Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/26/2004 01:10 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 423 - TAXICAB DRIVER LIABILITY Number 0083 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 423, "An Act relating to accidents involving the vehicle of a person under the influence of an alcoholic beverage; and providing for an effective date." [Before the committee was the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 423, Version 23-LS1600\I, Luckhaupt, 3/17/04, which was adopted as a work draft on 3/19/04.] REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON, speaking as the sponsor, requested that his staff update the committee. Number 0133 JIM SHINE JR., Staff to Representative Tom Anderson, Alaska State Legislature, relayed that he and Mr. Lessmeier have reviewed some proposed conceptual amendments, and noted that the sponsor statement has been updated. The committee took an at-ease from 1:15 p.m. to 1:16 p.m. in order to distribute the aforementioned amendments. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM highlighted the urgency of the bill. He characterized it as a recognition of people taking responsibility for their actions. He recalled being in Red Deer, Alberta, where an establishment did something similar; in fact, the bar owners and taxi companies acted in concert, and the patrons paid nothing. Noting that Fairbanks can be extremely cold at night and that people risk losing a vehicle or having it freeze up someplace, he pointed out that people will take the chance of either driving home, or going to their cars, keeping the cars running to prevent freezing to death, falling asleep, but still be considered drunk drivers, even without the intention of driving. He concluded by characterizing the bill as a marvelous piece of legislation. Number 0390 REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS drew attention to Amendment 1, a handwritten, edited amendment, which read [original punctuation provided]: The auto insurance that covers the driver also covers the taxi-cab driver that drives the car from the licensed premises to the home or directed location of the original driver. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS offered his belief that under current law, if [the owner of a car] expressly tells someone that he/she may drive the car, that person is covered by the [owner's] insurance. Thus the amendment is unnecessary. CHAIR McGUIRE announced that Amendment 1 was withdrawn. Number 0450 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to adopt Amendment 2, a handwritten amendment that read [original punctuation provided]: 1. page 1 line 7 after "by" insert "or on behalf of" 2. page 2 line 12 after "person insert "or entity" REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON objected for the purpose of discussion. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested bifurcating Amendment 2 because the two parts are quite different. CHAIR McGUIRE labeled the first part Amendment 2a and the second part Amendment 2b. Number 0500 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON objected for the purpose of discussion. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG offered his understanding that a person could have a policy that wasn't technically purchased by the owner of the vehicle. If a vehicle is owned by a young person, for example, the parent may purchase the insurance policy. He noted that Mr. Lessmeier was nodding. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON removed his objection. Number 0545 CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there were any further objections to adopting Amendment 2a. There being none, Amendment 2a was adopted. Number 0550 CHAIR McGUIRE brought attention to Amendment 2b [text provided previously]. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON objected for the purpose of discussion. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG explained that [page 2] line 12 talks about a person that participates in making the arrangements. In Anchorage, however, it isn't a person that does it, but an entity, a group of taverns. He said he didn't know whether that would technically qualify as a "person" under the general definition in Title 1. Number 0591 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON removed his objection. CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there were any further objections to adopting Amendment 2b. REPRESENTATIVE OGG remarked that "entity" assumes there is some entity, and asked whether a group really is an entity. Number 0614 MICHAEL L. LESSMEIER, Attorney at Law, Lessmeier & Winters, Lobbyist for State Farm Insurance Company ("State Farm"), gave his view that if it says "person or entity", it would be broad enough to cover an "organization of people, whether it's informal or formal." REPRESENTATIVE OGG replied that he'd withdraw his objection as long as "entity" [would be interpreted in that manner]. Number 0649 CHAIR McGUIRE again asked whether there were any further objections to adopting Amendment 2b. There being none, Amendment 2b was adopted. Number 0682 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG [made a motion to adopt] Amendment 3, a handwritten amendment by Representative Gara that read [original punctuation provided]: A page 2 line 19, after "vehicle", insert "or other applicable." REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON objected and asked to hear from Mr. Lessmeier. Number 0702 MR. LESSMEIER urged the committee to reject Amendment 3. He said he believes it takes a bill that is now very clean in terms of its intent and makes it messy. If this amendment is adopted, he predicted there will almost be an issue of what is "other applicable" insurance. He also said it seems to take away from the original intent of the bill. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON maintained his objection, saying he tends to agree that it expands this beyond driver's insurance or automobile insurance and goes too far to stay within the intent of the bill. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked Mr. Lessmeier whether some other kind of insurance such as homeowner's insurance might apply. MR. LESSMEIER answered that it's really a complicated question because most homeowner's insurance policies exclude anything that arises out of driving a motor vehicle; that's what people buy motor vehicle insurance for. He said the problem he has with it is this: it's so broad that one could almost go back and ask whether the taxicab company, the municipality that put this together, or one of the people who participates in a group to try to offer this service has "other applicable insurance". He explained: What happens in litigation is, there's always a search for the insurance, and what we've tried to do is make it clear as to where that search begins and ends with this bill, and offer some coverage where there was no coverage before. And so, I just think once we go down that road, we go to areas that we can't foresee right now and that ... I could almost guarantee you will be litigated. Number 0823 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked whether technically, under the current language of the bill, an umbrella policy would be included; if not, then would Mr. Lessmeier object to having it say "or applicable umbrella insurance coverage". MR. LESSMEIER answered: My view is that that is covered under subsection (a). In other words, ... a person is not liable beyond the limits of any applicable insurance policy purchased by the owner of the vehicle for damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident if the person was driving the vehicle. Now, ... if that owner has a primary policy on the vehicle and also an umbrella policy that would cover the damages resulting from an accident for that vehicle, then, in my view, ... it's already there. Once you go beyond that, though, and say any umbrella policy, then we run into these issues of "where do we stop." And ... I can't sit here and tell you what conceivable situations would come up, but ... I can tell you that those situations would be litigated, and that is exactly what you're trying to avoid with this bill. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG replied that with in mind, he doesn't support the amendment, which he'd offered on behalf of Representative Gara, but relayed his belief that he didn't have the authority to withdraw the amendment. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON renewed his objection. Number 0970 A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Ogg, Gruenberg, Samuels, Holm, Anderson, and McGuire voted against Amendment 3. Therefore, Amendment 3 failed by a vote of 0-6. Number 0988 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM moved to report the proposed CS for HB 423, Version 23-LS1600\I, Luckhaupt, 3/17/04, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying [zero] fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 423(JUD) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.