Insurance database bill survives Capitol deadline

By Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press

JACKSON — A bill designed to force compliance with Mississippi mandatory insurance laws passed Wednesday in the Senate, and was among several proposals facing a legislative deadline.

The bill would allow the state Department of Public Safety, the Department of Revenue and the Insurance Department to work on a new program that would use computer technology to verify liability insurance coverage.

Under the House bill, uninsured drivers could face various penalties, including a suspended driver’s license and a fine of up to $500. The bill also gives tax assessors and tax collectors the authority to deny vehicle license plates tags to motorists who aren’t insured.

“There’s now the technology that allows instant verification when we can interface with insurance companies,” said Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Eugene “Buck” Clarke, R-Hollandale.

The measure, which moves back to the House for more work, survived Wednesday’s legislative deadline for floor action on general bills and constitutional amendments that already passed the opposite chamber.

Clarke said there’s a testing period in the bill that begins July 1, 2012.

“That would enable the 2012 Legislature to review what’s been passed and see how far we’ve gotten on this,” Clarke said during debate. “The whole system could not begin working until July 1, 2013, if everything goes right.”

A few changes were made to the bill in the Senate, including the removal of a provision for periodic, random checks to determine if motorists are insured. The Senate also tweaked language for an appeal process for alleged offenders.

Rep. Hank Zuber, a Republican from Ocean Springs who handled the bill in the House, said he didn’t see any problems with the Senate changes.

“I think the House can live with those,” Zuber said.

The bill gives the Department of Public Safety commissioner authority to set the fine, which could range from $50 to $500. The fees would be used to pay costs associated with the electronic database, which would be maintained by private contractors.

Legislators said any money left over after costs would go into a state fund to help reduce the cost of license plate tags.

Zuber said the bill is meant to help “responsible” motorists who purchase liability insurance.

“Most importantly, we can reduce car tags and uninsured and underinsured premiums through that same bill,” he said.

A bill that would ban texting while driving is among the measures that didn’t survive this week’s deadline. The bill died Tuesday in the House. Lawmakers voted to send the bill back to committee, effectively killing it.

Mississippi passed a law in 2009 that banned young drivers from texting while behind the wheel. The proposal that died Tuesday was similar, but would apply to all drivers.

Sen. Kelvin Butler, a Democrat from Magnolia who filed the bill, said he was disappointed by the House action.

“I think it was an opportunity to make a statement to the citizens of Mississippi that we’re against texting while driving,” Butler said.

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The bills are House Bill 620 and Senate Bill 2793.