A bill that would limit uninsured motorists' ability to sue others when involved in accidents received broad support in its first committee hearing on Wednesday.
The Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee approved the bill on a 12-2 vote, sending it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The legislation would still allow uninsured drivers to file lawsuits to seek money to pay for medical bills, property damage and lost wages. But it would prohibit them from seeking additional awards for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment or disfigurement.
The legislation has been called "no pay/no play" in other states. It's on the books in eight states, according to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.
The bill, authored by Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka of Brainerd, would also increase the penalty for people convicted of driving while uninsured from $200 to $600.
The insurance federation, which represents a few dozen insurance companies in the state, supports the bill. Gazelka and at least one other committee member work in the insurance business.
Gazelka said it isn't fair for uninsured motorists to receive all the benefits of civil suits.
"We're not cutting them out totally for not having insurance but we are saying you're not getting the full meal deal," he said.
The Insurance Federation of Minnesota estimates that 15-20 percent of drivers in Minnesota are uninsured.
"We have a problem, and it's a growing," said Bob Johnson, the federation's president.
Johnson and Gazelka said the legislation is part of a larger package of law changes that could help bring down the cost of auto insurance premiums while decreasing the number of uninsured motorists. Gazelka said he expects to introduce other related bills during the session.
But the Minnesota Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, questioned whether the bill would motivate an uninsured motorist to buy insurance.
"That hasn't been the experience in other states, and we don't think it would be the experience here," said Joel Carlson, the group's lobbyist.
Carlson also said the legislation could lead to harsh consequences for accident victims who -- for whatever reason -- didn't have insurance.
"The penalty should fit the crime. I don't think this is it," he said.