Gilchrist, Chatfield to work with Duggan on auto insurance reform

By: and - March 6, 2019 11:13 am

Duggan gives his State of the City address, March 5, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Mayor Mike Duggan’s call Tuesday night for the state Legislature to act on auto insurance reform wasn’t new — but he did have a powerful bipartisan fan club in attendance.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, and state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) sat together at his State of the City speech at Detroit’s East English Village Preparatory High School.

Speaker Lee Chatfield and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City address | Ken Coleman

“I think that we are going to get it done this year,” Duggan said of overhauling auto insurance.

After the address, Gilchrist, who’s from Detroit, said, “We’re looking forward to working on the issue.”

Earlier that day, Chatfield had criticized Gilchrist’s boss, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for not addressing in her first state budget presentation the need to tackle the state’s no-fault system. That’s one of legislative Republicans’ top priorities this term and the speaker complimented Duggan for stressing the issue.

“I concur with the mayor,” Chatfield said. “I think it’s the single largest issue that is facing the people in our state and saddling our residents with burdening costs. I hope to partner with him and mayors across the state to make ensure that we reduce our auto insurance rates to save people across our state money.”

One idea floating around Lansing is a “grand bargain” in the fiscal 2020 budget. The idea is that Whitmer, who has proposed a 45-cent gas tax hike, would be able to check off her key campaign pledge of “fixing the damn roads.” In exchange, Republicans would get their top concern of auto insurance reform addressed.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

The moving parts of such a deal, range of interest groups involved and the Sept. 30 budget deadline all make that prospect challenging.

Detroit motorists pay some of the highest premiums in the nation. Duggan said he believes his effort to achieve auto insurance reform will be ultimately be successful.

Michigan’s auto no-fault law currently covers a lifetime of unlimited medical care in catastrophic events. Efforts to change the system have failed in Lansing for decades.

Duggan and former state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) teamed up on a 2017 plan that failed on a floor vote. As the Advance reported last December, a last-minute Lame Duck effort spearheaded by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert also fizzled.

However, Republicans vowed to bring legislation back this term. House Republicans formed a special panel to handle the issue, the House Select Committee on Reducing Car Insurance Rates, chaired by state Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Clare).

SB 001, sponsored by state Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) is the Senate’s No. 1 priority.

Duggan testified on the cost of auto insurance before the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee on Feb. 13.

Sen. Aric Nesbitt talks to reporters about no-fault insurance reform legislation, Jan. 15, 2019 | Nick Manes

“Michiganders have made it crystal clear — they want this problem solved,” Nesbitt said in January about his bill. “Michigan is the most expensive state in the country to purchase auto insurance, and people are understandably upset. We have an obligation to solve this problem.”

Efforts to kill or water-down no-fault have long been opposed by hospitals and doctors.

“Each day, brain injury providers see first-hand how no-fault protections save lives,” Tim Hoste, president of the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, said in January. “Eliminating these protections would be devastating to thousands of Michigan families, many of whom would be forced into medical bankruptcy and have no choice but to put their loved ones into state-funded nursing homes ill-equipped to handle their needs.”

Duggan and eight other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court last August against the state insurance commissioner challenging the constitutionality of no-fault auto insurance.

Ken Coleman photo

He wants U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh to overturn the 1972 no-fault auto insurance statute and order the Legislature and Whitmer to “fix” the law within six months. The lawsuit cites a 1978 Michigan Supreme Court ruling in Shavers v. Kelley that said insurance rates have to be “equitable” and can’t be “unfairly discriminatory.”

“I don’t file suits that I don’t expect to win,” Duggan said on Tuesday. “So at the first court hearing three weeks ago, Judge Steeh didn’t decide the case, but he did say that Michigan’s no-fault law is shameful and the Legislature ought to act.

“Now being ruled shameful is not the same as being ruled unconstitutional,” he added, “but it’s a pretty good start.”  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.