Assembly passes bill to lower car insurance minimums

By Patrick Marley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 8,2011

Madison — The Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would repeal many of the increases in auto insurance coverage mandated by the Legislature in 2009.

The bill next will go to the Senate, which is expected to pass it and send it onto Gov. Scott Walker. The Senate passed a virtually identical version of the bill last month, but both houses must pass the same bill to put it on the governor’s desk.

The Republican-run Assembly passed the bill 61-34 on a mostly party-line vote.

The bill would still require motorists to have coverage but would lower most coverage minimums to their previous levels – which lead sponsor Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said would make insurance more affordable.

Republicans, who now control the Legislature, argue the higher coverage requirements enacted as part of then-Gov. Jim Doyle’s 2009-’11 budget are raising insurance costs for consumers, especially hurting those least able to pay premiums. Drivers should have the option of purchasing the lower rates, they say.

“It’s about consumer choice,” Nygren said.

Supporters of the current, higher coverage amounts say the lower minimums were outdated and overdue for an increase because they were set in the 1980s. Since then, health-care costs for accident victims have skyrocketed, they say.

The group Citizen Action of Wisconsin has released a report that questions insurance industry claims that changes made by Democrats would cause an increase in insurance rates of at least 33%.

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 more than one person; and $10,000 for property damage. The Republicans want to restore those limits from the current $50,000, $100,000 and $15,000 limits, respectively.

Among other provisions, the bill would reduce minimums for underinsured motorist coverage to $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, from $100,000 and $300,000. The repeal bill would ban “stacking” of coverage, in which drivers could use coverage from up to three of their vehicles to help pay costs from an accident involving just one of the vehicles.

The bill also would allow insurers to put drivers buying insurance for the first time into a high-risk category, allowing them to charge higher premiums.

Joining Republicans in voting for the bill was Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer (I-Manitowoc) and four Democrats – Reps. Chris Danou of Trempealeau, Jason Fields of Milwaukee, Mark Radcliffe of Black River Falls and Louis Molepske Jr. of Stevens Point.

Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.


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