SACRAMENTO (KTVU) - The California Insurance Commissioner and two North Bay state legislators who represent Wine County are urging the legislature to approve proposed laws to protect wildfire survivors from insurance industry practices that are leaving many of them underinsured.
In the wake of the North Bay wildfires last October, the state legislature is considering some ten proposed laws to beef up insurance consumer protection regulations at the same time the insurance industry is not only opposing them, but trying to water down other consumer laws.
"The bills are very simple. They're designed to make it easier for people that are at the worst moment of their lives to get what they've been promised," said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
The proposals provide a kind of blueprint for dealing with the current North Bay insurance mess and for wildfires in the future.
The two most important reforms: if coverage in one part of your policy, such as reconstruction costs, is insufficient, but you have other unused coverages such as for out buildings or contents, those monies would be added to your total recovery.
"My bill would allow people to combine coverage categories, in the wake of declared disasters," said Senator Bill Dodd/(D) North Bay.
And the other: living expenses should be extended out to three years given the time it takes to rebuild entire neighborhoods. The bills would require faster payoffs.
That includes home contents coverage for which many insurers demand a detailed inventory, sometimes including receipts.
"I will tell you that I would personally not be able to provide this type of information if I lost my home and I think all of us here would be challenged to do the same," said Senator Mike McGuire/(D) Northbay.
For those unable to produce an inventory, Senator McGuire's bill would require at least an 80 percent layout of the contents coverage. Other proposals: required annual coverage reviews and additional coverage.
But, in a statement, an insurance industry trade and lobbying group said they cannot support the bills as written. The powerful insurance industry’s lobbying and campaign funding can and has often killed off many insurance reform proposals.
"We're gonna put that to the test today. This is a fight. Many of these are ideas that have been proposed before and have been defeated by the insurance industry. What's different this time is the enormity of the disaster that befell California," said Insurance Commissioner Jones.
If the legislature doesn't act, Consumer Watchdog, which put Proposition 103 on the ballot 30 years ago, and has saved consumers $100 billion in auto insurance costs, says it may well be time to put another initiative on the ballot to do the same for fire insurance.