Bankole: No-fault deal model for bipartisanship?

Bankole Thompson

One of the latest chapters in the quest to reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance law is that the Republican legislative leadership in Lansing has decided not to push through any more votes for now because of ongoing negotiations with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, speaks with reporters following the House's approval of a bill that would cut auto insurance premiums on Thursday, May 9, 2019, in the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer threatened to veto the legislation if it gets to her desk without changes.

Both House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R- Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, indicated last week they were optimistic about the signals they are getting from Whitmer regarding discussions on personal injury protection coverage.

Whitmer has stated in clear terms that she wasn’t going to sign legislation that allows drivers to opt out completely from medical coverage because it will simply shift the burden to taxpayers. But Whitmer also noted that she is open to entertaining the idea of giving drivers the option of having some choices in personal injury protection like selecting $250,000 or more in Personal Injury Protection coverage.

The fact that both Whitmer and the Republican leadership are willing to look at this deal through the lens of what makes sense not only for taxpayers but also what protects people from harm is encouraging.

Both Whitmer and the GOP leaders deserve some credit for getting this far in the negotiations even though they are still working through a plan. There is no political blood-letting playing out publicly or angry promises to give the other side a run for their money.

Instead, what we are seeing is simply principled disagreements on major parts of the legislation that Whitmer pointed out, and Chatfield and Shirkey appear willing to talk over it with the governor’s team.

If a constructive deal comes out of their talks to finally reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance law that has long penalized Detroit drivers, it will mark a significant model for how things can get done in Lansing. With more bipartisanship and collaboration on the issues affecting residents of the state the most, Lansing can begin to launder its reputation as a place where hardly anything gets done.  

The threat of no deal comes at a price. It means Detroiters will continue to pay more out of their pockets to drive around. It means insurance redlining will continue. Even though the non-driving factors that result in high cost of insurance for urban drivers remain a sticking issue, both sides should address that as well because it is fundamental to the reform that many had been crying out for long before we got to this point.

A practical and plausible compromise regarding this legislation should include a ban on factors such as credit and education that have no bearing on one’s ability to drive.

It may seem difficult to reach a deal. But I’m hopeful that the concessions that are going to be made won’t mean placing a burden on taxpayers. There is a strong public support for this reform and now is the time to deliver on the issue that many people care about. I see the enthusiasm at community meetings and in the barbershops where those who have been at the receiving end of insurance redlining want a final break from it.

Whitmer was elected to address the challenges facing the state. Her Republican counterparts in the Legislature were elected to do the same. They should work together to get the best for the people who sent them to Lansing. As Edmund Burke, the conservative thinker noted, “all government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act is founded on compromise and barter.”