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Title News - January/ February, 2007

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Congressional Update
Election 2006 - What Does it Mean for the Title Industry?

by Edward C. Miller

Title insurance does not seem to be the focus of the 110th Congress. However the GAO study is due out in the spring, which might mean hearings on industry practices. Read about the new players important to our industry.

Senate:
The Democrats will pick up the majority in the Senate 51-49 when we count incoming Independent Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Joe Lieberman as voting with the Democrats. Leiberman won as an Independent in Connecticut after being abandoned by the Democrats in his primary race.
Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) will take over the Banking Committee. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) will remain important on the committee as the ranking member. Dodd is known as a supporter of the insurance industry due to its heavy presence in Connecticut. New Democrat Senators assigned to the Banking Committee are Senators Akaka (HI), Brown (OH), Casey (PA), and Tester (MT).
New Chairmen that might affect the industry include the following: the Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) the Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT); and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chaired by Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI).

House:
Democrats have taken over the House of Representatives. The Democrats have captured 232 seats to the Republicans 201. No incumbent Democrats lost their seats. Two races remain undecided.
Next year the House Financial Services Committee will be chaired by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). The populist Rep. Frank is one of the most intelligent Members of the House who understands that business and government must work together to succeed. He has given us some indication that the focus will come off real estate industry practices, including title insurance, and target increasing low and moderate income housing production.
There are seven Republican vacancies and two Democratic vacancies on the committee due to retirements and losses. The ratio will switch to give Democrats majority control over all committees and subcommittees. Potential subcommittee chairmen according to seniority include: Reps. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). It is unknown today whether all these senior Members will take chairs with this committee or switch to other committees as Democratic representation increases.
Committee Republican seats lost due to retirement are Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH), Mark Kennedy (R-MN), and Katherine Harris (R-FL). Reps. Jim Leach (R-IA), Sue Kelly (R-NY), and Jim Ryun (R-KS) were defeated. Democratic members retiring to run for the Senate were Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who won his Senate race.
Other committees with some interest in title industry issues should see the following chairs take the gavel: Energy and Commerce, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI); Judiciary, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI); and Ways and Means, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY).

Analysis:
It is anticipated that legislation to create a new optional federal insurance charter for Life and Property/Casualty insurance companies will be reintroduced early in the 110th Congress. Chairman Dodd has not given any indication of where he stands on this issue. Chairman Frank has expressed some support for an optional charter for life insurance companies but has some reservations about an expansion to property/casualty.
Both chairmen are expected to focus their respective committees on low and moderate income housing production, predatory lending, ID theft and data security, and credit card practices. It is also expected that if legislation is not enacted during the lame duck session in December regarding regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that this issue will be revived in the 110th Congress.
The GAO study of the title insurance industry is scheduled to be completed during the first quarter of 2007. Depending on the results of that report, hearings could be scheduled on title industry practices. The Title Industry Political Action Committee (TIPAC) supported 75 candidates up for election in 2006. Two candidates retired, and ten lost either their bids for reelection or for higher office.


Edward C. Miller is ALTA®’s chief counsel and vice president of public policy. He can be reached at 800-787-2582 ext. 214 or ed@alta.org.



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