Battle heats up over Proposition 33, which seeks to change auto insurance law

SAN DIEGO - The battle is heating up over Proposition 33, which would allow auto insurance companies to give driver discounts or driver surcharges depending on history of coverage.

The current law passed in 1988 does not allow insurance companies to consider coverage history at all.

On the surface, Proposition 33 seems simple enough: reward drivers with continuous coverage and potentially penalize those without it.

"It creates competition," said Pete Conaty, a veterans advocate based in Sacramento. "In other words, all insurance companies will be able to offer this discount."

However, Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfield says what is really behind this is Mercury Insurance and its chairman George Joseph. Joseph has contributed more than $16 million to Proposition 33.

"Prop. 33 will allow insurance companies to surcharge you and it can be hundreds, even thousands of dollars more on your auto insurance," said Rosenfield.

There are exemptions for drivers who have lapsed no more than 90 days in the past five years, are unemployed for no more than 18 months or are active military.

"For political reasons, they give active-duty people an exemption from the rate increase that everybody else is going to get," said Rosenfield. "Does that make it fair? No."

That exemption is a change from the similar Proposition 17, which was narrowly defeated in 2010. 

But what about military spouses, college students who did not have insurance or longtime veterans?

"It's not clear but hopefully the insurance commissioner when he makes his decisions will take that into account," Conaty said.

Rosenfield said that is not how it works.

"If this insurance company can convince the voters to pass Prop. 33, it strips the insurance commissioner of his authority to regulate any of this," he said.

Is there any part of Proposition 33 that Rosenfield thinks is good for drivers?

"Let me just put it this way: when was the last time an auto insurance company or its executives put an initiative on the ballot to save consumers money?" he said.

Rosenfield said Proposition 33 would allow insurance companies to offer discounts but does not mandate it. Supporters say it is no different from new drivers already paying higher premiums than experienced ones.

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