Louisiana joins Mississippi in fighting FEMA - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Louisiana joins Mississippi in fighting FEMA


NEW ORLEANS - The state of Louisiana has now joined a lawsuit filed by Mississippi challenging new flood insurance rates tied to the Biggert-Waters Act.

Insurance commissioner Jim Donelon filed a brief supporting that lawsuit, which calls for Congress to study the impact before the rate hikes are implemented.

It's an issue that has riled residents of Louisiana and other coastal states, and homeowners like Cheryl Kelly of Venetian Isles have been paying close attention.

"It's really crazy," said Kelly. "How can you say we're going to charge you these rates?"

The Biggert-Waters Act, which was designed to prop up the nation's flood insurance program, was going to impose huge rates increases on some homes.

"I have hired the lawyers that GNO Inc. was working with and joined with Mississippi, Florida and Massachusetts," Donelon said.

Two months ago, the state of Mississippi filed suit against FEMA to block the implementation of the new rate hikes. Now, Louisiana has joined in and filed an amicus, or "friend of the court" brief, showing its support.

"It calls for a suspension of the rate increases until the study is done, and legislation has been introduced, but it's gotten pushback in Congress," Donelon said.

Louisiana's legal strategy gives the state two chances of success when it comes to blocking rate hikes that could devastate homeowners, businesses, and in some cases, whole communities.

"An amicus brief says we do generally support, but it allows us to look and see what happens in Mississippi, and depending on how that goes down, maybe we file identical or modify it to increase chance of success," said Michael Hecht with GNO Inc., which has been crusading against the rate hikes.

Venetian Isles homeowners say joining the lawsuit in Mississippi could help develop cooperation and save their community. They also say it could lead to the development of a Chef Menteur land bridge that could protect the entire region.

"If we could coordinate with Mississippi to see what their issues are, I think it would be more cost-effective for everyone concerned," Kelly said.

While the region works on long-term flood solutions, Louisiana will wait to see if the courts offer some insurance rate relief before Congress acts.

"The lawsuit is a good strategy, and it shows Washington D.C. how serious this issue is," said Hecht.

For homeowners, there's still a long way to go, but the war against massive rate hikes has begun.

In addition to the lawsuit, there's a bill to postpone the new insurance rate hikes. Michael Hecht says a bipartisan group of lawmakers is now trying to get it attached to the defense bill, but it's not known if it will succeed.

Donelon says the rate increases would have a negative impact in as many as 20 states, but he says no state is as adversely affected as Louisiana.

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