Here’s one way to ensure your own bill’s death: don’t show up at a hearing to defend it.
That’s what happened this afternoon. State Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, called repeatedly for Assemblyman Joe Coto, D-San Jose, to show up and present his AB 1054, as scheduled. Feuer even sent the sergeants-at-arms to find Coto. No luck.
So after finishing the committee’s other work and waiting some more, Feuer gave up and adjourned the hearing. That effectively killed AB 1054, since today was the last Judiciary Committee meeting before a key legislative deadline on Friday.
AB 1054 was the center of a classic struggle between insurance companies and trial lawyers. Sponsored by Mercury Insurance Co., the bill would have immunized insurers from having to refund premiums that a court or the insurance commissioner find “excessively” expensive if the insurers received an initial OK by regulators to charge the rates.
So it was a feel-good bill, like when they declare a random Tuesday to be Snuggle a Kitten Day? Not so much ... after the jump.
Mercury officials argued that insurers shouldn’t be penalized for playing by the state’s rate-setting rules. But consumer groups and the Consumer Attorneys of California countered that insurers determined to be overcharging their customers shouldn’t get to walk away with the profits. They also questioned whether the bill violates Prop 103, the 11-year-old insurance regulating initiative.
Last week AB 1054 sailed out of the Assembly Insurance Committee, which is dominated by moderate, typically pro-business Democrats. Membership in the Judiciary Committee, by contrast, trends more to the left. (The fact that the bill got double-referred to the more liberal committee probably reflects some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by the trial lawyers)
We don’t know why Coto didn’t show up to defend his bill. Or why he didn’t just shelve it earlier. A message left with his office hasn’t been returned. Maybe he was just busy on a hectic legislative day. Maybe he and his bill’s supporters — who weren’t at the hearing either, according to several witnesses — just read the tea leaves. Maybe he saw all the trial lawyers, at the Capitol for their annual lobby day, filling the hearing room.
“If I was a sponsor of that bill, I wouldn’t show up either,” said Coughlin Stoia partner and bill opponent Tim Blood.
— Cheryl Miller