which he said would significantly raise homeowner’s insurance rates.
“A national insurance expert and actuary has found that a single provision of the bill will cause 40 percent rate increases in the first year alone,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman for Atkins said Friday that the letter had just been delivered Thursday.
“We will review the contents and respond as appropriate,” she said by email.