In the runup to November’s Midterm Election, the Bryan County News will be spotlighting several downballot elections to inform voters of traditionally less-covered races. We reached out to the candidates running for Georgia Insurance Commissioner to learn more about their positions on the issues. Janice Laws is challenging incumbent commissioner Jim Beck.
Responses are below.
Georgia's car insurance rates are the 12th most expensive in the country. If elected, how would you use your office to reduce the rate Georgians pay?
Laws: Georgia auto insurance rates have increased dramatically over the past 10 years, which has made insurance nearly cost-prohibitive for many Georgians. With the passing of Senate Bill 276 in 2008, proposed insurance rate increases go unchallenged. I believe that proposed rate increases should be required to undergo an intense evaluation process to determine if a rate increase is justifiable. I will use my office as a bully pulpit to challenge insurers and press lawmakers for changes. While I support insurers and the business community, I do not support them at the expense of consumers.
Beck: Our next Insurance Commissioner must commit to addressing Georgia auto insurance rates, which, as alluded to in your question, have been spiraling out of control for years at the expense of consumers and of market stability. Many, including the current Commissioner, believe that the Office of Insurance Commissioner is hamstrung from doing much about the situation by the current “file and use” provisions of Georgia law. Although, like other candidates for this office, I believe that “file and use” should be repealed by the General Assembly, I am not willing to simply throw up my hands, promote repeal and hope the legislature takes my advice, because there are things I think the Commissioner can do under current law, which will still be in effect when the new Commissioner takes office in January. Therefore, on Day One, I would organize and begin holding telephone town hall hearings on all proposed excessive rate increases, and if appropriate, challenge those proposals through formal hearing in the Commissioner's Office to determine whether an Order stopping the increase should be issued. I understand that that plan goes against the grain of the last several years, but the next Commissioner should do what is in his or her power to look out for autoinsurance consumers, as well as the market.
The Legislation passed several bills concerning insurance in 2018. If elected, which insurance aspects would you ask them to prioritize in the next session?
Laws: I would like to see bills prioritized that focus on creating a healthier Georgia through affordable, quality healthcare. Georgians have suffered tremendously as a result of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. We deserve quality healthcare and I will fight vigorously to put a health insurance card in the pocket of every Georgian.
Beck: As I mentioned above, even though I believe the Commissioner's hands are not completely tied under current law, I would ask the General Assembly to repeal the "file-and-use" provisions of current Georgia law, so as to clarify and solidify the Commissioner's authority to determine whether an auto rate increase proposal is "excessive" and to take appropriate action, even if there is more than one competitive automobile insurer in the local market.
With wildfires increasing nationally, what initiatives would your office undertake to prevent such destructive fires in Georgia?
Laws: My office will focus on both prevention and wildfire suppression efforts. We will advocate for legislation that can deliver resources to local fire departments across the state in an effort to help educate communities about fire prevention. My office will ensure that our local fire departments have the equipment, resources and training to effectively fight wildfires. In addition we will launch a resource sharing collaborative network that will help local fire departments coordinate on emergency wildfires that require a comprehensive effort.
Beck: Many people are unaware that by Georgia law, one of the titles of the State Insurance Commissioner is Safety Fire Commissioner. In fact, the State Fire Marshal's Office is currently within the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner's purview, Historically, the State Fire Marshal has taken a role in increasing public awareness of fire safety and prevention generally through educational programs, especially in our public schools, and I would explore expanding on those programs to include more emphasis on wildfire or woods fire prevention, in addition to the more common material on household fire safety and on general fire prevention. Of course, many of the wildfires we hear about on the evening news are on State- or Federally-controlled land, such as state or national parks, forests or preserves, which tend to be under the jurisdiction of such entities as the U. S. Forest Service or Department of the Interior, National Park Service, or the Georgia Forestry Commission. However, in addition to the immediate danger to life and property, any large fire of this kind can have significant health consequences to surrounding populations from smoke and other factors. So, as Safety Fire Commissioner, I would be willing to cooperate with other government entities and educational groups to do even more to help prevent these dangerous -- and all too common -- fires.
Learn more about Janice Laws at janiceforgeorgia.com
Learn more about Jim Beck at jimbeckforgeorgia.com