Detroit Dems introduce no-fault alternative as ‘talks are ongoing’ over GOP plan

On Jefferson Avenue, closely approaching downtown Detroit. | iStockphoto

A group of Detroit Democrats this week introduced another alternative to majority Republicans’ recently passed auto insurance reform bills, as negotiations over the latter continue between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Detroit Regional Chamber 2019 Conference | Ken Coleman

Whitmer talked with top Republicans this morning and expressed both optimism and uncertainty over a potential deal, saying that they’ve “made some progress, but we’re not done. And winds can change in this town real fast.”

House Democrats from Detroit who are impatient with those winds, meanwhile, have introduced a new package of bills meant to “aid in the overhaul” of the state’s no-fault laws after House Democrats introduced a sweeping substitute for the Republican-favored Senate Bill 1 last week.

The Detroit Democrats’ package, starting with House Bill 4651 and sponsored by state Reps. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) and Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit), is aimed at lowering rates by banning non-driving factors in rate-setting, increasing transparency at the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), and offering a limited opt-out of unlimited personal coverage for seniors covered by Medicare.

The measures are similar to the “DRIVE” plan announced last week by a group of House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills). But there’s an additional focus on “eliminating the use of discriminatory practices, like red-lining, that cause the residents in Detroit and Hamtramck to pay the highest auto insurance rates in the country,” Robinson said in the statement.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo

Michigan House Democrats spokesperson Aneta Kiersnowski said that Democrats’ “strategy is to bring the ideas to the table … the Detroit Caucus wanted to bring the issues most important to them to the table and make sure they’re included in the conversation.”

The GOP House and Senate plans, passed earlier this month, would remove the personal injury protection (PIP) mandate entirely for all Michigan drivers, a key sticking point for critics who say such a move would be disastrous for both Michigan drivers and health care providers.

“This package provides sensible reforms to our auto insurance system that will end the predatory insurance practices causing drivers in Detroit to pay the highest rates in the nation,” Gay-Dagnogo said in a statement Wednesday. “By ending these discriminatory practices … we can lower rates for drivers across the state without sacrificing the world-class coverage our families rely on.”

Robinson lent his support Tuesday to a PR effort by the Coalition to Protect Auto No-fault (CPAN), appearing with the group’s counsel, George Sinas, as the latter protested a potential deal between Whitmer and the GOP that he said would “take away people’s rights.”

Chatfield and Shirkey
Lee Chatfield (left) and Mike Shirkey (right)

That deal, however, has only continued to progress as Whitmer met again with the four legislative caucus leaders this morning to discuss options on the table.

However, no contours of a deal have emerged, although the same talking points have.

“They are continuing to meet and talk and they were all together this morning,” according to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) spokesperson Amber McCann. “They’re just continuing to work through details.”

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for state House Majority Leader Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), echoed that, saying Wednesday that “talks are ongoing and progress is being made.”

Whitmer told reporters after a press conference at the Lansing Central United Methodist Church that “the fact that we’re still talking … is a productive sign, but I can’t expand on that at this moment.”

Dan Gilbert

The urgency surrounding a potential deal increased this week after a lobbyist for Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert said the billionaire was preparing a ballot initiative to send a no-fault plan similar to the GOP’s to the people for a referendum should negotiations break down.

Whitmer told reporters today that’s not the preferred outcome for either her or the Legislature.

“I’m not going to be bullied into doing something and I don’t think the Legislature is either,” Whitmer said.

“And I don’t know if that was the intent or not. I’ve certainly had a dialogue with Dan Gilbert; I know he’s frustrated with the lack of movement on this issue. I get that. But the fact of the matter is, it’s important that we get this right.”

State Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) couldn’t agree more. As one of only two Democratic senators to vote in favor of the Senate GOP legislation, Hollier told the Advance in an interview that he’s taking an incremental approach — or “a legislative approach,” in his words — to car insurance reform.

“I’m very optimistic,” Hollier said of the likelihood that something will pass soon, adding that he’s not looking for one big, all-encompassing fix.

Sen. Pete Lucido | Senate photo

“We finally have folks committed to getting this done,” Hollier said. “For it to work, people have to understand that this is the start, not the finish. If it’s viewed as the final product, this will continue to drag.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) also expressed both optimism that talks were progressing and a willingness to reach across the aisle.

“I think right now [no-fault negotiations are] aging; it’s ripening; it’s getting fermented. And at the end, I’m hoping to have a glass of it because I do like wine,” Lucido said.

“If the Democrats have 40 percent cost-savings guaranteed, I’m all ears, as [billionaire former presidential candidate] Ross Perot said. Bring it and let’s see it so we can implement it, as long as it’s guaranteed.”

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

When asked if Whitmer and GOP leadership hoped to reach a deal before next week’s Mackinac Policy Conference, Shirkey spokesperson McCann deferred judgment.

“Sen. Shirkey would say the sooner the better so that we can start implementing policy,” McCann said. “But at the same time, he’s going to be patient about the process, and the process continues to be productive and they’ll continue to stay engaged.”

Advance reporter Michael Gerstein contributed to this report.

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former associate editor of the Advance and is now a freelance writer in Chicago. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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