Solomon Ortiz Jr.

Over the last few years, the Texas coast has been battered by several costly hurricanes, leading to a windstorm insurer exodus and an onslaught of hurricane-related lawsuits.

In a move to alleviate the "windstorm insurance crisis," State Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. of Corpus Christi filed two bills Friday, March 20, hoping his proposed "windstorm bill of rights" will help coastal homeowners with the rising cost and complexity of windstorm insurance.

According to a press release, House Bill 4347 calls for a Windstorm Consumer's Bill of Rights for property owners who purchase windstorm insurance, while HB 4348 is intended to hold down windstorm rates.

"Property owners who purchase windstorm insurance need to be aware of what is and isn't covered by their policy," said Ortiz. "My bill to create a Windstorm Consumer's Bill of Rights will put all the basic information that coastal property owners need into one simple document."

Ortiz, a Democrat, represents District 33, which includes part of Nueces County and the city of Corpus Christi.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005, thousands of Jefferson County residents filed lawsuits against their insurance companies, alleging the insurers misrepresented their policy and what damages were covered and refused to pay the full proceeds of their claim.

Since Hurricane Ike's landfall in September, already more than 200 hurricane lawsuits have been filed in Jefferson County. Several of the suits filed also claim the plaintiffs were mislead on what their policy covered.

One of the bill's requirements is that the Texas Department of Insurance hold public hearings along the coast to allow residents the opportunity to provide input as to what should be included in the bill of rights, the press release states.

"I want to make sure that the voices of coastal residents are heard in Austin," Ortiz said. "Unless people in the Capitol understand the concerns and issues that coastal property owners have regarding windstorm insurance, we will never be able to find a solution to the windstorm insurance crisis."

House Bill 4348 diverts a portion of the state hotel/motel tax collected in coastal counties into the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund, which is used by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to pay claims by property owners, the press release states.

Area residents have no option except to obtain windstorm coverage through TWIA, since insurance companies like Allstate and State Farm no longer provide windstorm coverage.

"The money generated by HB 4348 for the catastrophe fund will help hold down rate increases for coastal property owners," Ortiz said. "We need to establish alternative sources of funding for the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association or we will bankrupt Texas' coastal property owners with ever increasing windstorm insurance rates."

HB 4348 does not increase the state hotel/motel tax or affect the local hotel/motel tax that is used to promote tourism, the press release states.

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