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Thursday, 24 March 2011 16:31

Ex-GA Insurance Chief Issued Himself Licenses

Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine issued himself several licenses to sell insurance and adjust claims in his last full day in office, according to Insurance Journal.

Oxendine used his authority as the state’s top insurance regulator to waive requirements to take mandatory classes or licensing tests that apply to other Georgians seeking to sell insurance.

Oxendine, a Republican who left office in January after 16 years, said he decided against the tests because he didn’t want to be a distraction to other applicants. He also said he had enough experience regulating the industry and helping to write insurance law to qualify for the licenses.

“If 16 years doesn’t give you a little bit of insurance experience, I don’t know what does,” Oxendine said. “I think that’s (worth) a little bit more than taking a test and taking a class.”

But state lawmakers said the former commissioner abused his power. And his successor, Republican Ralph Hudgens, said Oxendine appeared to have ignored the advice of the office’s staff when he issued himself the licenses.

“We can’t write regulations that prohibit bad judgment,” he said. “I think this was very, very bad judgment.”

A local newspaper reported the licenses were issued Sunday, Jan. 9 — the day before Hudgens took office.

Oxendine said he doesn’t plan to sell insurance, although he registered a company called Oxendine Insurance Services with the state days after he gave himself the licenses.

He said he wanted them “out of an abundance of caution” because his law practice sometimes involves insurance law.

Hudgens’ office said an applicant would have been required to complete 80 hours of classes and pass several tests to get the licenses Oxendine received.

Oxendine was elected in 1994 and easily won re-election three times before deciding in 2009 to seek the GOP nomination for governor.

He finished a surprising fourth in the Republican primary after initially leading in the polls.

Key state lawmakers said they were disappointed by the news. State Sen. George Hooks, a Democrat who owns an insurance agency in Americus, said Oxendine should have gone through the same testing everyone else did.

“I think it smacks of favoritism,” he said. “And if I were the current insurance commissioner, I would look at it very carefully.”

State Rep. Bill Hembree, a Douglas County Republican who has worked in insurance for 15 years, said lawmakers should consider legislation that bars the commissioner from waiving education and testing requirements for applicants.

Hembree called it “an abuse of power that obviously shouldn’t have happened.”

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