Senate to hear auto insurance bill Tuesday

By Sarah Jarvis
The Badger Herald
February 7, 2011
Updated February 8, 2011

The Senate will vote today on an auto insurance bill that would reduce the minimum limit insurance companies are required to cover in an accident, which proponents say could lower rates for customers.

The new law would bring the minimum coverage limits back to where they were prior to legislation passed under former Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance spokesperson Andy Franken said.

“Prior to [the current law], 96 percent of all [auto insurance] claims were covered by the original minimum limits,” Franken said.

Current auto insurance law, as passed under the Doyle administration, requires insurance companies to cover $50,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person, $100,000 for bodily injury to or death of more than one person and $15,000 for property damage.

The new bill would lower the minimum limits back to what they were before Doyle increased them. Limits would be cut by half for bodily injury or death to one or more persons and reduce property damage coverage to $10,000, according to the Legislative Analysis Bureau.

Franken said if the new bill is passed, there would be more choice and affordability in the marketplace. Consumers would be able to pick the coverage that is appropriate for them and their families.

The Wisconsin Association for Justice, a citizen legal rights advocacy group, highlighted several concerns with the new auto insurance bill.

If the new bill passes, consumers paying for one type of auto insurance policy may discover their damages are not covered after they are in an accident, according to a WAJ statement.

According to the statement, insurance companies could insert complex language into their policies, which could mislead consumers as to how much coverage they would receive in an accident. Insurance companies could also allow customers one coverage package instead of multiple packages that cover different claims, the statement said.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said the new law would decrease coverage limits at the expense of increasing the amount of uninsured and underinsured citizens.

“If you don’t have enough insurance, the bare minimum [limits for liability coverage] might not cover an accident, which is the reason Democrats raised the level of insurance [in the previous session],” Hulsey said.

Still, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said if citizens’ auto insurance rates increased after former Doyle’s budget went into effect last year, their rates would hopefully go back down, according to Fitzgerald’s spokesperson John Jagler.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R- Richland Center, the chair of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues that passed the bill along to the Senate, supported the bill because it would increase the number of citizens insured in Wisconsin.

Schultz’s spokesperson Todd Allbaugh said there have been many instances in which people could not afford auto insurance under the current legislation introduced into the last budget by Doyle’s administration, so citizens took a risk and went without.

“The current bill still requires citizens to have auto insurance [in Wisconsin], but it changes the minimums they will have to pay,” Allbaugh said.

The minimum limits for liability coverage in Wisconsin rank with those from Alaska and Maine as highest in the country, Franken said.

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