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Panel refuses to prohibit 'territorial rating' for autos


ANNAPOLIS -- A Senate committee dashed yesterday the hopes of urban drivers looking for relief from high auto insurance rates by killing a package of bills that would prohibit setting prices according to where a driver lives.

But the Senate Finance Committee's votes on the so-called "territorial rating" bills, sponsored primarily by senators from Baltimore, mean drivers in less urbanized areas of the state will not see their rates rise as a result.

The committee also voted against bills that would:

* Abolish the insurance industry's exemption from state antitrust laws.

The bill would have prohibited insurers from using prices set by rate-making bureaus that recommended prices to thousands of companies nationwide.

* Create a People's Counsel, or consumer advocate office, within the state Insurance Division to argue rate cases.

* Prohibit the insurance commissioner from working for an insurance company for one year after leaving office.

* Create a three-person state board to review all insurer requests for rate increases. Currently the insurance commissioner is responsible for deciding all such cases.

Despite the unfavorable votes on the territorial rating bills, their primary sponsor, Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, said that he has persuaded the committee to hold one of the bills while he tries to negotiate amendments that would provide some relief to urban drivers.

As for the other bills, Mr. Pica called the votes "unfortunate. The only real loser is the consumer," he said.

"Although we're making some progress, I guess it takes an awfully long time to beat the insurance industry."

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