“Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.” – Unknown

Cowboy aphorisms have a lot to offer contemporary culture, in spite of their dubious origins. The National Conference of Insurance Legislators, an organization designed and created to assist state lawmakers in confronting novel and challenging developments in the nation’s insurance markets, has been caught performing a rain dance on muddy ground, the storm having long since passed. As rain dances go, it is not a great outcome.

Transportation network companies sparked controversy and confusion among insurers and public policymakers alike when they began to expand their operations meaningfully in 2012. A lack of clarity about the coverage status of passengers, drivers and bystanders led regulators to assert their authority in the absence of legislative guidance. The policy terra firm upon which the public relies began to crack and grow fallow in the absence of attention from elected representatives.

To rectify the drought, as far back as a winter meeting in San Francisco, NCOIL legislators and stakeholders were exposed to the existence and implications of ride-sharing services. At the group’s spring meeting in Charleston, S.C., a specific proposal was introduced. But poor weather conspired with disagreement among insurance industry stakeholders – as well as between the insurance, taxi and ridesharing industries – to forestall adoption of a model. In these months, NCOIL was preparing to rain dance before the storm, but failed to take a first step.

Weeks after the Charleston meeting, the sky opened up. A compromise between the insurance and ridesharing industries provided the material necessary for states to move forward with legislation of their own. The compromise was announced publicly just days before a meeting in Phoenix of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. At that meeting, the NAIC’s working group on the sharing economy praised the parties for their compromise and, in doing so, offered a tacit endorsement of its content.

Half of the states now have passed TNC legislation, while a handful of others have moved into advanced conversations about their own legislative proposals. As a result, the model TNC legislation unanimously adopted this weekend by NCOIL, based on the national compromise, in essence began the organization’s rain dance well after the rain had passed and meaningful conversation about ridesharing services has evolved to other matters.

NCOIL’s delayed dance was three parts bad luck, and one part structural infirmity. Crummy weather, unfortunate timing and conflict between stakeholders all amount to bad luck. But NCOIL also was structurally ill-equipped to overcome the obstacles that ultimately delayed adoption of a TNC model.

Following NCOIL’s panel discussion on TNCs last November in San Francisco, which came after both Colorado and California already had enacted TNC legislation, the legislators had opportunity to focus attention on a brokered compromise of their own. Instead, a model bearing little resemblance to any of the stakeholders’ favored approaches was put forward. That proposal proved too far from the discussion to be salvageable, given the meeting’s constraints.

Which raises the question, why was the meeting so constrained? When there’s a time-sensitive and high-profile issue – about which NCOIL could bring and orient attention – NCOIL has to be less rigid in its schedule and more accommodating to the needs of its members. Work must be done when it’s needed.

With all the stakeholders together and available in the same place for a period of days, NCOIL could have held multiple sessions of its relevant committees to ensure that what could be achieved was achieved. Allowing a session to end with such a timely issue outstanding, only to have it linger for four months, helps neither NCOIL nor the stakeholders that support it as a forum.

If NCOIL can’t embrace a more flexible approach, one that caters to the need for timely commentary, its influence will lag behind other advisory organizations. It will be a clearinghouse for ideas already well worked-over by other, less electorally accountable bodies.

But if it does embrace that approach, NCOIL may become the first rainmaker in history to actually bring the rain. Or at least, to consistently make it appear that it’s making it rain.



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