Bill increasing minimum car insurance coverage clears legislature

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New Jersey drivers may have to pay more for auto insurance under a bill lawmakers on Wednesday passed some Republicans’ affordability objections.

The bill would increase the minimum coverage required for standard auto insurance policies and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to between $25,000 and $70,000, depending on when a motorist renews their policy. The minimum now required is $15,000.

Sponsors of the measure characterized it as one that would protect consumers, but critics complained the bill would burden people already struggling with inflation, high gas prices and other financial constraints.

Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-Bergen) urged his colleagues on Wednesday to oppose the bill, which would “put our boot on the poor New Jersey driver.”

“It’s a really, really bad bill, it’s really badly designed, it’s really badly timed,” Auth said.

MP Beth Sawyer (R-Gloucester) echoed her concerns.

“We can’t continue to turn our backs on the less fortunate people in this state,” Sawyer said. “I ask you to vote no on the bill which will only help lawyers get richer.”

The bill’s sponsors — Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union) — are both lawyers. Scutari bristled when asked if the bill was a conflict of interest for him to sponsor, saying, “Absolutely not!”

Lawmakers passed the bill, largely along party lines, by a vote of 23 to 15 in the Senate and 44 to 29 in the Assembly.

The bill was part of a package of laws aimed at bolstering insurance coverage for road accident victims, but which critics say would raise premiums so high that low-income drivers could forego it entirely insurance and drive uninsured.

Other measures still awaiting legislative approval would increase the minimum amount of bodily injury protection that drivers must carry under basic and standard auto insurance policies for $250,000 16 times higher than the $15,000 minimum now required — and bartenders from relying on their health insurance coverage for injury protection, impacting more than one million drivers.

Scutari said New Jersey’s minimum coverage limits are the lowest in the country — and haven’t increased in 50 years.

“We have been waiting for reforms for a long time,” Scutari said in a statement. “We need stronger guarantees for consumers, so that policyholders are not denied the rights and compensation they deserve.”

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this story.

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