The new fiscal year started on September 1 and it has already been an eventful year. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast at the end of August and caused unprecedented damage and disruption to those persons living and doing business in that part of the state. In recognition of the hardship caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Commission extended licensing and renewal deadlines statewide for all license holders and applicants with August and September deadlines until October 31, 2017. In addition, the Commission further extended those deadlines for those persons who need it and who live in the 60-county disaster area declared by Governor Abbot set to expire August 31, 2017, through January 31, 2018, until February 28, 2018. We hope this provides some relief at this very difficult time we extend our best wishes to all those affected by the storm and hope for each a full recovery.
As has been mentioned in past issues of the Inspector Insight, as of September 1 the old 8-hour SOP CE course is no longer valid. It has been replaced by the new 4-hour Inspector Legal and Ethics Update course and the 4-Hour SOP Review course. These courses provide much-needed consistency to update inspectors of statutory and rule changes, as well as the required duties and responsibilities of an inspector. Many thanks to those who worked hard on these courses.
The Inspector Committee met in Austin on October 9 to discuss the inspector related rules proposed at the August Commission meeting, and to determine if there were any needed changes based on comments received on those rules. As part of our ongoing effort to increase transparency and encourage involvement from all stakeholders, the Inspector Committee meeting was live-streamed online for the first time. This allowed license holders and members of the public to view the meeting as it happened. This meeting was an initial test run to see if streaming the meeting will be practical to better serve the community of stakeholders. No decision has yet been made about future streaming as the staff continues to explore options. Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.
At the meeting, the Committee reviewed comments that were received for proposed changes to the inspector financial responsibility requirements (22 TAC 535.211), in particular, the proposal to prohibit “defense within limits” clauses in insurance policies purchased by inspectors to meet the minimum financial responsibility requirements. Defense within limits clauses erode the policy limits by subtracting legal defense costs from the total limits of liability. Because Section 1102.1141 of the Texas Occupations Code ties the required limits of financial responsibility directly for the purpose of protection of the public, any policy language that reduces those limits due to costs associated with defending the insured inspector is in direct conflict with the stated intent of the statute.
While these “defense within limits” clauses have been used in practice for some time, the Committee has only recently been made aware of their extensive use. Because of this apparent conflict with the statute, the Committee recommended amendments to the rule to provide clarity to both insurers and inspectors of what is required to be in full compliance with the statute. However, based on concerns from the inspector industry about the potential effect these proposed changes may have on the availability of insurance, the Committee is recommending that the Commission delay adoption of the proposed changes until its February meeting. This will allow staff time to provide the Committee additional information on the potential impact these changes may have on insurance policy availability and premiums.
In addition to the proposed changes to the financial responsibility rules, at its August meeting, the Commission also proposed removing the exemption from licensure for certain Inspector CE providers. No comments were received on that proposal and the Committee is recommending that the Commission move forward with adoption of that rule.
As always, I want to thank those of you who provided input and I want to encourage all of you to be involved and to attend our Committee meetings and provide feedback. Your involvement is essential to the work we do for the consumers of Texas, and we are grateful.