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State Senate passes bill that would give North Bay fire victims relief

The state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation giving fire victims who lost their homes in October more flexibility under their insurance policies to rebuild, though a related measure remains stymied by industry opposition in the chamber.

Senators voted 24-11 in favor of the measure, SB 894, by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, which would aid fire victims who find themselves severely underinsured as they attempt to rebuild. The bill would apply retroactively to July 1, 2017 to benefit the almost 6,200 North Bay homes lost in last year’s wildfires.

The Dodd bill now heads to the state Assembly.

It would allow policyholders to combine their homeowner policies for different coverage areas - such as personal property and outside dwellings - to pay for rebuilding their primary dwelling.

In a concession to industry opposition, Dodd narrowed his measure so that the insurance payments would apply to actual losses accrued, not the maximum amount listed under each line item of a policy. Additionally, three conditions must be met: The actual cause of loss must be declared a disaster by the governor, there must a total loss of a primary dwelling and policyholders must show they have insufficient coverage to rebuild.

“Tragic and destructive wildfires over the past few years have revealed shortcomings in the law that have allowed insurance companies to take advantage of people,” Dodd said. “This bill will put an end to the abuses, providing needed ?relief for victims struggling ?desperately to put their lives back together.”

The legislation also expands the insurance coverage for living expenses from two years to three, and increases from one year to two the length of time insurance companies would be required to provide victims with policy renewals in the aftermath of such disasters. Companies also must report to the Insurance Commissioner if they decline to renew a policy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, is attempting to move his bill (SB 897) that would require insurance carriers to pay out at least 80 percent of the maximum limit under a homeowner’s personal property coverage without requiring policyholders to itemize losses. The provision would be granted for claims in a declared disaster area.

“We’re still working on it,” said Kerrie Lindecker, McGuire’s spokeswoman.

Under pressure from state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, most carriers have paid out from 50 percent to 100 percent of personal property limits without itemization in the aftermath of the October fires. Many policyholders have complained that compiling a list of individual items lost is too burdensome and traumatic as they try to rebuild.

The McGuire bill must pass the chamber by Friday or it will be dead for the legislative session.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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