Insurance issues to top business agenda in Annapolis

January 10, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of the Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- One down and 89 days to go, and various business interest groups already have made clear their plans to focus attention on issues other than the state's budget problems.

Yesterday morning, before the official kickoff of the 1991 General Assembly session at noon, a group called Maryland New Start urged the

governor and lawmakers to pass an optional "no-fault" auto insurance system that would allow drivers to choose whether they want to pay 25 percent lower auto insurance premiums in exchange for surrendering their right to sue other drivers.

The group, which derives some of its financial support from the insurance industry, presented a petition with about 72,000 signatures supporting the proposed "choice no-fault" system. The idea has faced lethal opposition from plaintiffs' attorneys and others in the past.

Insurance issues, including auto insurance, health benefits and even extra coverage for motorcyclists, are certain to top the list of business-related legislation this year. But business groups are expecting bills dealing with everything from unemployment insurance taxes and real estate brokers to lawyer advertising and the length of trucks.

Two bills already have been filed that would curtail or abolish the practice of charging drivers insurance premiums according to where they live.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the state AFL-CIO said this week that they plan to lobby for creating a minimum health benefits package for employers who can't afford to offer all the benefits the state mandates.

Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, whose committee probably would handle such a bill, said the idea should be considered if it can make insurance available to employees of small companies that currently don't offer any coverage.

Mr. Taylor was even more effusive about a no-fault insurance plan, but his counterpart in the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, said he plans to oppose the bill. "It's sort of unfortunate that the citizens are being led to believe that no-fault is the answer to all their insurance woes," Mr. O'Reilly said. "It's far from it."

He also said to expect a bill requiring motorcyclists, who year after year have fought mandatory helmet laws, to buy catastrophic health insurance policies. The measure would save the state's Medicaid system about $4.25 million a year resulting from currently underinsured bikers who get into serious accidents, according to an analysis of the bill.

Other bills to expect would:

* Change the state's "statute of repose," which prevents some lawsuits against building owners and manufacturers more than 20 years after construction. The bill, which failed last year, would affect some of the thousands of Marylanders suffering from asbestos-related diseases, as well as local governments that own buildings with asbestos in them.

* Increase unemployment insurance taxes by 0.2 percent for all companies, as well as make other adjustments to the system. The state Department of Economic and Employment Development has drafted such a plan, despite earlier indications that no across-the-board increase would be needed.

* Force title companies to donate to charity the interest they earn on the trust accounts they hold briefly when a property changes hands.

* Require lawyers to include in their advertising a disclaimer essentially advising clients not to rely on the ads in making legal decisions. Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, who sponsored the bill last year, said that "chances are" he probably will reintroduce the measure, especially if the state bar association fails to come up with a recommendation on the issue.

* Allow trucks up to 53 feet long on Maryland roads. Only a handful of states, including Maryland, limit truck lengths to 48 feet.

* Prohibit real estate brokers from requiring homebuyers to use particular mortgage companies.

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