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Insurance Industry Targets Legislators

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The insurance industry, stepping up its support for the no-fault auto insurance bill backed by Gov. Pete Wilson and the Consumers Union, plans to spend $1.2 million on advertising to increase pressure on four key state senators to vote for the measure at a legislative hearing scheduled for this month.

“In a state as big and diverse as California, that’s actually a very small amount,” said Robert Gore, spokesman for the Assn. of California Insurance Companies, on Thursday. “And historically, for no-fault, the first step, the committee hearing, has always been the last step (defeat). So this is a very big hearing for no-fault supporters.”

Gore said the lawmakers being targeted are Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti, and Sens. Art Torres and Diane Watson, all of Los Angeles, and Milton Marks of San Francisco. All four are Democrats and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hear the bill. The ads, in newspapers, on radio and in direct mail, ask citizens to call or write them to support the bill.

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Roberti said Thursday that he cannot recall so expensive a campaign directed to a specific hearing on a specific bill in the 25 years he has been in the Legislature. He said his office has received more than 1,000 phone calls and letters on the matter and that Torres and Watson have received even more.

“It heightens the intensity of the issue,” Roberti said. “It has an impact, no question.

“But there is a possibility of a backfire,” he added. “The strongest thing this bill has going for it is its intense backing from the Consumers Union. But the insurers may push that into the background. You start thinking there may be something in it for the insurers, and cynicism tells us that may not be good news for the policyholders.”

At the Consumer Union’s West Coast headquarters in San Francisco, Judith Bell, who helped write the no-fault bill, said that as far as her organization is concerned, “the more the insurers spend, the better. People will know about our bill.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the California Trial Lawyers Assn., opposed to no-fault insurance, said the group plans to spend about $60,000 advertising against the bill before the hearing, expected to be held May 28.

“I think it’s astounding that the insurance companies think they can buy off the support of the public like that,” said the spokeswoman, Dina Huniu. She said the lawyers association does not have the resources to match them.

Consumer groups are split on no-fault, a system in which lawsuits are restricted and accident victims recover their medical costs and lost wages from their own insurers, regardless who is at fault in an accident. A coalition of 26 minority and low-income groups is supporting the present no-fault bill, while Voter Revolt, headed by Harvey Rosenfield, and other groups are against it.

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