State office would oversee NM’s insurance industry
Leavell (R-Eddy and Lea counties) is one of four co-signers of the House bill that would implement a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November to remove the insurance regulation from the Public Regulation Commission.
The five-member PRC currently selects the state regulator overseeing insurance prices and policies. Leavell said the proposal now heads to the Senate, where he will work hard to get it pushed through and onto the governor's desk for her signature. Leavell said if the measure is successful, the proposed Department of Insurance could be in place later this year.
Under the bill unanimously approved by the House on Monday, a nine-member commission will appoint the superintendent of insurance. Leavell, who is in the insurance business in Lea County, said the House and Senate will each name two members to the commission, and governor will select four members.
A ninth member will be appointed by the others on the commission.
He said under the proposal, the insurance superintendent will serve four-year terms and can be removed by the commission for certain reasons, including incompetence and malfeasance in office.
Leavell said he strongly favors the creation of the Department of Insurance because the PRC has done a poor job since 1995 whenit was given the regulatory power over the insurance industry in New Mexico.
"We have to take the politics out of the department as much as possible. The PRC has been involved in politics since it was set up," Leavell said. "Having a Department of Insurance will be more consumer friendly. If people can't get any satisfaction with a complaint filed with the department, their appeal will go directly to the State Supreme Court. The way the department will be administered will change drastically. Not only will it be more consumer friendly, it will be free of politics."
Leavell said the plan is to set up the department similar to the state's Workman's Compensation Administration, which he said was set up in 1990 and has worked as "well as any department in state government."
Craig Stephens, owner of Montgomery Agency, Inc. in Carlsbad, said the creation of an insurance department is a 'good thing" and the majority of the insurance industry doing business in New Mexico is in favor of creating an insurance department.
"The insurance industry plays such a large part in New Mexico," Stephens said. "We have had problems with the Public Regulation Commission. I think having an insurance commission and superintendent that deals with insurance companies and consumers would create a friendlier environment. The state' Workman's Compensation Department is an independent standalone agency and it is working very well for us."
State Farm Agent Tom McMullan said State Farm's corporate office is looking at the bill and how it would impact the insurance industry in New Mexico if it is passed.