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Power Steering

Last session legislators gambled on a new program that lobbyists claimed would make Colorado's roads safer. Don't bet on it.

Kasteler says he was surprised the insurance companies didn't support his efforts in the legislature. He says he thought the industry would love a plan whose entire purpose was to persuade people without insurance to get some. But big insurers are against his idea, he says, because they don't like to insure higher-risk clients, as those who avoid buying insurance often are. "State Farm just doesn't want them," Kasteler says.

State Farm officials say it's true that they don't particularly want such clients. They also say they would love to stop paying so many claims when State Farm customers get in accidents with uninsured cars and trucks. "There is so much hassle and so little profit in uninsured-motorist coverage," Browning says, "that I would love it if every driver in the state was insured." But the insurance industry has been dubious of the Insure-Rite scheme from the beginning.

The Atkinson bill passed the Utah House but got hung up in the Senate on the last day of the 1994 session. That's when Atkinson really went to work. He broke an unwritten rule for House members by lobbying senators at their desks on the Senate floor.

"That was unusual, seeing him move from desk to desk," says Miles "Cap" Ferry, a senator who didn't like the idea Atkinson was pushing then and likes it even less now that he is a lobbyist for State Farm. Atkinson's cajoling worked, though, and the bill became law.

These days Richard Kasteler sounds cocky about his company. He claims that Insure-Rite has helped reduce the percentage of Utah residents driving without insurance from 23 percent to 11 percent in only two years.

"Either the numbers went down, or I'm lying to you," Kasteler says. But it's impossible to tell. Kasteler refuses to release the documentation that he insists proves his case. In fact, the company erased many of its records after its first year of operations.

But that doesn't mean Kasteler is reticent about claiming results. He first tried to sell his concept to Colorado in 1995, shortly after starting his Utah contract. He hired lobbyist Joan Green and began paying her $10,000 a year. She went to state senator Dick Mutzebaugh, a Republican from Highlands Ranch and chairman of the Transportation Committee.

Mutzebaugh agreed to sponsor a bill, and the one that Insure-Rite had passed in Utah was sent to Colorado bill-drafters.

Mutzebaugh says he didn't know how many uninsured motorists there were in Colorado. "That's the question," he says, "nobody knows the answer to." But he says he's gotten lots of calls from constituents upset about being hit by uninsured drivers. "I figured if we could identify the ones that don't have it, we could eventually catch up with them," Mutzebaugh says.

The insurance industry's lobbyists worked hard against the bill in both the 1995 and 1996 sessions and stifled it both times. Insurance lobbyists argued that letting a private company scroll through insurance-company rolls would be an unfair release of "proprietary" information. Mutzebaugh says he told Green that Insure-Rite could do better with different sponsors for the 1997 session, lawmakers who would carry more weight around the Capitol. "They picked two good people," Mutzebaugh says.

They picked two heavy hitters. The first was Anderson, the Lakewood Republican who was just starting her term as House majority leader. As the person who controlled the flow of bills through the House, she would have a good chance of shepherding the bill through.

The other was Lacy, a senator from Aurora who was chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

Insure-Rite gave a jumpstart to the process by hiring a second lobbyist, Bill Artist, who has represented such big clients as the Denver Broncos.

It was Artist's idea to go to Anderson and ask her to be the lead sponsor. Anderson agreed and later met with Utah's Atkinson, who was flown to Colorado at Insure-Rite's expense. Atkinson says that he filled Anderson in on strategy--cite statistics and use sob stories from people who've had accidents with uninsured drivers--and that she was an apt pupil. "Representative Anderson is so bright," says Atkinson. "She picked up on all this stuff right away."

Anderson says one thing she learned was that the program conceived by Insure-Rite may not actually reduce the number of uninsured drivers but that at least it's "a start" to identify them. "Now I can tell the people who call my office that we are doing something," Anderson says. To get the rest of the legislature to agree, she says, she turned again to Green and Artist for some facts and figures. "We never do our own research," says Anderson. "We're too busy."

What she and Lacy got from the lobbyists was a 1992 study by the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII) showing that Colorado was highest in the nation in its percentage of uninsured motorists, with a whopping 34 percent of drivers out of compliance. A good selling point, but Lacy and Anderson didn't mention that the NAII itself is leery of those figures, which were based on random phone surveys of motorists. Dan Kummer of the NAII says a more reliable calculation is the percentage of people without insurance who are involved in accidents. According to the state Division of Motor Vehicles, that number is about 10 or 11 percent in Colorado and has been for years. "That's the only number we rely on," says John Duncan of the Colorado DMV. Duncan says there are about 90,000 vehicles involved in accidents in Colorado each year, and of those, about 10,000 involve drivers who have no insurance. That works out to 11 percent.

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