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Leaders preparing issues/proposals for lawmakers

The insurance industry is preparing for the 2009 state legislative session by learning more about issues that concern them, and in some cases crafting proposed legislation.

The Mississippi State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management tries to get involved with legislation at the grass roots level by combining its members’ voices throughout the state, according to Billy Sims, an officer of the council and vice president of human resources for Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Company.

“We will see what the state hot buttons are this year. A lot of things have happened to shift gears, including the state budget cuts,” he said. “We will let our legislators in each district know we’re against a state department of labor. We’re very interested in national legislation – family medical leave and health coverage, things that are so overwhelming.”

Southern Farm Bureau’s corporate attorney Marshall Shows will be watching the model licensing law being promoted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

“It covers various aspects of how insurance agents are licensed in the state,” he said. “The state now has ways of differentiating agents, and this act will treat all agents as insurance producers. It will streamline the licensing law as it’s being done in other states where our company does business.”

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney acknowledges that his department will introduce an insurance compact act to bring the state’s licensing process in line with the NAIC standards being used in other states. He sees it as a way of providing uniformity in all states.

He will also introduce other proposals, including: one to prohibit anyone with a criminal record from handling liquefied compressed gas; one requiring that the state fire marshal be notified anytime there’s a death by fire; one to further streamline the state’s licensing procedures; and, one to provide a central point for filing reports.

“I’ve asked for the fire marshal law before, and it hasn’t passed. We have the highest rate of fire deaths per capita in the nation, and we need to address it,” Chaney said. “As for the licensing process, we issue 80,000 licenses a year. It’s a nightmare for us paper wise, and we’re trying to go electronic with it. We would like to require changes in continuing education for agents and would like them to be licensed for two years instead of one.”

The Insurance Department is also considering some property and casualty issues that would open actuaries’ data to the public. “I want the public to be able to come to our web site and look at rate increases and see loss/profit ratios of companies,” Chaney, a former state senator, said. “We also may take a look at the Minimum Standards Board and licensing regulations.”

The Independent Insurance Agents Association is waiting to see what legislation is filed this year and will work with legislators and other groups on issues.

“We’re not introducing anything this year, but we will support the model licensing act to give Mississippi more uniformity,” president Angeline Treutel said. “That will facilitate getting multiple licenses in other states, and our members support that.”

She added that the membership wants to make sure the state continues to be attractive from a judicial and business market standpoint. “We want to keep our reputation as a strong marketplace, seeing more supply and lower rates for consumers,” she said. “We want to see rates become more affordable, especially on the Coast.”

Treutel, an insurance agent in Bay St. Louis, reports a favorable meeting of association leaders and re-insurers that she hopes leads to lower wind insurance rates next year. “Probably the less legislation the better on that,” she said. “Let it work out through the supply-and-demand process.”

Joe Shumaker, manager of the Mississippi Windpool Association, says that group will not introduce any legislation, but does have a committee working to extend and adopt some standards to help homeowners who retro-fit their homes to strengthen them against hurricanes.

“We’re working with outside organizations to develop some mitigation guidelines. We already have some pretty good codes for new construction,” he said. “These guidelines will not require legislation.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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