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Miss. lawmakers approve wind pool bill

Both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature on Thursday approved a bill designed to provide stability for the wind pool, the insurer of last resort for homeowners and commercial property in high-risk areas.

The bill now heads to Gov. Haley Barbour, and spokesman Pete Smith said the governor needs to study the details before saying whether he’ll sign it.

“It seems palatable, but he’s not going to commit to it before he actually reads it,” Smith said.

If the governor signs it, the bill would become law immediately. It is designed to give every wind pool policyholder an estimated $500-a-year price break on the premium.

The relief would be given for four years, and money to cover it would come from a fund created by the premium taxes paid on insurance policies statewide. Lawmakers say $20 million a year will be taken from the fund, or $80 million over the four years.

Coast leaders say providing stability to the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, often called the wind pool, is an important step in spurring redevelopment nearly 19 months after Hurricane Katrina left a broad swath of destruction across the southern end of the state.

“The bill is truly a redevelopment act for the coast and a redevelopment act for the rest of the state,” Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said Thursday. “It will keep insurance companies in the state and bring in new markets, more competition and lower rates.”

Kirby’s House counterpart — Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune — said of the effort to stabilize the wind pool: “It’s been a year and a half mission, and it’s come together well.”

Any insurance company that writes policies in the state must pay an assessment to the wind pool, which provides coverage in the six southernmost counties. Companies that offer policies in the high-risk areas can write themselves out of the assessment, but many have chosen not to do so.

After Katrina, policyholders statewide saw rate increases as companies tried to cover their costs for the wind pool. Officials say rates on the coast more than doubled in some cases, and the prohibitively high cost of coverage has put the brakes on redevelopment.

The vote on the bill was 120-0 in the House and 52-0 in the Senate.

Wind pool policyholders will get a reminder of who approved the price break for their premiums. The monthly insurance statements will say that the break is courtesy of the 2007 Legislature.

A similar line appears on drivers’ annual car tag renewal statements, noting that the tag price was reduced because of action by the 1994 Legislature.

The bill is House Bill 1500.