Duggan presses insurance plan despite lawmaker’s arrest

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan says he doesn’t expect his proposal for low-cost auto insurance in Detroit to be derailed by the legal troubles of the bill’s planned sponsor, state Sen. Virgil Smith.

Duggan told City Council members on Tuesday he is pressing forward with his January timetable for the plan, which would allow auto insurance companies to sell Detroiters lower-cost policies with a maximum of $275,000 in medical coverage for auto-related injuries.

Smith, D-Detroit, who last month announced he would sponsor the proposed legislation, was arrested in connection with an assault and shooting involving his ex-wife.

The mayor stressed Tuesday that Smith’s challenges will not jeopardize the proposal. The next stop, he added, will be to seek a Senate hearing.

“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do and line up our votes,” Duggan told reporters, adding he’s confident that he’ll ultimately gain the support of the Michigan Legislature.

With Smith, Duggan is taking a “wait and see” approach. He’s not yet decided to seek a new sponsor.

“We will wait and see what happens with the prosecutor before we make a decision on that. I’m not prejudging anything,” he said, adding “changing sponsors is not a difficult practical issue.”

Smith was arrested on Sunday following a shooting outside his Detroit home. According to the investigative report, Smith told police that opening fire at his ex-wife’s Mercedes-Benz with a rifle was “the most stupid thing” he’d done in his life.

The case remains under investigation.

Council members raised some questions Tuesday about Duggan’s plan, but none about Smith’s arrest or role in advancing the legislation.

Duggan first unveiled specifics of his proposal during a packed community meeting last month.

The proposal would provide $25,000 in base benefits for personal-injury protection and another $250,000 for catastrophic care for disabling injuries from auto accidents. The mayor has said, if passed, the legislation would knock $1,000 off motorists’ annual bills next year.

In his pitch to the council, Duggan said that “Detroiters are tired of being promised things that can’t be done.” This plan, he says, doesn’t hurt anyone in the suburbs, cuts the rates of residents and gives everyone a choice.

“I believe we can get this through the legislature,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s any other configuration that has a chance.”

Duggan’s “D-Insurance” plan fulfills a campaign promise of the mayor’s to craft such a strategy that he says would cut auto rates 25 to 33 percent.

Duggan has said he’s been pitching the plan to the Republican speaker of the House and that Gov. Rick Snyder was “largely on board.”

On Tuesday, he urged the council to lend it’s support to the plan, adding he believes there’s “significant common ground” on the issue.

“If you are with me, it’ll be a lot better,” he said.

Under Duggan's plan, when motorists hit the $275,000 cap, they would have to get additional coverage from health insurance plans. The draft bill also allows insurers to set up limited-provider networks for non-emergency treatment, such as physical rehabilitation or occupational therapy.

The proposal, which would need approval of the state Legislature, is a departure from Michigan’s decades-old unlimited medical benefits for drivers who sustain life-altering injuries in crashes.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, joined Duggan Tuesday to voice his support for the auto insurance plan. It’s been a “critical issue” that the group fought by suing AAA until it could no longer afford the legal costs, he said.

“We pay more than any city and county in the country. This is wrong,” Anthony said, but then told the council that the decision now is “easy.”