Minimum liability insurance bill gains 2nd Senate committee OK

April 06, 2010|By Michael Dresser | michael.dresser@baltsun.com

A second Senate committee Monday approved a bill that would raise the minimum amount of liability coverage Maryland vehicle owners must carry on their auto insurance, giving the measure a boost as it heads to a vote on the floor.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee acted immediately after holding a hearing on the bill that brought testimony from accident victims in favor of the change and from advocates for the poor in opposition.

"We are seriously concerned about what this will do to the most vulnerable people in the state," said Melissa Broome of the Job Opportunities Task Force.

But trial lawyer Frank Boston said 90 percent of his clients who are injured in auto crashes are also low-income people.

The committee voted 8-3 in favor of the measure, which would raise the minimums from $20,000 per injured person and $40,000 per crash to $30,000 and $60,000, respectively.

The vote was largely advisory because the legislation had already been approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week. But a negative vote from the committee could have clouded the bill's prospects.

The measure, which has passed the House, now goes to the full Senate. If it passes the bill without changes and the governor signs it, which he is expected to do, the measure would raise the minimum coverage for the first time since the early 1970s.

The much-lobbied legislation has pitted the state's trial lawyers, which argued that the old minimums have been eroded by inflation, against the insurance industry, which contended the measure would force companies to raise premiums.

Maryland's current minimums are below the national average, but the change would vault the state into the top 10. More than half of the states set the minimums at $25,000 and $50,000, but the committee voted down an amendment that would have put Maryland at that level.

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