Capitol Alert

Wildfire claims shaped new insurance law + ‘Split-roll’ rally + Cal Channel lives on

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks to an overflow crowd at a town hall meeting in Grass Valley, Thursday, August 22, 2019, to address the concerns of local residents after a rise in homeowners insurance premiums and non-renewal letters due to recent California wildfires.
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks to an overflow crowd at a town hall meeting in Grass Valley, Thursday, August 22, 2019, to address the concerns of local residents after a rise in homeowners insurance premiums and non-renewal letters due to recent California wildfires. jpierce@sacbee.com

We’re midway to the weekend, California. Until then, got tips, recipes, feedback, suggestions? Send ‘em my way: hwiley@sacbee.com

‘CRISIS’ OR NO?

Two wildfire victims are suing the California Department of Insurance, alleging that the agency failed to protect Californians from out-of-state adjusters who’ve bungled their claims in the wake of tragic fires.

The Department of Insurance has dismissed the case as an “attempt to manufacture a ‘crisis’ that does not exist.”

Yet Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has endorsed a new law that was designed to mitigate the exact issue the lawsuit aims to address: untrained, out-of-state adjusters who aren’t privy to California law.

The state agency is adamant that Senate Bill 240 renders the suit a “moot” action, and has moved to dismiss the case. One of the plaintiffs, Jon B. Eisenberg, said the new law is an insufficient fix to the problem. And he should know, he said. He helped write the law.

Eisenberg made a second settlement offer to the department last week, in which he said he worked behind the scenes with Capitol staff to write the new law that Lara supported. The law requires better education for adjusters.

The lawsuit alleges many of the adjusters were working in California illegally because they were misreported as employees, not independent workers.

“The whole basis was to get the people in charge to do their job, to protect consumers,” said Jeff Sengstack, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The agencies set up to protect consumers ought to do that.”

The department argues that the agency already holds adjusters accountable, and that it’s within the discretion of the commissioner, not the courts, to enforce insurance codes to crack down on the workers.

“This lawsuit is trying to fool the public by taking advantage of legitimate concerns about adjuster training,” said department spokesman Michael Soller, “when it would do nothing for them.”

To read the full report, click here.

RACE TO ONE MILLION

A coalition of activists supporting the ballot initiative that would put a crack in California’s 40-year-old cap on property tax increases are planning to rally and hold a press conference this morning on the North Steps of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m.

The group, which includes more than 100 seniors who are joining faith and labor advocates, are backing the so-called “split-roll” initiative. The proposal, dubbed the Schools and Communities First Act, would change Proposition 13 by allowing more frequent reassessments of commercial and business property. Backers of the initiative estimate it will generate “at least” $11 billion a year, to be funneled toward schools and local services.

They’re attempting to collect more than 1 million signatures.

“As a retired public school teacher, I have seen the devastating impact that this inequity has cost our schools,” said Hene Kelly, legislative director for the California Alliance for Retired Americans. “Now that I am a senior and depend on services like public transit, first responders, libraries and senior centers, we must close the loophole in Prop 13 to bring equity to our tax system and provide billions of dollars to our local schools- while continuing to protect seniors and other residential property owners from property tax increases.”

Opponents say it’s yet another poorly constructed vehicle to raise taxes.

“This is the clearest evidence yet that those behind the split-roll measure aren’t concerned with what’s best for Californians,” said Rob Lapsley and Allan Zaremberg with the Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes. “They’re focused on raising taxes at any cost, even through a terribly flawed measure.”

DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS

California’s own C-SPAN shut down last week, effectively ending a more than two-decade effort to increase transparency in the Capitol.

But California Channel hasn’t gone completely black.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced on Tuesday that recordings from March 6, 2012 to Sept. 13, 2019 are now available through the California State Archives. Earlier recordings are still available by request, but were not digitized.

“Transparency of the legislative process is crucial for citizens’ access to and oversight of our democracy,” Padilla said, via news release. “For more than 25 years, Cal Channel provided a view into the proceedings of state government for all Californians.”

Cal Channel President John Hancock told Capitol Weekly in June that the board of directors voted to shut down the service. He said Proposition 54’s passage in 2016 limited the continued need for the channel, since the Legislature is now mandated to record proceedings.

TWEET OF THE DAY

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.
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