EDITORIAL: Insurance breaks to those preparing for wildfires an idea to debate
Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Apr. 7—Assemblyman Marc Levine has authored legislation aimed at giving property owners a break when it comes to insurance coverage.
One bill, AB 1439, would give policyholders a discount on their premiums if they live in cities and counties funding wildfire protection measures. That would include the work of Marin'sWildfire Prevention Authority, which local voters put into action by approving the 2020 Measure C tax proposal.
Right now, the agency is focusing on removing heavy vegetation that lines potential evacuation routes — an important priority across our county.
The math of the legislation is that if insurance consumers are paying taxes for work that helps make their property safer from a wildfire, they shouldn't have to pay higher premiums that don't take into account effective measures that have taken place.
The insurance companies, their customers and fire departments share a common goal of increasing both prevention and protection. Levine's bill says it is in insurance companies' interest to encourage their customers to take effective protective and preventive action that reduces risk for both sides of their contract.
Levine, a Democrat who lives in Greenbrae, has also submitted legislation, AB 1522, that would end the practice of insurance companies denying coverage — either by issuing policies or refusing to renew existing coverage — for customers living in high-risk wildfire areas.
That trend is leading property owners with the arduous task of finding new coverage and creating hurdles for property sales because buyers are having trouble getting policies required by lenders.
Levine's bills are likely going to face opposition from insurance companies and their lobbyists.
But they reflect real issues; ones that insurance companies should not ignore or walk away from.
State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara should play a key role as both bills wind their way through Assembly and state Senate hearings.
In February, Lara joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in outlining proposed regulatory incentives for homeowners and their communities to reduce wildfire risk. Lara has repeatedly heard consumers complain that their coverage is not being renewed or that premiums are being increased despite measures that have been taken to reduce risks on their property and in their community.
Understandably, those consumers feel they are being left stranded by insurance companies whom they have been faithfully paying for years.
At one of Lara's forums, he heard from Novato Fire Chief Bill Tyler. "Our desire is for insurers to take notice and reward communities like Marin that put in the hard work, that make the commitment, and provides them with adequate, affordable coverage for homes, homeowners, neighborhoods and communities that embrace adaptive measures going forward," he said, reported in a press statement from Lara's office.
Tyler has been a strong leader in getting the Marin Wildlife Prevention Authority launched and endorsed by Marin voters.
Even while Levine's legislation is being debated, Lara's office could provide an easy-to-use clearinghouse of insurers ready to write coverage in areas where others are not renewing their protection.
Any legislation needs to reflect a balanced partnership between the insurers and property owners needing coverage. Where that balance is depends on the viewpoints of those involved in the debate.
It is likely that Levine's legislation will be debated and amended.
But the issues he's raising and moving to the forefront are important for state legislators to address and seek potentially effective solutions to the challenges of making our homes and communities safer from wildland fires and for our ability to acquire reasonably priced insurance coverage.
(c)2021 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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