Hawaii Regulator Steps Down to Practice Insurance Law
June 14, 2010 by Sean Carr
June 10, 2010 | BestWire Services
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Hawaii Insurance Commissioner J.P. Schmidt will resign July 1 to return to practicing law with a focus on insurance issues.
Schmidt will join the Hawaii firm of Bays Deaver Lung Rose Holma, where he will practice general business, corporate and government regulatory law with a concentration in insurance, health and captive insurance matters. The firm has no existing insurance practice, but will be expanding into that sector, Schmidt said. His successor has not yet been named.
Schmidt said he sought to create a more cooperative and efficient department for insurers and consumers. An adversarial approach toward the industry is counterproductive, he said. “It’s bad for the industry, it’s bad for the consumer and it’s bad for the regulatory agency,” Schmidt said.
With Gov. Linda Lingle nearing the end of eight years in office, Schmidt said it was time to return to the private sector. In office since February 2003, he is Hawaii’s longest-serving insurance commissioner. Previously, Schmidt served as corporation counsel of Maui County and was a partner in the Wailuku law firm of Crockett Nakamura and Schmidt.
“I think he showed a real commitment to the position,” said Samuel Sorich, vice president and Western regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “I really thought that he accomplished much. He was a very respected and fair regulator.”
His tenure included a taming of once-skyrocketing workers’ compensation premiums to a reduction of 60% over a five-year period, according to a statement from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Division of Insurance. The number of hurricane insurers also increased, according to the department. The commissioner also played an international role as chairman of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ International Regulatory Working Group.
Hawaii is the second-largest captive domicile in the United States, with 162 at the end of 2009. Another handful of captives have formed this year and more are in the pipeline, Schmidt said. The Captive Insurance Branch has attracted several Japanese companies such as Sanyo, Kubota Tractor and Citizen Watch to form captives in the state.
In taking an insurance-related position in the private sector, Schmidt said he is mindful of potential comments about the “revolving door” of regulators and industry. Under Hawaii ethics laws, he is barred from representing clients before the insurance division for one year after leaving office. People who leave public service should not have to abandon years of professional experience in the field, whether earned in office or in private sector, he said.
“It’s an important issue, but it needs to be approached in a rational matter,” Schmidt said.
(By Sean P. Carr, Washington Correspondent: email@example.com)