Auto insurance bill: In unusual move, Assembly speaker ripped by name after legislation fails to move

Coughlin criticized by coalition of business leaders, racial justice groups, consumer advocates on bill they say would end racial discrimination in auto rates

File photo Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin also won some concessions in budget talks.

A bill that would prevent auto insurance companies from setting rates partly by using factors that negatively impact Black and brown communities … a bill that more than 10,000 New Jersey residents have written notes in support of … a bill that is supported by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman … a bill that passed the state Senate in January … remains pending in the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee and was not discussed Monday.

So much for having all those tough conversations about race.

The talk surrounding the bill, however, was loud.

A coalition of business leaders, racial justice groups and consumer advocates called out both the Assembly and Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) for their failure to advance S111/A1657, which would help end racial discrimination in setting auto insurance rates. And they did it no uncertain terms.

John Harmon, the CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, didn’t hold back.

“It is mindboggling to me that any elected official in our state, much less the speaker of the assembly, would seek to perpetuate a practice which increases auto insurance premiums for New Jersey drivers, and which has nothing to do with an individual’s driving record,” he said.

Carlos Medina, the CEO of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey — a group that represents 120,000 Hispanic small business owners — was right there with him.

“We believe that harmful insurance policies directly affect the growth of our business community,” he said. “Our small businesses contribute more than $20 billion to the state’s economy, and establishing policies with unbiased criteria and fair rates will benefit our economy and the entire minority community. We need our Assembly legislators to champion and advance this bill.”

The coalition also includes the Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing Center, Consumer Reports, New Jersey Citizen Action, SEIU 32BJ, Faith in New Jersey, New Jersey Anti-Poverty Network, Consumer Federation of America, Root Insurance, CURE Auto Insurance, New Jersey Policy Perspective and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

Coughlin declined to provide a comment on the situation.

The efforts for the bill

S111/A1657 was championed in the Senate by Sens. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Nilza Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) and Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and would prevent insurers from using credit scores, employment and education in setting auto insurance rates.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.) introduced similar legislation at the federal level in the fall of 2020, the Prohibit Auto Insurance Discrimination (PAID) Act — H.R. 3693.

The bill is not dead. The Assembly has two more scheduled voting sessions during the lame duck period (Dec. 20 and Jan. 10) and maintains the ability to add more.

Proponents of the bill are not taking a wait-and-see approach. They are being proactive.

They want answers to a simple question: Why should a person’s education, their credit score and what job they hold — factors that have been shown to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities and have no direct impact on driving ability — be used?

Coalition members point out the obvious: These factors do not reflect consumers’ driving history, but they do serve as proxies for income and race.

They cite research compiled by the Consumer Federation of America, which, in 2020, found that New Jersey drivers living in majority Black and Latino communities were charged higher premiums on average than drivers living in majority white New Jersey communities:

  • People living in majority Black ZIP codes pay 49.5% higher premiums;
  • People living in majority Latino ZIP codes pay 49.9% higher premiums.

The research shows this holds true even for drivers in majority-minority neighborhoods with spotless driving records. Even worse, they say the practice of using education, credit scores and employment to set rates provides discounts to white drivers with unsafe driving records while unfairly price-gouging lower-income Black and brown drivers with good or even perfect driving records.

Cuqui Rivera, executive secretary of the Latino Action Network, called out Coughlin directly.

“This is a racial and social justice priority that must be addressed now, not next year or the year after,” he said. “Car insurance is a major expense and is essential for any family trying to build wealth and economic security. Speaker Coughlin, it’s time for the Assembly to end auto insurance policies that have harmful consequences for Latino and Black communities and our most vulnerable residents.”

Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action, called out the Assembly as a whole.

“We elected our Assembly to ensure all New Jerseyans have the same opportunities to prosper,” she said. Delaying this vote any further perpetuates a longstanding hardship on our communities of color and our working families. We urge the Assembly to put their interests before that of insurance companies and take action now.”

An easier ask: Simply allow the bill to be voted on.