Hurricane Katrina

Congress members will visit Coast

WASHINGTON - About 20 Democratic members of Congress will hold a town hall meeting in Bay St. Louis on Monday to hear residents' complaints that insurance companies have bungled their claims for damages caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Mississippi, said Wednesday the meeting at the Our Lady of the Gulf Community Center is part of a previously announced tour of the Gulf Coast by House Democrats to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Katrina.

The White House announced President Bush will kick off a two-day visit to the Gulf Coast on Monday with a lunch with South Mississippi officials. He will take a walking tour of an area neighborhood and deliver a speech on the rebuilding effort before spending the night in New Orleans. The White House did not release details of his visit.

The Democrats' meetings are aimed at shoring up support for Democratic efforts to force insurance companies to more comprehensively cover property damage from hurricanes. The top three Democrats in the House, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, are expected to join Taylor and his colleagues on their three-day tour.

"It is important for us to remind the rest of the world that things are not back to normal on the Coast," Taylor said. "I hope that this meeting will bring more focus on the problems within the insurance industry, so my colleagues and I can go back to Washington and fix this problem before our nation's next major disaster."

After Monday's town hall meeting, lawmakers will hold a working dinner with local officials to discuss rebuilding efforts. Among those invited are all 11 Coast mayors, the supervisors from Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, and local school and housing officials.

Since Katrina, Taylor has sought to make flood-insurance reform a House priority.

"Katrina exposed a lot of problems with the way insurance companies handle claims and provide coverage for natural disasters," Taylor said.

In late June, the House overwhelmingly approved a plan to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program that also called on the federal government to investigate whether insurance companies were improperly attributing damage from Katrina to flooding rather than high winds.

Although the flood-insurance package has yet to be taken up in the Senate, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, helped secure language in a spending bill approved in July that directs the inspector general in the Department of Homeland Security to probe insurance-industry practices.