This morning, the coalition known as Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates delivered 155,220 petition signatures to the Washington Secretary of State's office to place Referendum 67 on the ballot.
Although the secretary of state commonly rejects a substantial number of signatures due to duplication or non-registered voters, the coalition submitted 28 percent more than the required 112,440 signatures. Thus, it is almost certain that the public will vote this November on whether to approve or reject the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (ESSB 5726) enacted by the Washington State Legislature in May 2007. That law would permit an award of treble damages for an unreasonable denial of coverage or benefits. Assuming the signatures are validated, the effective date of the Act, which would have been July 21, 2007, is postponed pending the election.
At a press conference in Olympia, Washington, Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates emphasized its growing membership as demonstrated by a list of 32 individuals and six trade groups including the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Retail Association, the Liability Reform Coalition, the Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance, and the Independent Business Association. The coalition had been criticized as not including individual consumers.
The spokesperson from Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates, Dana Childers, said that the Insurance Fair Conduct Act would “raise insurance premiums for virtually every consumer and business in the State of Washington” and “is simply a vehicle to take money out of consumers’ pockets and put it in the pockets of trial lawyers.”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been raised by the campaigns for and against the referendum. The campaign to approve the referendum, which is supported primarily by the Washington State Trial Lawyers’ Association, is called "Approve 67," and its website is http://www.approve67.org/. The campaign against is run by Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates, and its website is http://www.reject67.org/. Watch for a media blitz by both groups.
At the instance of Governor Christine Gregoire, negotiations had been underway between representatives of the plaintiff lawyers and the insurance industry to explore the possibility of a compromise amendment to the statute. However, no agreement was reached.