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Monday, December 16, 2013

Update: Flood Insurance Reform Legislation

Last Wednesday, the bi-partisan group of Senators supporting S. 1610, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIAA), attempted to pass the legislation on the Senate Floor using a parliamentary maneuver called Unanimous Consent. Under the so-called "UC rules," any legislation can be passed so long as no Senator objects.

Unfortunately, the contentious nature of Senate partisanship, exacerbated by recent problems involving changes to the filibuster rules, means that all legislation, no matter the merits, draws objections under UC motions simply to frustrate efforts at passage and in order to highlight the sensitivities around the filibuster issue. This was the case with the HFIAA legislation.

These ABIA-supported efforts would allow FEMA the time to conduct their study of affordability problems, as required under the Biggert-Waters amendment of last year, and further require a 2-year delay in implementing changes until the recommendations of the FEMA study have been considered. The measure now has to be brought to the floor under regular order as an amendment to other legislation, or, must be scheduled for debate on its own, which is less likely. In either event, the measure will have to garner at least 60 votes to proceed. There are 27 co-sponsors of S. 1610, which by Senate tradition indicates broad support.

In the House, Representative Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has offered legislation (H.R. 3693) that would accomplish many of the same goals but would not provide relief from increases in risk-based pricing. The Flood Insurance Relief and Transparency Act is supported by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), has no score or cost, and achieves many of the same reforms as the Senate bill; however, the bills differ from each other and so would need to be harmonized for them to be enacted. Read a summary of the Cassidy bill, H.R. 3693.

Immediate action on these bills is required and while they differ from each other, passage of reform in both bodies of Congress would at least allow for possibility of reform sometime next year.