Bill hiking minimum car insurance coverage clears Legislature

New Jersey drivers may have to pay more for car insurance under a bill lawmakers passed Wednesday over objections from some Republicans about affordability.

The bill would hike the minimum coverage required for standard car 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 have characterized it as one that would protect consumers, but critics have complained the bill would burden people already struggling with inflation, high gas prices, and other financial stresses.

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

“This is a really, really bad bill, it’s really poorly designed, it’s really poorly timed,” Auth said.

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

“We can’t keep turning our backs on the least fortunate people in this state,” Sawyer said. “I ask you to vote no on the bill that will only support lawyers getting richer.”

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

Legislators passed the bill, mostly along party lines, by a vote of 23-15 in the Senate and by 44-29 in the Assembly.

The bill was part of a package of legislation intended to bolster insurance coverage for victims of vehicular accidents, but which critics warn would hike premiums so high, low-income drivers might dump insurance altogether and drive uninsured.

Other measures still pending legislative approval would raise the minimum amount of personal injury protection drivers must carry on basic and standard car insurance policies to $250,000 16 times higher than the $15,000 minimum now required — and bar drivers from relying on their health insurance coverage for personal injury protection, impacting more than a million drivers.

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

“We are long overdue for reforms,” Scutari said in a statement. “We need stronger consumer safeguards, so policyholders aren’t denied the rights and compensation they deserve.”

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this story.

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