La. Bill Requiring Police to Verify Insurance Cards Gets Another Shot

A Louisiana bill requiring that police check that a driver’s insurance card is valid during traffic stops and after accidents was reintroduced for a vote Tuesday after failing by a narrow margin the day before.

Sponsoring Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) expects that HB 71 could be heard again on the House floor as early as Wednesday, according to Dodie Horton, the representative’s legislative aide.

Under the bill, a police officer presented with a proof of insurance card during a traffic stop would then do everything in their capacity to make sure it is valid.

Horton said that Burns brought his bill to the Legislature on the request of constituents involved in crashes with policy-less drivers.

In one case, a constituent was rear-ended, Horton said, by a driver who presented an ID card to the investigating officer.

“Our constituent asked the officer to please check the card to make sure it was indeed valid,” Horton told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN). “He told her that he was not mandated to do that and, as long as he is presented with a card, then that is all he needs. Well, as luck would have it, the card was invalid and she was stuck.”

At a committee hearing earlier this month, when members’ 9-5 favorable vote pushed the bill to the House floor, Burns said that verification is necessary because insurance ID cards don’t actually mean the driver has up-to-date coverage.

“They’ll get a six month policy, pay the first month, and that’s as far as they go,” he told members of the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works at an April 16 hearing.

“To do nothing is not being proactive, and we must stop this practice of purchasing insurance for a month then dropping it and again,” Horton said.

But verification can be difficult for Louisiana authorities without a statewide database updated with real-time policy information. Burns said that his bill’s deliberate wording of “within their capacity” addressed that issue.

“[The wording of capacity means] the technological capacity to coordinate with agencies, both insurance and state agencies,” he said. “Small towns cannot do that, they wouldn’t have the capacity.”
Burns said Louisiana “might be there” in four to five years, but his measure would be a stopgap to ensure coverage compliance until then.

“What we’re doing is setting the stage,” he said.

Bill Back after Being Felled by Narrow Vote

Some committee members questioned the bill’s purpose, with Rep. Terry Landry (D-Lafayette) saying he thought the bill was an attempt “to legislate policy.”

Landry said that the bill’s requirement might be better suited to mandatory training sessions that Louisiana authorities undergo.

“That would be the vehicle and venue to insist that an officer do this requirement that you’re trying to attain,” he said at the hearing.

Landry was one of 43 representatives voting against the bill on the House floor Monday. The legislation netted 47 votes in favor of it but was still short of passage.

Horton told OAIN that Rep. Burns believes legislators have been focusing too much on how law enforcement will carry out the bill’s requirements and not enough on its true intent to reduce the number of uninsured motorists in the state.

At the committee hearing, Burns said that, in his conversations with insurance commissioner Jim Donelon about his bill, the rate of uninsured motorists is 14 percent; Burns, however, said that he “heard numbers in the 20s” from other sources.

According to data from 2009, the latest year for which the Insurance Research Council has data on uninsured motorists, 12.9 percent of motorists in the state lack the Louisiana auto coverage required to drive.

Burns mentioned Texas’s verification system, TexasSure, established in 2008, as a prime example. He also noted that funding such a system in Louisiana would likely put it out of reach.

TexasSure uses policy information provided regularly by insurers for real-time verification of coverage on a vehicle. There was some question as to the impact of the database on the uninsured rate, though the state’s latest numbers on TexasSure show that the number of registrations unmatched to a policy fell from around 20 percent in late 2011 to a little over 14 percent last month.

One thing that no current database in the U.S. can verify, however, is whether or not the driver in an insured vehicle is listed on the policy, according to Stacey Hoyt, deputy assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles.

“The claim might not be paid because the driver who is driving the car is excluded from a policy,” Hoyt said at the committee meeting.

HB 71 has the support of some law enforcement groups, including the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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