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Senator Dodd, Commissioner Lara, Treasurer Ma Launch California Disaster Insurance Bill to Stabilize State Budget Costs from Catastrophic Events

News: 2019 Press Release

For Release: February 14, 2019
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Senator Dodd, Commissioner Lara, Treasurer Ma Launch California Disaster Insurance Bill to Stabilize State Budget Costs from Catastrophic Events
SB 290 authorizes California leaders to pursue insurance that pays out for unexpected disaster response costs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has seen the cost of fighting wildfires grow to record highs over the past decade. Today Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, and Treasurer Fiona Ma proposed a new model to reduce wildfire risk with California Disaster Insurance (SB 290).

SB 290 authorizes the Governor, Insurance Commissioner, and Treasurer to enter into an insurance policy that pays out when California has unexpected costs for disaster response.

California Disaster Insurance would function like home insurance, but for our state—allowing the state to pay a premium using a portion of existing emergency funds that would trigger a payment to the state in the event of a disaster.

“Rising wildfire suppression costs can strain California’s financial resources and threaten cuts to critical programs,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. “As climate change continues to contribute to devastating infernos, we need a strategy to reduce the pressure on state and community coffers. This bill would do just that, allowing the state to invest in an insurance policy to ensure budget predictability and reduce taxpayers’ exposure to increasing costs associated with disasters, especially wildfires.”

“In seven of the last ten years, our firefighting costs have exceeded our budget projections—by more than $450 million in 2017 alone,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “California Disaster Insurance is a better solution that gives taxpayers the benefit of predictable costs, so we can invest in a safer future. As we confront destructive climate-drive events, we need to be open to new models that reduce risk to our communities and budgets. California Disaster Insurance is our first response.”

“This policy makes annual wildfire suppression costs more predictable, protecting the taxpayers from the volatility that has been seen over the past several years and creating budget stability and preserving other investments,” said State Treasurer Fiona Ma. “It is time for California to be proactive and not reactive.”

California spent $947 million in 2017-18 through the emergency fund for firefighting—more than $450 million more than budgeted, according to Cal Fire. The costs of fighting wildfires have overrun Cal Fire’s emergency budget in seven of the last 10 years. Since 2007, California has experienced 11 of the top 20 most destructive fires in its history.

The federal government, the World Bank, and the state of Oregon have all used insurance to reduce the risk to taxpayers following disasters.

The State of Oregon has purchased insurance protection against ever-changing wildfire costs for nearly 40 years—spending $61 million on premiums and receiving $102 million in insurance payments.

California currently pays for wildfire disasters with available funds, and California Disaster Insurance will come from those same sources.

Giving California greater budget predictability can empower the state to invest to reduce future risks.

SB 290 must be in print for 30 days before it can be scheduled for a committee hearing.

Led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Department of Insurance is the consumer protection agency for the nation's largest insurance marketplace and safeguards all of the state’s consumers by fairly regulating the insurance industry. Under the Commissioner’s direction, the Department uses its authority to protect Californians from insurance rates that are excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, oversee insurer solvency to pay claims, set standards for agents and broker licensing, perform market conduct reviews of insurance companies, resolve consumer complaints, and investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Consumers are urged to call 1-800-927-4357 with any questions or contact us at via webform or online chat. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.

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