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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Editorials

Flood insurance bill deserves a fair vote

Published:

Let’s hope the U.S. House’s decision to delay a vote on a federal flood insurance bill was done with the best of intentions.

The House’s leadership decided last week to postpone a vote on the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, possibly until early this week. House members said they needed time to work on a few last changes.

That sounds innocent enough until you consider the political struggle over fixing the federal government’s broken flood insurance program. Despite having bipartisan Congressional support for months now — and enough votes lined up for passage — partisan politics has kept House members from taking a vote.

House Speaker John Boehner should eliminate all obstacles this week and bring the bill to a vote. The delays are prolonging the anxiety for thousands of homeowners while simultaneously tampering with the fragile housing recovery in the nation’s coastal states.

The Senate has already seen fit to pass a measure meant to bring relief to those homeowners facing steep rate hikes under the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act. The Senate bill would delay imposition of some of the rate hikes for four years while the mess created by Biggert-Waters is straightened out.

Rather than a delay, the House bill offers an immediate solution that softens the rate hikes. And it helps the real estate market by allowing the transfer of existing flood insurance rates when homes are sold, rather than imposing the higher rates on buyers.

To help pay down the federal flood insurance program’s $24 billion debt, the bill would charge a $25 annual assessment on primary residences and a $250 assessment on businesses and secondary residences, though House members are considering whether to decrease the assessment amount charged to businesses.

Opponents of the House bill say the rules passed under Biggert-Waters are needed to end the unsustainable rate subsidies given to the owners of flood-prone homes.

Reforms were needed. But Biggert-Waters is proving to be a financial burden to the owners of even modest homes far from the water.

Their plight has been taken up by members of the area’s congressional delegation, both Democrat and Republican.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Palm Harbor, says he’s optimistic the bill will pass this week. Bilirakis was punished by the House leadership for breaking ranks with Republicans and supporting efforts to bring the measure to a vote. His decision to stick with his constituents rather than party ideologues should be applauded.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, also has worked for months on finding a solution. U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican from Lakeland, says the bill is a workable compromise and wants it to include provisions that would make it easier for private insurers to enter the flood insurance market, a request that seems reasonable.

The federal flood insurance program needs to be fixed, but not on the backs of thousands of homeowners who played by the rules and are now faced with financial ruin because of the flawed legislation passed in 2012.

The House bill will provide relief to homeowners and pay down the program’s debt. This bipartisan effort at fixing the problem deserves passage.

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