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WASHINGTON, DC-The Coalition to Insure against Terrorism has made its plea for the maintenance of a federal backstop in the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 in its current or revamped form prior to the legislation’s scheduled expiration date of Dec. 31, 2005. James E. Maurin, chairman of Covington, LA-based Sterling Properties and former chairman of the International Council of Shopping Centers, testified yesterday on behalf of CIAT before the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises. CIAT is a member organization of insurance policyholders ranging from members of trade organizations to the real estate industry to such entities as the US Chamber of Commerce.

“CIAT is unanimous in its belief that the federal government must continue to provide a reinsurance backstop beyond 2005 if we are to avoid major disruptions to the economy,” Maurin told the committee. He said that already, the insurance industry’s fear of the loss or reduction of a federal backstop is becoming apparent in the form of various restrictions now being imposed on renewal polices or those policies that extend beyond Dec. 31. He said those actions will ultimately negatively affect construction lending and debt rating, thereby paving the way for economic damage. Maurin countered the stance taken in the US Department of the Treasury’s June 30th report that the insurance industry is now capable of providing terrorism insurance on its own, noting that, if insurers were prepared to handle the coverage without the help of the government, they would not have begun the process of instituting exclusionary notices and cancellations in the form of “popup” exclusions.

Acknowledging that Congress is now faced with either choosing a temporary renewal of TRIA with certain changes as specified by the administration or crafting a new long-term solution to replace TRIA, Maurin spoke about certain criteria that CIAT deems necessary in either case. “First, the program should include a requirement for insurers to ‘make available’ insurance against the terrorism peril in all lines of commercial insurance to all customers,” he said. “Such a requirement is necessary to ensure that property owners and businesses will be able to secure sufficient terrorism risk coverage to adequately protect their assets and their employees who work there.”

His testimony suggests that any new program should also be comprehensive, providing coverage for catastrophic events caused by such terrorist acts including nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological attacks, in addition to attacks by domestic terrorists. “Moreover,” Maurin added, “the new program should create a system which is sufficiently flexible that it allows the private sector to develop over time alternative forms of capacity to cover the terrorism risk, while still retaining the federal reinsurance backstop during the life of the program.”

Real Estate Roundtable treasurer Penny Pritzker of Pritzker Realty Group LP also testified at the hearing, speaking about the future of terrorism insurance and the need to have some form of TRIA or a replacement legislation in place before the expiration date. “As Alan Greenspan testified last week to this Committee, ‘so long as we have terrorism that has the capability of a very substantial scope of damage, there is no way you can expect [the] private insurance system to handle that,’ ” Pritzker said in her testimony. “ Without a backstop, the terrorism insurance market is very likely to once again become highly unstable, with potentially very harmful effects on the economy. TRIA was successful. Perhaps it can be made more market oriented without causing market disruption, and, perhaps, a long-term solution is within grasp. The most important action, however, is to ‘act’ by putting a program in place long before the year ends.”

“If TRIA isn’t reauthorized or replaced with another program, businesses in Manhattan and other major urban centers will face reduced access to coverage and higher terrorism insurance premiums,” said Partnership for New York City president and CEO Kathryn S. Wyle. “Continued inaction in Washington will make financing more difficult to obtain and create a drag on economic growth.” She added that the potential loss of insurance coverage for major developments, including the World Trade Center, combined with the inadequacy of homeland security funding formulas and ongoing security concerns, heightened by the recent incidents in London and Egypt, “could have a chilling effect on the economy in the entire metro region.”

Representatives from industries ranging from the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America to the Consumer Federation of America offered testimony on the subject of terrorism at the hearing. There are approximately 50 working days remaining on the calendar for the current congressional session.

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