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By Laura Leslie
State senators approved two big changes to North Carolina's auto insurance laws Thursday.
Unlike a major reform effort that was defeated in a House committee, the Senate proposals make changes without dismantling the existing framework of the state's Rate Bureau.
Senate Bill 180 allows insurers to introduce proprietary specialty packages, like Progressive Insurance's "Snapshot" program.
Under current law, all auto insurers are lumped together in seeking rate changes from the Rate Bureau. In some cases, specialty programs would have to be modified to fit within the bureau's rate structure. In other cases, insurers are hesitant to share information with competitors.
The legislation allows individual companies to seek approval for proprietary programs from the insurance commissioner on a case-by-case basis, outside the Rate Bureau framework. The change would take effect in July.
Sponsor Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said the proposal is a consensus measure that has the support of both the Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and the industry.
"I don’t know of anyone who's against it unless it’s someone who wants to pay more money," Apodaca said.
The other measure, Senate Bill 181, is also a consensus bill that changes the way insurers can add surcharges for young drivers.
Under current state law, insurers can't discriminate according to the age of a driver. Instead, they're allowed to impose a surcharge for drivers with less than three years' driving experience.
That language has the same effect as an age surcharge for drivers under the age of 19. But it also applies to people who wait till they're older to get their licenses, as well as international drivers who may have years of experience in other countries but not in the United States.
Senate Bill 181 removes the "inexperienced driver" language from current law and adds an exception to the age ban to allow a surcharge for drivers "under the age of 19."
Apodaca said young drivers won't see any difference in their insurance cost, since they're already paying the surcharge for being inexperienced. But older and international drivers will pay less.
That change would take effect in January 2014.
Both bills passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. They're now headed to the House.
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