St. Charles Herald-Guide

Multiple pieces of legislation aim to fix Biggert-Waters Act

From staff and wire reports - June 14, 2013

Several pieces of legislation and amendments sponsored by the Louisiana Congressional delegation should work to correct changes to the National Flood Insurance Program that have caused widespread panic in St. Charles Parish and around the country.

As it currently stands, the Biggert-Waters Act could lead to large flood insurance premium increases by disallowing the grandfathering of insurance policies on homes that were placed above base flood elevation at the time of their construction. Homes in the communities of Luling, Boutte, Paradis, Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands that would be below base flood elevation under new FEMA flood maps would be the most affected in the parish. Homeowners in those areas could end up paying thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for insurance that now only costs them a few hundred dollars.

However, several state Senators and congressmen have introduced legislation they believe will prevent that from happening, or at least delay implementation until the actís more drastic pieces can be changed.

Sen. Mary Landrieu is sponsoring the S.M.A.R.T. NFIP Act, which will delay premium increases, repeal provisions preventing new owners of sold homes to continue subsidized rates and allow the rebuilding of key community facilities destroyed in a disaster that lie in velocity zones (v-zones). The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.)

Sen. David Vitter is also sponsoring the Responsible Implementation of Flood Insurance Reform Act, which would delay the period of phasing in rates, give flexibility for state and local governments to assist with subsidizing flood insurance and reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mapping procedure.

An amendment by Congressman Bill Cassidy that would delay premium increases for one year also passed 281-146. Cassidyís amendment was sponsored by Congressman Steve Scalise Congressman Cedric Richmond, Congressman Charles Boustany and many others.

Legislation sponsored by Congressman Cedric Richmond would also delay implementation of certain sections of the Biggert-Waters Act and ensures FEMA is working with local communities to draft the most accurate flood maps possible.

Greater New Orleans, Inc., a regional economic development alliance who has helped St. Charles fight the Biggert-Waters Act, says their coalition has grown to include the Louisiana Realtors Association, Louisiana Bankers Association and Louisiana Homebuilders Association.

"Louisiana bankers are about serving their customers," said Robert Taylor, CEO of the Louisiana Bankers Association. "If flood insurance remains as outlined in Biggert-Waters, bank customers will have less access to credit for homeownership and for small businesses. This result will be directly due to the new flood insurance provisions. Congress needs to adopt amendments offered by the Louisiana Congressional delegation to provide the needed time to study the affordability of flood insurance and provide recommendations for future legislation."

Norman Morris, the senior vice president of the Louisiana Realtors, said the Biggert Waters Act is denying their clients the opportunity to sell, close on a property transaction or even remain a property owner.

"The Louisiana Realtors is working with other like–minded groups and Louisianaís Congressional delegation to amend the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 to keep flood insurance premiums affordable for those that are required to purchase it," he said.