Maryland Bills Address Isabel Flood Concerns

In the final days of the General Assembly’s 2004 session, Maryland lawmakers approved several measures to help Tropical Storm Isabel victims and to prevent future problems with flood insurance policies.

On the last day of the 90-day session in Annapolis, legislators approved a bill to keep mortgage companies from requiring homeowners to buy flood insurance policies worth more than their homes. Many Isabel victims discovered they had been paying for more coverage than they needed.

As long as victims of natural disasters rebuild homes that are the same quality and size, they will be protected from property tax assessment hikes, according to a bill passed over the weekend. The assessments would be frozen until the next regular evaluation.

“They won’t have a higher tax simply because they rebuilt a property that was destroyed,” said Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, who brought the bill.

Responding to complaints that flood insurance agents are unfamiliar with the details of their policies, lawmakers approved a bill requiring agents to be educated about the programs. Congress is considering requiring more education for flood insurance agents.

Also approved was a bill making it a criminal violation to act as a public adjuster without a license. Adjusters advocate on behalf of property owners in insurance disputes and generally are paid a portion of the settlement.

Earlier in the session, Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed into law a measure that provides low-interest loans for Isabel victims.

The National Flood Insurance Program has agreed to evaluate again the 24,000 claims filed after Isabel.

“The voices of our victims were heard both in the halls of Annapolis and Capitol Hill,” said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who testified on much of the legislation. “This was a fight worth fighting.”

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