This bill would require insurers to cover evacuation costs, even if a mandatory order is not issued [The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.]

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April 16 – As Hurricane Ida rushed south Louisiana, Paulette Tybussekresident of Jefferson Parishweighed his options: “You put your life in danger and you stay? Or are you evacuating?

By then, the Saturday before Sunday’s landfall, forecasters were warning that Ida would turn into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm. Parish leaders were urging residents to leave, if possible.

So, alongside his elderly parents, Tybussek fled for safety, spending thousands of dollars on gas, food and hotels during his two-week stay away from harm.

But, as she later learned, her insurer, state farmwould not cover these evacuation expenses, only because officials called for a voluntary – not mandatory – evacuation.

“Why should we suffer for something the officials didn’t do? said Tybussek. “It’s not our fault it wasn’t mandatory.”

After the storm, State Rep. Laurie Schlegela Farmhouse Republican, has been inundated with complaints from voters facing similar issues getting reimbursed.

She filed House Bill 83, which would require homeowners’ insurers who provide loss of use coverage to pay short-term living expenses when an evacuation is voluntary, and the area is then deemed unsafe for return. .

Most home insurance policies include up to two weeks of cover for evacuation costs, but only if policyholders are under public authority orders to leave.

Prior to Hurricane Ida, some parishes in the storm’s path issued such orders, while others waited, fearing they could not implement a plan against the tide and safely evacuate all residents before the storm hits.

Parishes that have not issued mandatory evacuation orders include all or part of Jefferson, Livingston, OrleansSaint John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.

Ida was a “mandatory type of evacuation storm,” Schlegel said. But because it grew so quickly – making landfall just three days after becoming a named storm – mandatory evacuations were not feasible.

“It just wasn’t safe to call a mandatory evacuation in such a short time,” Schlegel said, adding that “with the climate as it is, these cases may happen more often than not.” .

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelona Jefferson Parish resident himself, agreed that the decision not to order a mandatory evacuation was the right one.

“If they had ordered a mandatory evacuation, everything would have stalled and people would have been stuck in deadly 150-mile-per-hour winds in their cars on southern highways. Louisiana“, said Donelon.

Donelon in September ordered insurers to treat the “multiplicity of actions” taken by officials before Ida as “amounting to an evacuation order”, ordering them to cover the short-term living expenses of policyholders who fled the 25 parishes in the path of the storm. .

Most insurers have complied with his directive. Tybussek said his parents, octogenarians and evacuees from Westwegosoon received a check from AllState.

But state farmlargest property insurer Louisiana and his insurer, refused to follow the directive, arguing that Donelon had exceeded his legal authority. Their dispute is still pending in the Administrative Law Divisiona quasi-judicial tribunal of Red Stick which adjudicates disputes between government agencies and those they regulate. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday, although a final ruling is likely months away.

Schlegel’s HB83 is an attempt to codify Donelon’s directive into law. It came out of committee on Wednesday and is expected to be debated in the House next week. A similar measure, Senate Bill 134, sponsored by the state senator. Kirk TalbotR-river ridgeis awaiting a committee hearing in the upper house.

The text of Schlegel’s bill requires that three conditions be met for policyholders with loss of use coverage to receive short-term living expenses: a state of emergency must be declared; either a mandatory evacuation is ordered or a voluntary evacuation is advised; and the area is then declared dangerous.

He adds that a formal evacuation order does not need to be written. Instead, insurers should “interpret, in globo, all actions of a civil authority”, including their announcements in public media.

In committee, the legislation faced opposition from insurance industry lobbyists. They argued that this amounts to an “extension of coverage” that insurers did not price when setting rates and said the wording of the bill was too ambiguous and could lead to confusion.

Jimmy Ordeneauxa lobbyist with Louisiana Agricultural Bureau Insurancesaid he was unsure how much the measure would cost insurers, but added he was confident it would lead to higher prices for policyholders.

Donelon, for his part, said short-term living expenses amounted to about 1% of insurer costs. “I dare say it strikes the balance of not overburdening the industry while protecting consumers in our state,” Donelon said.

Schlegel said, “We’re not dealing with a lot of dollars here as far as insurance companies go, but we are with our people.” She said some constituents told her they didn’t have the budget to cover a few nights in a hotel room.

“And so for people who have that coverage, that should be satisfied,” Schlegel said. “It’s not up to them to call a mandatory evacuation, it’s up to our civil authorities, and if they can’t do it because it can’t be safely called, then what good is the cover?”

She added that insurers were trying to get away with a “technicality”.

“Our people are watching us. They want insurance reform that comes out of this session,” Schlegel said, closing his bill. “We cannot leave this session and not help the people we represent.”

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