Brown Glum on Insurance Bill’s Chances

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) expressed pessimism Wednesday that Gov. George Deukmejian would sign a bill the Speaker is sponsoring to provide auto liability insurance to low-income drivers for only $25 a month, even if the measure wins legislative passage.

Brown’s comments in an interview jibed with other reports that negotiations are not going well between the governor’s office and the Speaker’s office on a possible compromise. The insurance industry has questioned whether it is feasible to sell auto policies at such a low price without charging higher-income customers much more.

The Brown bill is the only substantial effort to deal with high insurance prices that still has a chance in the Legislature as this year’s session draws to a close. If it is not passed or is vetoed by the governor, it will underscore the inability of California officials in recent years to act to reduce auto insurance premiums that have soared into the $2,000 range in urban areas.

‘Deadly Serious’

There was speculation among legislators Wednesday that if Brown concludes that his bill cannot become law this year, he may hold it in hopes of prevailing next year, or at least as a counter against a revival of no-fault auto insurance legislation the Speaker does not like. But Brown insisted in the interview that he is “deadly serious” about at least putting the bill on the governor’s desk this year.

The bill, which has passed the state Assembly and is pending in the state Senate, already contains features allowing the price of the policy to rise to $33 a month. It also provides for a reduction in claims benefits if, in the first two years, the insurers run a deficit.


But Brown is resisting suggestions from the Deukmejian Administration to amend the bill so that premiums could go up even more if necessary to cover the costs of service and claims.

The chairman of the state Senate’s committee that deals with insurance matters, Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana), suggested Wednesday that all insurance bills, including some that please the industry, might be linked to passage of the Brown bill as a means of pressuring the governor into signing it.

Won’t Be Coerced

But a Deukmejian spokesman, deputy press secretary Tom Beermann, said such a tactic is unlikely to work, noting that the governor does not like such linkage and will not allow himself to be coerced by it. Under linkage, one bill is not allowed to become law unless another bill is also signed.

In another development Wednesday, a bill to repeal legislation adopted last year that some insurance company lawyers have been arguing sets a state policy of doubling auto insurance profits was held on the Senate floor until today for technical amendments. Its passage, which had been expected Wednesday, is now likely today.