Bill to Make Insurance Director Elected Post Gets Favorable Report

March 22, 2012

Investigative Reports

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SC StatehouseAn S.C. Senate subcommittee charged with considering the merits of a bill that would make the state insurance director an elected position wasted little time approving the measure Wednesday.

A Senate Judicial subcommittee voted to forward S. 1124 to the full Senate Judiciary Committee with a favorable report.

“Currently, there’s no transparency with an appointed insurance director; there’s no sense that it’s any more than the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, the bill’s sponsor and one of the subcommittee’s three members.

Rankin said that enabling the insurance director to be an elected position, rather than one appointed by the governor as it is now in South Carolina, would make the office more accountable to the people.

“This needs to be a position that the people can have confidence in,” he said.

At present, 12 states have elected insurance directors, including Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Florida elected its insurance director until 2003, when that state’s law was changed and the top insurance official began reporting to the state’s chief financial officer.

In 2010, a bill before the Georgia Senate sought to make that state’s insurance commissioner appointed rather than elected. The bill made it through a second reading in the state Senate before the session ended, but no further.

Five years ago, Grand Strand legislators, led by Rankin, introduced legislation to alter the insurance director’s office to an elected position, but the effort failed.

The push to change how the state’s top insurance official is chosen was driven in 2007 by rising homeowners’ insurance costs along the coast, which came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Many insurance companies boosted coverage costs sharply or dumped policies along the coast, and thousands of property owners found themselves uninsured or struggling to pay premiums in areas prone to hurricanes.

That bill ultimately died in committee, as did a similar House bill.

That proposed legislation was seen as a slap at then-Gov. Mark Sanford, the former two-term chief executive whose priorities included putting more state offices under the control of the Governor’s Office but who was perceived as not having done enough to help coastal homeowners with spiraling insurance costs.

Under the current bill, the title of the state’s top insurance official would be changed from director of insurance to commissioner of insurance.

The commissioner and any candidate running for the office would be prohibited from accepting campaign contributions or anything of value, directly or indirectly, from insurance companies regulated by the S.C. Department of Insurance, their subsidiaries, or from insurance agents or any other insurance professionals.

If the bill were to become law this session, the election of an insurance commissioner would begin with the 2014 statewide election.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.