New Jersey’s top lawmaker came out swinging in fierce defense of his legislation that could force more than 1 million people in the state to pay more for car insurance each year.
Senate President Nicholas Scutari on Monday defended the bill that would hike the minimum amount of liability insurance in the Garden State from its current $15,000 coverage to $25,000 beginning in 2023, and a minimum of $35,000 starting in 2026. He says it’s long overdue to protect victims of crashes.
“This is all nonsense,” said Scutari, D-Union, during a Senate committee hearing, arguing the cost to drive in the state would not immediately increase.
“(Insurers) cannot raise rates for a minimum of three and a half years. They cannot substantiate a raise in rates when we go to $25,000 in coverage. The industry cannot substantiate it. It is an impossibility. The Department of Banking and Insurance will not allow it,” he said.
“The people of New Jersey need this Legislature to protect them from themselves because we tell them what they need to get, and that’s what they get.”
He added taxpayers are the ones who are stuck with the costs to “subsidize unpaid medical bills” and “everything that the insurance industry doesn’t cover” in the minimum policy.
“This is insane,” he said.
Scutari’s impassioned defense of the bill (S481) came moments after people urged legislators not to support the bill.
“Why the urgency?” John Harmon, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, asked. “Could we not pull this back and do some impact studies?”
Harmon testified at the committee hearing Monday and spoke to NJ Advance Media Tuesday. He said he was surprised to see Scutari appear briefly at the event to “whip the votes” and then disappear moments before the panel voted 8-4 along party lines to advance the bill to the full Senate for a vote.
He argued Black and brown New Jerseyans would disproportionately be affected by the bill and said he was surprised to not hear from Scutari or other of the bill’s sponsors before the measure headed to the Legislature for a vote before it lands on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
“We’re definitely open to a compromise but we weren’t afforded the opportunity to have that conversation,” Harmon said. “Why is this so important to him versus all the other things going?”
A group that represents insurers, the Insurance Council of New Jersey, agreed raising minimum coverage to $25,000 but opposed the bill because of the automatic increase in 2026. The average cost of a claim with injuries is $18,000.
They estimate 1.1 million New Jersey drivers will have to pay an extra $130 a year if the bill is signed into law.
The legislation is a pared-down reform bill that Scutari initially hoped to have passed.
He sponsored more than a half-dozen bills that opponents warned would force 1.27 million drivers to pay as much as $350 more a year.
His original measures would have required drivers to select plans with a minimum of $250,000 in personal injury protection, commonly called PIP. Another bill would prohibit motorists from using private health insurance coverage as the primary payer for personal injury protection coverage in exchange for an auto insurance discount.
They all passed in a Senate committee last week but were apparently dropped in the face of backlash.
Scutari was having none of it on Monday.
“Let the insurance industry answer for why they won’t pay necessary medical bills (and) continue to raise rates,” he said. “And we have the dead last coverage in the country.”
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Matt Arco may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewArco.
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