The 2003 Georgia legislative session ended recently, reportedly winding up the longest session in more than a century and one that was bogged down with budget concerns and political infighting.
“A new governor, a new speaker and a new Senate majority party created a challenging political climate that held up several important bills dealing with tort reform, education, and ethics,” said James Taylor, southeastern regional manager for the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII). “And of course, state budget shortfalls overshadowed every other topic this session.”
The legislature’s conference committee met until the 11th hour hammering out last-minute adjustments to get a balanced budget. The vehicle was H.B. 43, which included many tax breaks, but also contained a sales tax on tobacco. Both the House and the Senate, which also passed the conference committee’s 2004 fiscal year budget, finally passed the bill.
Several bills affecting property/casualty insurers passed this session:
·H.B. 191, which changes the commercial policy exemption of the law which created the Georgia Electronic Insurance Compliance System so that all commercial policies except for fleet will be reported to the state’s database. Insurance cards will remain as a secondary form of proof of insurance through the end of 2003. The bill also authorizes the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle Safety to permit other types of proof by regulation;
·H.B. 215, which regulates the use of credit information in underwriting. The bill is patterned after the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) model law on the same subject. Although it creates some limitations, the insurance industry supported the bill because it does not create onerous barriers to the use of credit scoring.
·H.B. 236, which strengthens the language in the statute addressing insurance fraud by including certain fraudulent activity within the definition of racketeering. This bill was supported by Commissioner Oxendine.
·H.B. 91, the Fairness in Arbitration bill, and portions of S.B. 133, the Georgia Chamber’s civil justice reform bill, were added to H.B. 792 in conference committee late last week. Both chambers agreed upon the bill near the close of session. All of H.B. 91 was included but only portions of S.B. 133 made the final bill. The portions of tort reform that were included tightened language affecting class action lawsuits, making it more difficult for out-of-state plaintiffs to bring suit in Georgia, reduced the number of times a plaintiff can dismiss a case (to discourage frivolous lawsuits), and allowed for structured settlements. However, the key medical liability insurance issues were not included in the final bill.
The most significant bill that died this session was H.B. 576, which would have amended the current rating law to allow increases or decreases of 5 percent or less to be used without prior insurance department approval.
The bill is still in the House Insurance Committee, and NAII will reportedly continue to work to promote its passage in 2004.
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