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Auto insurance initiative ballot statements are upheld by judge

SACRAMENTO -- An attempt by backers of an automobile insurance initiative to rewrite the title, summary and opponents’ arguments on the November ballot has failed.

Late Thursday, a Sacramento Superior Court judge denied a request from the campaign for Proposition 33, alleging the description of the measure for the ballot pamphlet written by the attorney general’s office is “prejudicial.”

The proponents, mainly financed with an $8.3-million contribution from Mercury General insurance Chairman George Joseph, complained that as written, the ballot information is misleading by giving the idea that insurance companies unilaterally can change rates.

Rates must be approved by the state’s insurance commissioner before they can be imposed, proponents said.

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The initiative would allow insured motorists to switch insurance companies and continue to receive a so-called loyalty discount they previously got from their former insurance company. The measure is similar to one that was defeated by voters in November 2010.

Opponents, led by Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica activist group, counter that giving the discount to some drivers would harm low-income and new motorists by making it more expensive for them to buy coverage for the first time.

Proposition 103, a successful 1988 initiative, mandates that auto insurance rates be based primarily on a driver’s record, number of years behind the wheel and miles driven annually.

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