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Don McKee: Insurance commissioner -- Be informed on key race

October 9, 2018

In the under-the-radar category this midterm election cycle in Georgia are races for three state commissioners with far-ranging regulatory powers over automobile and health insurance, agricultural products and labor issues such as jobless compensation. There also are two races for the Public Service Commission which regulates state utilities including energy, telecommunications and intrastate transportation businesses — all key pocketbook concerns. These races will be reviewed before election day, beginning with insurance commissioner.

Three candidates vying for insurance commissioner are Republican Jim Beck, Democrat Janice Laws and Libertarian Donnie Foster. The incumbent, Republican Ralph Hudgens, decided not to seek a third term and his choice of successor, deputy commissioner Jay Florence, lost to Beck in the primary.

Beck has three decades of experience in health services and politics, including a stint as chief of staff for Hudgens. After he won the May primary, his state work records were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in June, according to news reports. In response, his campaign said Beck did not know what the matter was about and was “not in position to comment on it.”

Beck pledges to hold tele-town hall hearings on proposed excessive rate increases, and if appropriate, challenge them in court.” He says he will work for a “free-market-centered health care system” and will “promote competition by encouraging the marketing of health insurance across state lines” and permit hospital systems “to design and market health insurance products to consumers.” He also says he will deploy four rolling regional offices for people to talk with an investigator to ask for help.

Democrat Janice Laws, an insurance broker with 15 years in the industry, says she will “be the consumer advocacy insurance commissioner to fight” for families “and not for big business.” She says her first order of business will be to address the cost of automobile insurance, asserting that rate hikes over the past decade have “made insurance nearly cost-prohibitive for many Georgians.” She pledges to fight for lower rates on car and health insurance, “will advocate for caps on premium increase” and will push to reduce the minimum insurance coverage required by the state on personal automobiles. She also says she will advocate for legislation to provide resources to local fire departments and ensure they “have the equipment, resources and training to effectively fight fires.” This relates to another hat worn by the insurance commissioner, that of state safety fire commissioner.

Libertarian Donnie Foster takes a different tack from the usual campaign practice. He pledges to not accept campaign contributions or gifts from the insurance industry regulated by the office of insurance commissioner, saying on his website, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” His position is a welcome change from the usual practice of regulators accepting campaign contributions for the industry they regulate.

Foster also says he will fight to lower the required minimum insurance coverage and the minimum liability coverage. He proposes to give local fire departments more authority, saying people “shouldn’t have to wait for the state fire marshal to approve your home addition.”

Another pledge by Foster on a controversial issue is this: “I will fight the legislature and work to repeal the Illegal Immigration Reform Enforcement Act which requires all persons applying for a permit to the Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner to show that they are documented residents.” The 2011 law mandates that documented verification (including a driver’s license and numerous other documents) must be provided in applying for licenses, permits, registrations and certificates issued by the state agency.

Foster might have harkened back to the unintended consequences of the law, which caused an estimated $140 million in agricultural losses on the heels of the legislation’s enactment. As crops rotted in the fields, there was a move to use state prisoners to help in harvesting Georgia fruits and vegetables — which had been the work of immigrants, many of them illegal.

If this becomes an issue debated by all the candidates, this race could become more interesting — and informative for voters. The important thing, however, is for voters to inform themselves about this race for insurance commissioner, for it has such a wide and pervasive impact on every voter and every citizen of Georgia. Be informed — and vote!

Contact Don McKee at 9613@aol.com.

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