With the much-anticipated 108th Congress convening Tuesday, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) said it is prepared to wage a proactive lobbying effort on behalf of independent agents and brokers in 2003.
“We are confident that the historic mid-term election of 2002 has delivered a new political landscape that compels lawmakers to take a more holistic and cohesive look at the legislative and regulatory concerns of business owners, employees and consumers,” IIABA CEO Bob Rusbuldt commented. “The pressure is on Republicans and Democrats alike to produce for the American people, and we are anxious to maximize our strong bipartisan ties and tackle a positive agenda benefiting independent agents and brokers as well as small businesses and the insurance industry as a whole.”
The Big “I” is urging Congress to immediately reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which has been on hiatus since Dec. 31 because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was unable to get the program reauthorized for 2003 prior to the adjournment of the last Congress. No new flood insurance policies can be written until Congress reauthorizes the program. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have announced that they jointly will offer reauthorization legislation.
“IIABA has already received assurances from Chairman Oxley and the House and Senate leadership that reauthorization will be one of the first things passed when Congress convenes,” IIABA senior vice president of Federal Government Affairs Maria Berthoud said. “Immediate reauthorization is absolutely vital. The longer this uneasy situation continues, the longer policyholders, independent agents and brokers as well as the real estate marketplace face serious and unnecessary disruptions.”
IIABA’s support for reform of the current state regulatory system will be a top priority. IIABA also is opposed to federal chartering and is advocating a pragmatic, middle-ground approach that is favored by several key members of Congress and would leave regulation with states while streamlining the system and ensuring uniformity through federal legislation.
“The industry agrees that the problems of state oversight are significant and require reform of the system, but Congress can best modernize state rules through federal legislation, not regulation,” Berthoud said. “Reform in this manner will benefit not only the industry, but most importantly consumers.”
IIABA is advocating uniformity and simplicity in state privacy laws and regulations, and believes that a consumer’s ability to “opt out” is the central mechanism for protecting privacy rights. “Agents and brokers believe that privacy laws and subsequent regulations must be consumer friendly and easy to understand,” Rusbuldt says. “The ‘opt-in’ option would prove onerous for business and ultimately prove to be counterproductive to consumers.”
Tort reform is expected to be a hotly debated topic in the new Congress, and IIABA will be focusing on asbestos and medical malpractice reforms. “Asbestos legislation is needed to ensure that those truly deserving of financial assistance get it, while those not deserving do not siphon scarce resources away from the deserving,” notes Rusbuldt.
IIABA is urging lawmakers to reintroduce the Class Action Fairness Act. This legislation would allow litigants to move interstate class action suits into federal courts that generally are more protective of consumers’ and defendants’ rights. The Big “I” will be pressing hard for liability reform that will deter unwarranted and wasteful litigation. “Frivolous “get-rich-quick” lawsuits have a terribly detrimental effect on the insurance industry and small businesses,” Berthoud explains. “The vast array of product liability laws that fearful manufacturers, businesses and consumers encounter has hampered small business development and stagnated job growth. A national, uniform product liability law is urgently needed to address the inherent problems of an often inefficient and unfair civil justice system.”
Also on IIABA’s legislative agenda for 2003:
·Seeking reintroduction of natural disaster legislation to establish a federal reinsurance backstop for homeowners in certain areas and states.
·Supporting efforts to make permanent the tax cuts enacted through the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, including its lower tax brackets and other pro-growth provisions that will benefit millions of individuals and business owners.
·Working on an agent-specific tax issue to allow owners to write off intangible assets on the sale of their agency over five years instead of the current 15-year timetable.
·Addressing incremental health care reforms that will arise in Congress in the coming year.
“The stage is set for a productive 108th Congress, and IIABA will advocate on behalf of independent agents and brokers,” Rusbuldt added. “IIABA will be wasting no time pressing ahead with an ambitious agenda at this critical juncture in our industry.”