Source : http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Flood-insurance-reform-bill-clears-House-12358012.php
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff Houston firefighter Jordan Morales cleans up his flooded house in Spring in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. WASHINGTON - House Republicans passed legislation Tuesday seeking to shore up the finances of the National Flood Insurance Program.Titled the 21st Century Flood Reform Act, the bill, which passed the chamber with bipartisan support by a vote of 237-189, seeks to stabilize the flood program by shifting homeowners toward private insurers and raising rates on homeowners whose houses have flooded repeatedly. Attention will now turn to the Senate, where similar legislation is already in the works. "It is an absolutely revolutionary reform that we can break open the government monopoly and bring in market competition, innovation, more affordable rates for so many," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "Today's vote on the #FloodInsurance bill provides important reforms for taxpayers and certainty for policyholders," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., wrote on Twitter. The bill's passage follows a lengthy negotiation over the past six months, as Republicans and Democrats alike battled over a program that those living along oceans and rivers rely on heavily to subsidize their flood insurance premiums but has run massive deficits over the past decade. Laura Lightbody, project director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' flood-prepared communities initiative, wrote in a blog post that the legislation "addresses the growing and costly drain of repeatedly flooded properties on the NFIP." "Historically representing just about 1 percent of policyholders but roughly 25 to 30 percent of the program's claims, the number of these properties has been growing and may continue to increase as lower-risk property owners opt for private flood insurance," she wrote. Tuesday's vote represents a victory for Hensarling, who has pushed for flood insurance reform for years and has said he will retire at the end of his term in early 2019. But getting passage was not easy. Earlier this month, Hensarling announced a deal with Scalise that gave homeowners with repeated flood claims on their record a break - only their future claims, not past claims, would be counted. For congressmen representing flood-prone areas, like Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, keeping premiums from rising too high was a necessity after earlier attempts to overhaul the program drew angry responses from constituents. "This bill contains common-sense reforms that make sure Americans living in high-flood areas can still purchase affordable flood insurance," he said. "I'm proud that my colleagues and I were able to find a solution that puts NFIP on a sustainable financial path and will provide needed relief during future flooding events. I urge the Senate to act quickly as well." Texas House Republicans voted unanimously for the bill, while Texas Democrats voted against, with the exception of Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Translator To read this article in one of Houston's most-spoken languages, click on the button below. Right now there are at least three bills in the Senate addressing the Flood Insurance Program, with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., each leading their own bipartisan coalition. At the same time, White House officials have expressed support for a provision blocking newly constructed homes from getting coverage under the program, something that was originally in the House legislation but was removed over the summer. Following the mass flooding around Houston after Hurricane Harvey - and the large flood insurance bill expected to come with it - politicians in Washington are under pressure to make a fix before reauthorizing the program, which is scheduled to expire next month. "For far too long, hard-working American taxpayers have been trapped in a never-ending bailout cycle for the NFIP," said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin.