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Residents Protest Wilson Veto of Homeowners' Bill of Rights : Insurance: Sen. Art Torres vows to fight for the measure, designed to protect earthquake and fire victims from company intimidation.


NORTHRIDGE — United in their quest to fight Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of the so-called Homeowners' Bill of Rights, about 100 victims of the Northridge earthquake and Altadena fires held a protest in front of a red-tagged house Sunday to voice their outrage.

"Citizens are up in arms that Wilson saw fit to veto the Bill of Rights that would help us negotiate with insurance companies," said Sandy Weiss, who with his wife, Marla, owns the quake-ravaged house on Yolanda Avenue in Northridge. "The insurance companies don't want to deal with us fairly."

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), was killed Friday by Wilson in a last-minute veto. It was designed to protect earthquake and fire victims from insurance company intimidation and would have rewritten the laws governing homeowners insurance for the first time in 60 years, Torres said.

The measure, SB 1355, also would have increased homeowner property loss protection, required policies to be written in language understandable to the average homeowner and prohibited policies from stating they provide "guaranteed replacement coverage" if they do not provide full coverage on a home.

The bill was opposed by insurance companies and was heavily lobbied in the Legislature.

"We are serving notice on the insurance companies, the governor and (Assemblyman Charles W.) Quackenbush that we have just begun to fight," said Torres, who spoke at Sunday's rally. "We will not rest until every claim is paid, and every victim is back in their home." Quackenbush (R-Cupertino) was one of the legislators who argued against the bill.

The Weisses' situation is indicative of problems that owners of quake-damaged homes are facing, protesters said.

The walls and ceilings of the home were badly damaged in the Jan. 17 quake. The damage was covered by the Weisses' homeowners insurance policy, but when they were hit with unexpected costs because of asbestos found in the house, their insurer declined to pay the extra cost.

"They told us just to scrape it off and paint over it, but that is impossible," Marla Weiss said. "It would not only contaminate our lungs, but the whole neighborhood."

Ken Pollock, chairman of a group of Farmers Insurance policyholders, said it is outrageous that claimants don't understand what their policy covers because of the complex and contradictory language used.

"The bill would have forced insurance companies to rewrite their policies," Pollock said. "Right now they call it an easy-reader policy, but there is nothing easy about it."

Torres, who is running for state insurance commissioner in November, said he has asked state Sen. Nicholas C. Petras (D-Oakland) to work toward overriding the governor's veto when the state Senate reconvenes in December.

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