Veto of Vt. UIM Bill Upheld

Vermont House members, gathered for a brief reunion a bit less than a month after they thought they had finished for the year, voted to sustain Gov. James Douglas’ veto of a bill relating to car insurance and went home.

‘Given that we’re here, there are probably 600 or 700 bills still in committee,” House Speaker Walter Freed said after gaveling the House to order, to laughter from the chamber. “We can just keep right on going.”

Instead, lawmakers resisted the temptation to do anything but the minimum task required.

When they adjourned May 20, lawmakers set aside June 16 to return and address any vetoes the governor might issue.

Douglas issued one, on a bill that was completely redrafted in the regular session’s waning hours to deal with car insurance, rather than the farm insurance the bill was originally designed to address.

The purpose of the bill became to close a gap in insurance coverage highlighted in a 2003 Vermont Supreme Court decision.

Under current law, all Vermont motorists must carry a provision on their car insurance to cover accidents in which the other driver has no insurance or has insufficient insurance to pay fully for the damages caused in an accident.

That policy provision means the not-at-fault driver’s own insurance company chips in to pay for damages if the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the way the law is currently written there are some instances in which the not-at-fault driver’s insurance carrier can escape paying the full balance of damages the policy appears to cover.

Douglas said he supported the bill’s original policy goals. But in his veto message to the House last week he said other technicalities were added to the measure at the last minute that made the bill unacceptable.

Rep. Gaye Symington, the House Democratic leader, said she, too supported closing the insurance gap, calling it “this part of our insurance laws which doesn’t work for Vermonters.”

“Clearly there are technical issues that need to be fixed in this bill,” she said, acknowledging that lawmakers didn’t have the will to tackle them before next year.

House Speaker Walter Freed later said that there was disagreement among some House members on some of the details of the bill, and that it would be impossible to have committee hearings on the measure and resolve those issues quickly

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