Insurance ideas, voting get leaders' attention

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COLUMBIA - Newly appointed Director of Insurance Scott Richardson outlined his plans for addressing the availability and cost of coastal property insurance before a House subcommittee Wednesday.

Also this week, lawmakers approved the Criminal Gang Prevention Act and resurrected a bill that would require South Carolina to accept other states' concealed-weapons permits.

A bill giving Beaufort County more voting precincts also got final approval from the General Assembly.

Lawmakers are struggling with the issue of rising premiums for coastal property insurance and the estimated 22,000 policies that have been canceled.

Mr. Richardson said he prefers a market-based approach, rather than a set of governmental mandates that might encourage insurance companies to flee to states that make it easier to do business.

He said although he's open to expanding the wind pool to make guaranteed wind insurance more widely available, any expansion he approves will be smaller and more targeted than what former Director Eleanor Kitzman had proposed.

Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, described one resident whose premium had increased from $2,000 to $3,800.

"When we see those kinds of increases, we just can't wait on the market," Ms. Haley said.

She favors expanding the wind pool specifically in areas being hit the hardest by canceled policies and increasing premiums.

Mr. Richardson said expanding might be a piece of the solution.

But he suggested tax breaks for consumers and insurers.

If, for example, property owners' insurance premiums exceed 5 percent of their adjusted gross income, they could be eligible for a tax rebate, he said.

Insurance companies also could be offered a tax incentive to provide coastal property insurance, Mr. Richardson said.

"We need someone to assure 20-something thousand people that the cavalry is coming," said Rep. Skipper Perry, R-Aiken.

Mr. Richardson responded, "Our cavalry is sitting on their horses, ready to go."

Also this week:

- The Senate sent the Criminal Gang Prevention Act to the House, laying out several gang-related crimes and their punishments and giving state grand juries jurisdiction over criminal gang activities.

- The House passed a bill requiring South Carolina to honor other states' concealed-weapons permits, regardless of whether that state's standards are more lenient than South Carolina's.

- Legislation expanding the number of Beaufort County voting precincts passed the House. It has already passed the Senate, so it now heads to Gov. Mark Sanford for his approval. The bill was sponsored by Mr. Richardson when he was a state senator, and if signed by Mr. Sanford is expected to take effect before voters head to the polls to choose Mr. Richardson's successor.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.


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