Repeal of insurance changes sought

by Paul Gores
November 3, 2009

Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that higher coverage limits imposed in the state budget bill will force the working poor and others who are striving to get by financially to drive their cars without insurance, even though insurance will be required for all drivers in the state next summer.

Sen. Michael Ellis (R-Neenah), who joined fellow GOP legislators Tuesday in announcing bills to repeal most of the changes, said the increases in insurance limits aren't needed and are nothing more than a "big sloppy kiss" from Democrats who control the Legislature to trial attorneys who support their campaigns.

But Democrats and a representative of the state's trial lawyers, who pushed for the changes, said the higher minimum coverages are affecting only 20% of drivers and that the dollar amounts of coverage in the old law were outdated.

"The Assembly Democrats are not at all interested in repealing what we believe was legislative action that addresses public safety and consumer protections," said state Rep. Donna Seibel (D-Wausau), the assistant majority leader.

Paul Gagliardi, a Salem attorney who is president-elect of the Wisconsin Association of Justice, scoffed at those blaming the law for higher premiums.

"It's a marketing tool to shove down the public's throat an additional increase in premiums when they are not even warranted," Gagliardi said.

Under the old law, drivers with insurance were required to carry minimum liability coverage of $25,000 for the injury or death of a person, $50,000 for the injury or death of two or more people and $10,000 for property damage. Provisions passed in the budget bill raise those minimums, or limits, to $50,000, $100,000 and $15,000, respectively, starting Jan. 1.

Many drivers already had higher coverage than the state minimums, but changes in rules for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are having a serious impact on premiums, said David M. Dunker, president of Zingen & Braun Insurance Agency Inc. in Brookfield. Uninsured coverage minimums have jumped from $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Underinsured coverage minimum coverage increased from $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident to $100,000 and $300,000.

In addition, the new law allows for "stacking," or combining the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage limits from all the cars a policy holder has to pay costs resulting from an accident.

The changes have added risks for insurers, and the increases in premiums reflect that, said Andrew Franken, president of the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance.

Ellis noted that one Democrat, state Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, is backing the repeal in the Senate. In an e-mail to the Journal Sentinel, Carpenter said lawmakers should have approved mandatory insurance first, and then debated minimum coverage "to better control insurance companies taking advantage of consumers."

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