INDIANAPOLIS (April 13, 2005)—West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin deserves credit for not being dissuaded from his goal to seek legal and insurance reforms this year despite intense opposition from some within his own party and the state’s trial bar, a representative of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies said today.
Gov. Manchin’s perseverance was rewarded late Saturday night when the House of Delegates finally approved two of his measures–Senate Bill 418 repealing third party bad faith lawsuits, and Senate Bill 421 dealing with joint and several liability. The votes were taken just hours before the Legislature ended its 60-day session at midnight on Saturday.
“During his election campaign last fall and for the first four months of his new administration, Gov. Manchin has argued for certain legal and insurance reforms to help re-open the state to business interests,” explained NAMIC State Affairs Manager David Reddick. “With the passage of Senate Bills 418 and 421, West Virginia is now on a new road to being a more attractive place for companies to do business.”
The path to victory was not easy for the Manchin administration, said Reddick, who noted that the governor’s bills were first strongly opposed by Jeffrey Kessler, chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and a fellow Democrat. Kessler challenged a claim made by Gov. Manchin that auto insurance policyholders could save as much as $50 million in premiums if his reform package was approved.
In the end, Kessler was unsuccessful in adding amendments to the governor’s bills and the bills passed out of the Senate without changes. However, a Charleston trial attorney succeeded in getting a Kanwaha County Circuit Court Judge to turn over copies of e-mails between certain insurance company representatives and Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline that discussed the $50 million in premium savings.
Reddick says it was actually the House of Delegates, which the Democrats control by a 68-32 margin that proved more troublesome. The Delegates made amendments to SB 418, which were then amended by the Senate before House members finally concurred with the Senate changes by a 76-23 vote.
On Friday, the House tried to weaken SB 421, the joint and several liability bill, with a series of amendments, but the Senate restored the bill to its original language and increased the threshold by which defendants are held jointly liable from 25- to 30- percent.
Reddick also noted that lawmakers enacted Senate Bill 30. The bill, which was proposed by the West Virginia Insurance Commission, called for a file and use system for commercial insurers, some flexibility for canceling and non-renewing homeowner’s policies and some valued policy language, which was removed from the bill on Friday night.
“All in all, the West Virginia session has been one of the most successful legislative sessions so far this year in terms of the substantive bills that were enacted,” Reddick said. “It is a real testament to the efforts of Gov. Manchin and especially, Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline, who had to endure some personal attacks during the session.”