Today is the day Governor Crist decides the fate of the pending property insurance bill by choosing whether to exercise his veto. Yesterday, investigative journalist Paige St. John‘s article, Lobby Had a Hand in Insurance Bill, was on the front page of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. While I was unsuccessfully advocating for policyholders this past legislative session, I observed the insurance lobby, with an army of insurance lawyer lobbyists, seemingly writing most of the proposed laws that eventually passed. Indeed, I have not found one quote from a Florida representative claiming to have stopped any insurance industry sponsored law.
The article does not surprise me and demonstrates that the insurance industry lobby is quite strong in Tallahassee. It noted in part:
A property insurance bill passed by the Florida Legislature this spring was scaled back and rewritten by industry lobbyists, new state e-mails show.
The bill, originally intended to crack down on companies that used a loophole in state law to pad profits, was largely rewritten by a lawyer working for the insurers — at the behest of the state agency that regulates insurers, the e-mails show.
Records released last week show that in the final days of the session, the deputy commissioner in the Office of Insurance Regulation, Belinda Miller, asked industry insiders to draft language for the bill.
She approached several industry consultants, including Claude Mueller, an attorney and former state insurance regulator whose clients in the past year included property insurers who ran afoul of state solvency requirements. One of them, American Keystone, was ultimately shut down.
On April 5, the day before a Senate committee was scheduled to meet to consider the bill, Miller pressed the consultants to provide draft legislation. "Are you going to have language tonight?" she wrote in an e-mail to Mueller and a lobbyist at Meenan & Blank, a Tallahassee firm whose insurance clients include the Tower Hill group.
The draft bill that Mueller delivered three hours later contains much the same language lawmakers put into the bill, some of it verbatim.
The new language prevented regulators from seeing a company’s actual financial books and instead allowed them to review only summary reports. Even those reports could be required only of companies in the worst financial shape.
The one key difference between Mueller’s suggestion and what got written into the bill was what measure to use to determine financial weakness. (emphasis added)
While the article noted that Claude Mueller had ties to the Office of Insurance Regulation as a "former state insurance regulator," my impression was that much of the insurance industry’s lobbying success came from another insurance regulator turned stellar insurance lobbyist, Timothy Meenan, whose law firm was cited in the article. His law firm biography sets out his significant experience with insurance regulators and his insurance clients:
…Mr. Meenan oversaw Florida’s four billion-dollar State Treasury and three other divisions of the Florida Department of Insurance, including the Division of Risk Management. He also served for three years as the executive assistant to the Florida Insurance Commissioner, where he helped formulate and implement legislative and regulatory proposals for the Department.
Mr. Meenan’s legal practice focuses on regulatory law before numerous state agencies, with an emphasis on insurance company and agent regulation. He has assisted insurers and other regulated entities to obtain licensure, has represented life and health insurers and health maintenance organizations with various regulatory problems, and has helped numerous property and casualty insurance companies resolve their disputes with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Office of Insurance Regulation.
If I owned an insurance company and wanted laws passed favoring the insurance industry, I would hire Tim Meenan as well. He is hardworking and an excellent attorney advocating on behalf of his clients. The problem is. there are a lot of attorneys in the full-time professional insurance lobby who are just as capable as Tim Meenan, but there are few representing the consumers, as I noted in Sean Shaw is a Refreshing and Intelligent Advocate for Floridians–We Deserve This Type of Representation.
My view is that Governor Crist should veto this bill, as expressed in Is the Proposed Property Insurance Bill Bad for the Average Florida Insurance Consumer? Still, reasonable minds could have a different opinion.
My hope for the future is that our legislators remember that, unlike insurers, consumers do not have a full time team of lobbyists. Insurance companies may have an extraordinary amount of financial and political power, but insurance companies are not voters. We should ask our legislators to remember that they swore to protect "we, the people" when confronted with the strategic and well thought out rhetoric from the insurance lobbyists — before deciding what position they will take.
No matter what the fate of this year’s insurance legislation, it has been a learning experience for me. I need to be a more effective advocate for insurance consumers in the future. I hate writing about insurance companies beating me at anything.