Landrieu: Flood insurance bill could get vote after new year

The U.S. Senate is planning to vote as soon as January to delay flood insurance hikes for many policyholders in Louisiana and nationwide, Sen. Mary Landrieu confirmed Wednesday.

The tentative plan is for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to announce on Thursday the process to expedite a Senate vote on the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act in early 2014 shortly after another, likely futile, effort is made to pass the bill with unanimous Senate support. The legislation was submitted by Reid for a procedural second reading on Wednesday.

“Flood insurance is moving under tremendous support from a great coalition that’s come together,” Landrieu, D-La., said in an interview. “We’re going to ask unanimous consent ... Thursday to go ahead and take care of it in the Senate and, hopefully, we’ll get it.

“If not, Harry Reid is committed and will announce ... that he’s scheduled a vote for it when we get back (next year),” she continued. “And we have the 60 votes to pass it.”

The National Flood Insurance Program has been in financial distress with a loss of nearly $25 billion, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Louisiana has nearly 500,000 NFIP policies, and there are more than 5.5 million policyholders nationwide.

Congress last year passed legislation to make the program more self-sustainable in a large omnibus bill, but the flood insurance rate hikes are much more expensive and onerous that many lawmakers anticipated.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would delay by about four years the insurance hikes on primary residences — excluding properties that suffered repeated flooding — that have “grandfathered” lower premiums. The legislation also would delay the property sale “trigger” so that homes and businesses sold after July 6, 2012, do not see dramatic automatic insurance increases.

The legislation does not address rate hikes though for businesses, secondary vacation homes and homes that repeatedly flooded that were all grandfathered into artificially lower premiums for flood insurance before flood maps were created. Such affected policyholders will see 25 percent annual premium increases over a few years.

The lead sponsors of the legislation are U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. But Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., are counted among nearly 30 cosponsors.

The same bill in the House has nearly 170 cosponsors, but the legislation has not yet moved. One of the key roadblocks is the opposition of Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee through which the bill would likely travel.

In a funding bill, the House has passed a one-year delay of the flood insurance hikes – an amendment by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge – but the lack of a budget deal until this week had stalled the progression of all such appropriations bills.