5/13/2011 3:19 PM
What a difference a session makes. In 2009, with the House nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, House members likely would have carved the Texas Department of Insurance Sunset bill up something awful. And industry wouldn’t like the changes. In the end, the sunset bill died in the end-of-session pileup (created by Democratic filibusters), and Republicans were quite grateful.
This session – with 101 Republicans out of 150 – the sunset bill (HB 1951 by Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)) passed. And all the anti-industry amendments died easily. The House sent over a sunset bill May 9 that basically focused on the sunset commission’s recommendations. And the Senate Government Organization Committee reported its version favorably May 13.
Make no mistake about it – Democrats offered all their amendments to the bill. But all got voted down on near party line votes. While some Republicans may privately have issues with insurance carriers, they aren’t going to vote for anti-market amendments to an insurance bill unless they think their votes will be decisive. Republicans voted against prior approval of rates (price controls), a ban on credit scoring, and a ban on data mining, among other items.
The end result is the House sent the senate a bill that reauthorizes the department for 12 years and relies on markets, rather than government price controls, to keep homeowners insurance rates affordable.
The political impact of the House record votes May 10-11 likely will depend on what happens in the insurance market between now and 2012. If a pro-market sunset bill and reforms to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and good loss history, attract new companies to the market and rates stabilize, then the political implications are minimal. But if insurance rates spike, it will be a major issue in suburban swing districts in the 2012 elections, and some Republicans may have wished they voted for some of those Democratic amendments.
In the Senate, things get interesting. The Senate Government Organization Committee reported the bill unanimously, as mentioned above, but that doesn't mean smooth sailing for the floor. First on a technical note, the amendments are limited on the floor either to amendments laid out in committee May 13 or those laid out earlier for the House companion bill (most of the key Democratic amendments are eligible). But even more interesting is the question of what do the Senate Democrats do, the votes of two of which are needed to bring the bill up. In the past, Democrats blocked the TDI sunset bill in exchange for more consumer-oriented reforms. Do sufficient Democrats let the bill through where it passes and then make a campaign issue of it, or do they block it and extend the agency for two more years in the sunset scheduling bill? Democrats now have a decision to make.