Waiting for Godot: TWIA style

Sometimes, watching a TWIA board meeting is like watching an absurdist French play. In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Becket presents a two hour play in which the two characters Vladimir and Estragon waste away their existence waiting endlessly for “Godot,” who is clearly never coming. Substitute an Attorney General opinion authorizing an assessment against Texas insurers for Godot and at least some TWIA board members for Vladimir and Estragon and you get an almost perfect re-interpretation of the 1950s French existentialist classic.

Offering a carrot in Waiting for Godot

To be less high-falutin’, however, when the TWIA board spend hours saying they want to “delay” consideration of an assessment in 2013 of Texas Insurers for 2008’s Hurricane Ike until the Texas Attorney General opines that they have the power to do so, they are wasting time on something that will never happen.  To begin with, contrary to a myth that seems to have received its genesis at yesterday’s board meeting, the Texas Attorney General has not been directly asked (yet) whether TWIA currently now has authority to assess insurers for Ike. Of course, the TWIA board can wile away its time on whatever diversion it chooses; we all probably do that.  But when TWIA sees its exposure growing at 4% per year, acknowledges that it is barely solvent if one counts a paltry catastrophe reserve trust fund, acknowledges that its rates are not actuarially sound, and realizes that not a single of its legislative recommendations got any traction, a focus on this pipe dream rather than a relentless look at reality looks — and is — absurd.

The TWIA board considers an assessment

The TWIA board considers an assessment

One reason the Texas Attorney General will not provide what some TWIA board members claim to await is that no one asked the Attorney General to do so. The only pending attorney general request for an opinion that relates to TWIA comes from Corpus Christi Texas House Representative Todd Hunter in RQ-1134-GA filed in July of 2013.  But that request does not ask whether TWIA has the authority to issue an assessment today under a statute that was repealed in 2009. Rather, it asks whether it would be “negligence and/or a failure of authority or responsibility of duties” for TWIA not to assess today. But, as anyone with a background in law knows, it is quite possible for TWIA to have the authority to do something and yet, in the exercise of its business judgment, not to be “negligent” or in breach of its duties not to do so. Unless, therefore, Attorney General Abbott, a current gubernatorial candidate, is eager to step into this highly politicized thicket and lose votes on the Texas coast, he can answer the questions posed without addressing the core issue of whether TWIA has authority to assess. Only if the Attorney General wants to go out of his way to find that TWIA is negligent in assessing today would he have an obligation to resolve the predicate question of whether TWIA has authority to do so.

Moreover, to pretend that there might really be an affirmative answer to the authority question or that, really, the matter is quite unclear is, I fear, at best an exercise in undue politeness. For reasons I have set forth before here, here and here, this is, on reflection, not a particularly close question. The statute that gave TWIA authority to make the kind of half billion dollar assessment it came within one vote of making yesterday was repealed in 2009. It was repealed — by at least one of the legislators who yesterday urged an assessment — in favor of a system that provided a different system for financing losses after a tropical storm. It was repealed in part precisely because under the old system the Texas fisc was directly jeopardized by a TWIA assessment: insurers got to credit payments of the assessment against otherwise owing premium taxes.

It is just preposterous to think that the Texas legislature, if it wanted to prevent assessments for new storms but leave assessment authority in place for old storms would have chosen simply to repeal the old law rather than place a temporal limitation on the authority to assess. It is bizarre to think that if Texas was willing to place its continuing fisc in jeopardy for old storms but not for new, it would not have done something a little more nuanced that simply repealing the old law. It is even more peculiar to suggest, as may have been done yesterday, that Texas magically preserved the ability to assess for Ike but repealed the premium tax credit so as to preserve its fisc.  If it did so, that provision of the statute must have been written in invisible ink.  If TWIA’s lawyers are, as is claimed, actually telling board members, some of whom may not want to hear it, that the matter is ambiguous, that is a failure of courage or competence over reason.

But, actually, it was not so much parallels to Samuel Beckett that troubled me most in watching the TWIA board meeting yesterday.  It was the parallel to Franz Kafka and other writers who focus on tyranny. Here’s the most troubling quote: “I would have to support this assessment because it would be good for the policyholders and that’s who we represent and that’s basically who I’d have to be in support of.”  (1:42 to 1:43 of this recording) Sorry, but at best that is a hopelessly shallow analysis.  It might be equally “good” for the policyholder if Texas insurance agents had their homes confiscated and sold to pay for Ike losses or if Michael Dell was told he had to personally recapitalize TWIA.  Although Texas insurers may have a good deal of money and it takes a little imagination to see State Farm or Allstate as the victims of tyranny, the fact that a government-sponsored entity may “need” money for some public good is not authority to reach into the bank account of anyone — insurer, wealthy person or poor person — and simply take their money without legislative authorization. That is true even if the insurance industry “got away” with paying too low an assessment back in 2008. And, since Texas courts are likely to agree with this point, it is in fact not good for policyholders to have their money wasted paying lawyers defending an indefensible position.

Footnote 1: This is not to say that asking whether TWIA was negligent in not assessing more heavily back in 2009 is a bad question or an easy question. I adhere to my view that this is a reasonable question.  I am just saying that an answer to this question will not provide guidance on whether TWIA can legally assess today.

 

 

TWIA board declines to assess insurers for Ike — for now

The board of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association narrowly defeated a motion today that would have assessed Texas insurers $575 million for losses arising out of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Opponents of the measure — all from Texas insurance companies —  saw no urgency to an immediate assessment and, in light of what they believed was uncertain legal authority to do so under a repealed statute, wanted to await a requested legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Supporters of the measure — all representing coastal interests — asserted that an Attorney General opinion would not be definitive; in their view, the only way to determine the obligations of Texas insurers was to go ahead and demand the money, recognizing that insurers would file suit to block the assessment and that insurers would not actually pay any money until well into future hurricane seasons. The decision came after a two and a half hour closed session between the TWIA board and its attorneys.

Much other news emerged from the TWIA board meeting.

  1. The board voted to increase premiums 5% on both residential and commercial properties next year.
  2. The board heard that earlier plans to attempt to raise $500 million in pre-event securities — a bond anticipation note (“BAN”) — now appeared unlikely to continue. The board was advised that it would take 60 days to actually consummate the borrowing and that would now put receipt of funds past the peak of hurricane season. The board instead unanimously authorized the TWIA staff to pursue swiftly additional liquidity via a $200 million line of credit and $250 million in borrowing that, for reasons not made clear, would not be considered a pre-event security, and that would be secured by proceeds from any Class 2 or Class 3 securities that would be issued following a major storm. Costs on the line of credit and the additional borrowing were said to be much lower than would have been the case for the BAN.
  3. Although TWIA has thus far faced no storms of consequence this year, it anticipates being able to contribute only $15 million more to its $180 million catastrophe reserve trust fund that forms the first line of defense against any substantial claims.  This low contribution is apparently due to continuing expenses from Hurricane Ike. It also means, however, that even with a continuing spate of good luck this year from a thus -far quiet Gulf of Mexico, TWIA will go into next hurricane season perilously undercapitalized.
  4. Despite all the talk about depopulating TWIA, it continues to grow rapidly.  Exposure grew at 4% this past year and policies at 3%.  TWIA staff said they believed this trend would continue.  The substantial rate of growth is continuing notwithstanding what one board member described as concern among bankers and other lends in the area as to whether TWIA could stand up to a major storm. Since TWIA’s funding mechanisms are stated in constant dollars and not as percentages of exposure, this continued growth further weakens TWIA’s ability to withstand moderate or severe storms.
  5. The board voted 8-1 to approve a statement by one of its board members indicating the issue of whether to assess for Hurricane Ike was still open.
  6. Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber expressed a narrow view of her authority to supervise TWIA.  When asked whether TDI would need to approve any assessment against insurers, Commissioner Rathgeber said she viewed her authority as limited to whether TWIA had followed proper practices and procedures and that she would not second guess its decisions. When asked whether that meant TDI was neutral on assessing insurers, Commissioner Rathgeber said she would need to speak with TDI attorneys.
  7. The 4-4-1 vote came despite pleas from some coastal interests that board members from insurance companies recuse themselves based on a conflict of interest. Opponents of the recusal plea noted that the arguments might equally well apply to persons “representing” coastal interests and that, in any event, the legislature had specifically set up a board with interest group representation.

Catrisk will have more on the eventful TWIA board meeting later in the week.

Experts still predicting active hurricane season

Most mornings I wake up and, after checking the fate of certain baseball teams and world peace, neither of which have had good months,  wander over to the Weather Underground and see if anything is going on in the tropics. It’s been very quiet recently. Does this mean that the experts have been wrong and Texas, among others, is going to escape 2013 without significant storm damage?  Does this mean TWIA will be able to make it at least one more year without running out of money? Has the failure of Texas to address windstorm insurance reform during the past regular legislative session or over the course of three special sessions been, in fact, a brilliant allocation of time?

Unfortunately, the experts say the absence of much tropical activity thus far this summer doesn’t matter that much.  The National Weather Service and Climate Prediction Center says we most likely have 9-15 named storms ahead of us in the Atlantic, 6-9 hurricanes and 3-5 major (Category 3-5) hurricanes. The August 2 forecast from Colorado State University, which for reasons unknown to me is a leader in this area notwithstanding the rarity of tropical moisture affecting Fort Collins, predicts 14 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes remaining. CSU sees a 43% chance for at least one hurricane hitting Texas in the remainder of the hurricane season and a 16% chance of a major hurricane impact. Tropical Storm Risk, a private organization affiliated with University College London and with close ties to the insurance and reinsurance industries, reports in its August forecast a a 50% probability that this hurricane season will be the top “tercile,” which means that it will be worse than 2/3 of other hurricane seasons in terms of “Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” a proxy for the destructive power of hurricanes when they hit land.

Now, all of this would not matter if predictions made in August had little value.  After all, although it is seldom reported, predictions made in winter or spring about the forthcoming hurricane season are little better — and sometimes worse — than a blind prediction that the season will be average. Unfortunately, by the time August rolls around, and as shown in the graph below, there is enough climate data for experts to make pretty reliable predictions. It’s these predictions on which the popular press should be focusing. So, the fact that these experts — and others — are persisting in their prediction of a bad hurricane season are worrying.  14 storms over the 113 days left in “hurricane season” means one could see about a storm a week in the near future.

Credits, by the way, to Dr. Jeff Masters, of the Weather Underground for writing an excellent blog entry from which much of the material here has been adapted.

Third special session, but still no windstorm insurance reform on the agenda

Texas Governor Rick Perry called a third special session of the Texas legislature yesterday to address transportation issues in Texas but did not add windstorm insurance to the agenda items. In his statement explaining the special session for transportation, Governor Perry wrote, “Inaction is a Washington-style attempt to kick a can down the road – but everybody in Texas knows we’re rapidly running out of roads to kick that can down.” Unfortunately, this assertion applies equally well to windstorm insurance reform.  As set forth repeatedly on this blog and in the press, the failure to address this issue right now and reform the currently broken system leaves coastal residents at serious risk and threatens the state economy.

Alas.

Texas Insurance Commissioner still mulling bond anticipation notes

Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber has not reached a decision yet on whether to accede to the request of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and others that she overturn the refusal of her predecessor Eleanor Kitzman to borrow about $500 million to help pay any claims that the financially troubled insurer might have  this summer. A response by TWIA to a public information request states that “TWIA is working with the Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Public Finance Authority to explore all funding options, including the BAN [bond anticipation notes].” According to TWIA, it has not heard anything further from lenders about whether they are still willing, in light of rising market interest rates, to enter into a BAN deal on the same terms as they apparently were this spring. The failure to obtain a reversal likely means, as TWIA Board Member Alice Gannon candidly acknowledged at a June board meeting, that TWIA would not be able to pay many claims in timely fashion should a significant storm occur during the remainder of the 2013 hurricane season.

Although Commissioner Rathgeber has not made a decision yet, in some sense the absence of a decision comes close to an upholding of her predecessor’s determination. One of the touted advantages of the BAN had been that it would have permitted TWIA to purchase reinsurance that attached at $2.2 billion of losses and provided an extra $250 million worth of reinsurance. Right now, the attachment point on its $1 billion of reinsurance stands at $1.7 billion, creating what TWIA hopes (unrealistically perhaps) is a $2.7 billion stack of protection. But the election to go to the higher level attachment point appears to have expired on July 15.  So, unless a new deal with the reinsurers can be struck, that advantage of pre-event borrowing seems to have disappeared. Moreover, it is not clear that a bond anticipation note can be obtained on the same terms as were available in the spring when interest rates were lower. Renegotiating the terms of a BAN will take some time even if Rathgeber ultimately overturns the decision in whole or in part.  (I say in part because some of the arguments against a BAN have less force if the amount borrowed were, say $100-$200 million rather than $500 million). Each day that goes by with the Kitzman decision in force is a day deeper into the heart of hurricane season in which TWIA is particularly vulnerable.

One possible reason for the Rathgeber delay is the relationship between the BAN and the desire of many to shrink TWIA. Many believe that TWIA’s problems would be more manageable if it’s maximum exposure were reduced to the levels that existed before Hurricane Ike or even earlier. They believe TWIA’s problems become progressively more intractable as ever more people develop the Texas coast based on an assumption of continued subsidized rates.  If TWIA borrows money that requires it to repay various fixed sums, it is going to depend on its premium base not shrinking much.  Indeed, if I were a lender I might want various covenants protecting me from a depopulation of TWIA. I would at least price that risk into the interest rate charged. Borrowing money via a bond anticipation note therefore makes it more difficult for any special session of the legislature to develop a plan substantially to reform TWIA.  Thus, although the prospects of such a special session on windstorm insurance reform seem rather dim at present, Governor Perry has not taken it entirely off the table. Commissioner Rathgeber, who likely has her pulse on the mood of the legislature and the governor, may well be balancing the timing of any decision with beliefs on the prospects for reform.

Great news or the calm before the storm?

Great news or the calm before the storm?

Of course, the one good piece of news is that the Gulf of Mexico has, contrary to most predictions, been quiet so far this summer. As a result, TWIA’s financial situation has not been tested. Indeed, it should be running a solid profit for the past few months. Unfortunately, someone might have made the same observation about the first half of the tornado season in the midwest this spring.  Remember all those articles expressing puzzlement about where all the tornados were?  You can find some here, here and here. As residents of Granbury, Texas, Moore, Oklahoma, El Reno, Oklahoma and others can attest, however, predictions about long run climactic events can not be based on a few months of experience. Whether or not TWIA gets to borrow $500 million or some lesser some based on a decision later this summer by Commissioner Rathgeber, the state and TWIA’s policyholders need to hope that Hurricanes 2013 is not like Tornados 2013 in which all was quiet for the first half of the season, only to see historically devastating outbreaks during the second half.

A Catrisk Nap

Aside

Clip art perfectly made for my trip

Clip art perfectly made for my trip

I’ll be heading off for about two weeks to an English-speaking place where there are volcanos and earthquakes and even an occasional tsunami, but no hurricanes.  During that time, I’m going to hope that nothing too dramatic happens on the TWIA front and there aren’t any storms that threaten the Texas coast.  If something major does occur — Governor Perry adds TWIA to the special session agenda, Commissioner Rathgeber authorizes TWIA to get $500 million loan, a major hurricane threatens Texas, I’ll try to break away from family fun in order to keep readers informed.  But don’t expect interactive graphics or anything particularly profound while I’m away.

But, not to fear.  Catrisk will be back in full force in about two weeks, telling it like it is on the issues of catastrophic risk transfer in Texas.

Thanks to all my readers for making this past year a very successful one for this blog.

 

Todd Hunter asks a good question

Todd Hunter at a recent town hall meeting on windstorm insurance

Todd Hunter at a recent town hall meeting on windstorm insurance

There is at least one thing Representative Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi, Texas) and I agree on: I am not a member of his fan club.  This blog has frequently criticized Representative Hunter for what I regard as his misguided views on windstorm insurance.  Frankly, neither he nor I appear to appreciate each other’s “style.” But, give credit where credit is due.  He has now actually asked a very good question.

In a letter last Friday to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Representative Hunter asked for an opinion stating whether a failure by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to assess private insurance companies fees to shore up its ability to pay claims amounts to negligence.  I raised the same issue several months ago in a prior blog post. Were the Attorney General to opine positively, it could open the door to legal action against the board of directors of TWIA or its officers during the critical 2008-2009 time period after Hurricane Ike and before HB 4409 repealed a statute under which TWIA might have issued further assessments against member insurers to shore up its finances. If it were to turn out either that any of the board members or officers has significant funds or if anyone responsible for any of their misdeeds either by operation of law or through an insurance contract has money, it could ultimately help bring some desperately needed additional funds into the largest windstorm on the Texas coast.

The problem with the preceding paragraph, however, is the number of “ifs” it contains.  First, the Texas Attorney General would need to opine positively.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. But he might well opine that this was a factual question on which he had no legal opinion.  He might opine that he lacked the facts on which to render an opinion.  He might remind Representative Hunter (who obviously knows this point) that negligence is not the same thing as strict liability. A realization in hindsight that the assessments were too low is not the same thing as a failure to make assessments that were plainly reasonable at the time such a decision would have been made.  Defendants in such a lawsuit would surely argue that making such an assessment and increasing the size of the Ike pie would just have made TWIA a stronger lawsuit magnet and left no more money for future claims. None of these responses would be particularly helpful to Representative Hunter.

Second, to make such a lawsuit more than a show trial or truth commission, someone needs to have actual money.  I don’t know for sure, but it would strike me as unlikely that any of the board members or officers have $400 million in assets upon which execution is practical. And while some of the large corporate entities affiliated with the board members would likely have that kind of cash, tagging the corporation for any sins of these board members will be a challenge. TWIA probably has some form of liability insurance to protect its board of directors, but until we see the policy it is hard to know what it covers or how much protection it would offer. In any event, no defendant is likely to write a check right away to the plaintiff in such a lawsuit . In any money ever comes in, it will likely be years from now — a long time for claimants against an insolvent TWIA to wait for payment that repairs their hurricane-damaged roof.

Third, one should expect to see defenses of statutory immunity and the statute of limitations raised.  Under section 2210.106 of the Texas Insurance Code, officers and directors have at least some immunity from damage lawsuits for many forms of ordinary negligence. And the statute of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty in Texas is four years. If that statute runs from the time of the original assessment, a lawsuit now is too late.  If it runs from the date that section 44 of HB 3 was signed into law and eliminated TWIA’s former ability to assess, the deadline would appear to be July 19, 2013, leaving precious little time in which to file such suit. (Hint, hint?)

It will be interesting to see how Attorney General Abbott responds to this request.  As I have suggested, the matter is not an open and shut case and bad decisions in hindsight does not negligence make. Still, there has always been something troubling about the process and chronology here.  TWIA, over which insurers have had substantial control, making assessments against insurers that are lower than that requested by its managers and that turned out to be low all the while watching or, more troublingly yet, possibly participating in, a statute that cuts off the ability of TWIA to assess for Ike. Representative Hunter deserves credit for asking the Attorney General to take a look at the legality of actions that are in part responsible for the predicament in which TWIA and its policyholders now find themselves.

Here’s a link to the letter from Representative Hunter. AG Opinion Request

Houston Chronicle publishes op-ed on TWIA problems

A protracted blue roof does not make for a happy voter

A protracted blue roof does not make for a happy voter

It’s by me.  So as not to infringe the Houston Chronicle’s copyright, I’m just going to publish an excerpt of it here.  But you can (and should!) read the whole thing by clicking on this link.

Chandler: Legislature should fix state’s storm insurance model

By Seth J. Chandler | July 6, 2013 | Updated: July 6, 2013 6:59pm

This hurricane season is looking very bad for property owners on the Texas Gulf Coast. That’s not just because climate experts are predicting more storms than average, but also because the coast’s largest windstorm property insurer, the state-sponsored Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, is on the edge of insolvency. Unfortunately, Gov. Rick Perry declined to add windstorm insurance reform to the agenda of the Legislature’s first special session and isn’t likely to add it to the ongoing second.

Texas cannot wait until 2015. The governor needs to show leadership and force legislators to try to avoid a calamity even if a positive outcome and a grand fix is not a sure bet.

What could break the impasse? Coastal legislators must recognize that it is simply not sustainable to keep the market out forever and ask inland insureds, who have problems of their own, to pay heavily and in perpetuity for the special risks found on the Texas coast. It doesn’t matter whether that is done directly with surcharges or indirectly through assessments or forcing insurers to sell policies at a major loss along the coast.

The alternative of providing coastal insureds with lower-priced insurance that does not pay when the time comes does their coastal constituents no favors. Inland legislators must recognize that it will take some time to wean the coast off the existing system. And everyone should realize that the law covering how much “extracontractual damages” victims of insurer misconduct should receive does not matter much when the insurer cannot pay its contractual obligations. If a long-term solution cannot be reached, the Legislature could at least clean out bugs in the statute that could reduce the odds of an insurance disaster for a few years.

Pity the governor and legislators who, after a storm leaves blue tarps on unpaid policyholders’ roofs and forces inland Texans to pick up the pieces, explain that they were awaiting the perfect time for legislative action or holding out for something a little better.

Chandler is Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center and principal of the blog catrisk.net, which addresses catastrophic risk transfer in Texas.

 

P.S. This op-ed is indeed similar to one published a few weeks ago in the Austin American Statesman. But is was originally behind a pay wall and is now almost impossible to find. I appreciate the Statesman for consenting to the repetition.

 

 

Return of the Vampire Argument

One of the amazing things about debates over the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is the extent to which, like vampires, some arguments never die. It doesn’t matter how meritless the argument is, it doesn’t matter how thoroughly it has been beaten back in the past by logic or legislation. It just keeps being brought out of its grave when needed by advocates.  Many of these arguments are pernicious because they distract from the real issues facing Texas and because they divert attention from study of the real solutions.  They provide red meat for zealots but do absolutely nothing to solve their problems. Until, however, coastal residents drive a stake through the heart of them by driving their proponents out of office, they are likely to persist.

One of the more amazing of these vampire arguments is that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association can make an assessment today against Texas insurers for damages caused by Hurricane Ike based on a statute that was repealed in 2009.  And yet, according to the Corpus Christi Caller, coastal legislators such as Corpus Christi’s Todd Hunter are again casting about looking for someone in authority who might believe this particular fantasy. This time the argument has been hurled at the new Teas Insurance Commissioner, Julia Rathgeber. According to a Corpus Christi Caller article of July 3, “[c]oastal lawmakers again are reaching out to Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber to seek about $400 million in assessments for insurance companies to help replace funds paid for claims in the wake of Hurricane Ike.”  I will be stunned if Commissioner Rathgeber does anything other than send of a polite message that she does not believe such an assessment to be possible. It hardly creates the business friendly environment that her boss, Governor Perry, desires when businesses can be threatened with arbitrarily having hundreds of millions of dollars taken away from them based on the ghost of a former statute. A swift and unambiguous “no” from the Commissioner will be at least put the vampire back in its coffin for a while and permit more serious approaches to TWIA’s insolvency to be examined.

Why do I use such strong language in denigrating the argument.  Mostly because I can read. There is no statute today authorizing assessments against TWIA member insurers unless a post-event bond has been issued.  That hasn’t happened. Government can’t just come in and take private property  — even the money of insurance companies — unless there’s a constitutional law that justifies the taking. That’s one of the things that separates us from a tyranny. So the only conceivable basis in for an assessment is the old law, former section 2210.058 of the Insurance Code, which was used back in 2008 to assess insurers for Hurricane Ike.

The problem is that this law was repealed by section 44 of H.B. 4409, which was enacted in 2009 after Hurricane Ike basically destroyed TWIA. Here it is:

Section 44 of HB 4409

SECTION 44.  The following laws are repealed:

(1) subdivisions (5) and (12), Section 2210.003, Insurance Code;

(2) Sections 2210.058 and 2210.059, Insurance Code;

(3) Sections 2210.205 and 2210.206, Insurance Code;

(4) Sections 2210.356, 2210.360, and 2210.363, Insurance Code; and

(6) Subchapter G, Chapter 2210, Insurance Code.

There it is in black and white.  I’m not sure how it could be any clearer.

So the only argument coastal legislators might have left to keep this vampire out of its coffin is that, somehow, the word “repeal” doesn’t really mean repeal. And the only sliver of hope in that regard would appear to be section 311.031 of the Government Code. It reads

Sec. 311.031.  SAVING PROVISIONS. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), the reenactment, revision, amendment, or repeal of a statute does not affect:…

(2)  any validation, cure, right, privilege, obligation, or liability previously acquired, accrued, accorded, or incurred under it.

I suppose the legislators’ argument is that the “assessment” was an obligation or liability previously acquired, accrued, accorded or incurred.” But this argument, which a law professor might briefly admire for its creativity, fails because the possibility that TWIA might assess insurers more for Ike is not a liability or obligation. The fact that TWIA might have made an assessment is no more an “obligation” or a “liability” than a tax that the legislature might have but did not impose or a penalty that a court might have but did not impose. Thus, if Allstate had not paid its assessment under the 2008 assessment, the fact that the statute permitting assessments was repealed would not relieve Allstate of its obligation to pay the pre-existing assessment.  It would, however, prevent TWIA from creating new liabilities for Allstate to pay.

Moreover, think about it. If the legislature wanted to preserve TWIA’s ability to assess after 2009 for storms that occurred before that time but not afterwards, you would not repeal the statute.  Instead, it would far more direct and far clearer simply to amend the statute to limit the set of storms for which assessments would be permitted.

Now, perhaps the strategy of coastal legislators such as Todd Hunter is to keep asking Commissioner Rathgeber for lots of things in the hopes that she will, as a compromise, give them the one thing that might possibly make sense, a pre-event bond. But, really,  pre-event bonds should rise or fall on their own merits. Granting them or not should not depend on legislators asking for things that are plainly illegal, such as confiscating the property of insurers.

I understand why coastal legislators are upset.  Their strategies in the 83rd legislature failed. It is, despite the protestations of some to the contrary who want to pro-development illusion that the band can keep playing on, a “crisis situation.” Although they are not the only parties at fault, these legislators have contributed to the horrible risk now confronting their constituents. And Governor Perry has thus far resisted calling a special session of the legislature to repair the damage. These legislators likely will (and should) be held responsible by their constituents if a tropical cyclone bankrupts TWIA. And, they are right that, with the benefit of hindsight, TWIA policyholders would be better off if TWIA had issued a greater assessment for Ike while its statutory authority to do so was still in force.

The bottom line, however, is that TWIA did not make an extra assessment for Ike and the time to have done so has long run out. And even if the 1% chance materialized that a court would ultimately order insurers to pay based on a new Ike assessment, the lengthy court fight involved would delay receipt of funds well into the next legislative session.  Honestly, all that bringing this vampire argument out of the coffin again accomplishes is to diminish the credibility of those who will need every ounce of it if they are persuade fellow legislators to engage in sensible, needed reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.

Attorney General: Texas not obliged to pay for excess TWIA losses

You heard it here first.  As I wrote back in July of 2012, if the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association does not have enough money to pay its claims, the State of Texas has no obligation to pay its unpaid claims to policyholders. This was confirmed this week by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in an opinion letter written to Texas State Representative (and Chair of the House Insurance Committee John Smithee).  The bottom line of the letter  providing the formal opinion of the Texas Attorney General is reprinted below. Here is a link to the full opinion.

The bottom line of Attorney General Abbott's opinion

The bottom line of Attorney General Abbott’s opinion

The Attorney General’s opinion should hardly have been necessary given the obviousness of the proposition. It is, as I suggested, not a matter over which people — particularly lawyers who can read a statute — could reasonably disagree. Perhaps the weight of the Texas Attorney General behind the proposition will, however, put to rest claims by some coastal legislators that the matter was debatable.  The AG opinion likewise vindicates Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman who made the same assertion last year and who, for thereby calling into question the financial stability of TWIA, was threatened with a criminal investigation by Texas State Representative J.M. Lozano. Perhaps Representative Lozano will now issue an apology?

So, TWIA policyholders take note.  As it stands, there is no cavalry coming over the hill when a tropical cyclone empties TWIA.  Your insurer will not have money to pay your claim in full.  The State of Texas will not pay your claim. The Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guarantee Association will not pay your claim. No one with money will have legal responsibility to pay your claim under your TWIA policy. You are very likely to be under a blue tarp and coping with a ruined house for a long time. Unless and until the legislature acts, whether in a special session or a regular session two years hence, the restoration of your property and your life may well depend on the kindness of strangers.

Photo of Katrina survivors in the Houston Astrodome

The kindness of strangers the last time a major hurricane left many people homeless