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Montana Insurance Verification Memo


Posted Date: 
November 7, 2012
Contact: 
Harold Blattie, Executive Director, Montana Association of Counties & Ronda Wiggers, Lobbyist, Montana County Treasurers Association

Intended Audience:  Montana County Commissioners & Treasurers

Many of you are hearing about a presentation to the treasurers by Brenda Nordlund, Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Division, Montana Department of Justice about the new Montana Insurance Verification System (MITVS).

Several MACo staff members and Ronda Wiggers, MT County Treasurers Association Lobbyist met with DOJ on May 10th to discuss some of our concerns as this project was first being rolled out.

Harold and Ronda have since met again with Brenda to discuss some concerns and have made preliminary decisions on how to best go forward.

This is intended to give everyone background information, answer some of the questions that have been recently expressed and give you an update on suggested solutions to identified problems.

Q.  Why is this happening?

A.  The Montana Motor Vehicle Insurance Responsibility and Verification Act was created by Senate Bill 508 in the 2009 Montana Legislative Session for the purpose of reducing the number of uninsured motor vehicles in Montana.  It originally had a January 2011 implementation date.

The Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Division met with the County Treasurers and outlined their intentions prior to introducing the original bill.  During the hearings, the Treasurers were able to have amendments placed in the bill that they felt addressed all of their concerns at the time.

A copy of the full text of the bills can be found at:

http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2009/billhtml/SB0508.htm

http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2011/billhtml/HB0367.htm

During the 2011 Legislative Session, the Treasurers requested and DOJ concurred in delaying the implementation date to January 2013.  This was done in HB 367.

Q.  What is the implementation schedule for MTIVS?

A.  The Montana Highway Patrol began using the program in May of 2012.   Statewide law enforcement received access to the system in August 2012, via an interface between the Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) and MTIVS. In September 2012, county treasurers were given access to the system for advisory use. After a “trial run” in a few counties, all of the County Treasurers now have access to the program.

According to the law, as currently written, beginning January 1, 2013, County Treasurers will be required to use the online insurance verification program and deny registration to anyone that cannot be confirmed. 

Q.  Can the system verify vehicles insured by MACo JPIA member Counties?

A.   No - Only certain vehicles insured by private insurers are required to report insurance information to the system.  As it is easy for an officer to determine that the vehicle is government exempt (the plate color and/or registration) there is no need to verify insurance. There is a way for member Counties to load their insured fleet information in the system and update any changes but it is not required.

Q.  Will all private vehicles be in the system?

A.  No – Insurance companies are not required to report for Fleet and Commercial insured vehicles.  They will not be in the system.  However, DOJ is working to find a way to indicate in the system (or in MERLIN) that a vehicle is commercially insured vehicle.

DOJ has also discovered that certain vehicles that were originally licensed and insured in another state may also not show up on our system.  Although the law states that you must license your vehicle if working in Montana, the insurer will not report or respond to a MT MTIVS inquiry until the vehicle owner notifies it of the owner/vehicle’s change of address and the policy information is updated to show Montana as state of record for that policy.  Those that are in the military or recently relocated to Montana will likely have the same issue.

Q.  If a vehicle does not show up in the system as being insured, can a plate still be issued by the Treasurer?

A.  Yes & No - Due to the complexity of technical and business process questions yet to be answered, DOJ had previously indicated that we would begin in January by simply telling the customer that their insurance did not verify and possibly giving them a handout indicating  what steps they should take to correct this.  We would still issue the plates.

After reading the new law a bit more carefully, we do not have this discretion; therefore, during our discussions, it was agreed that we will take legislation to the 2013 session to change the law so that the county treasurer is only responsible to check for insurance and notify both the customer and DOJ if it does not appear in the system. 

The local treasurer will NOT be the enforcement for this law.

DOJ will then follow up on those that are not in the system.

Brenda’s original suggestion was to request from the legislature a delay in the implementation date at the county level.  Both Harold and Ronda asked that we simply remove the enforcement language at the county level rather than continuing to go back to the legislature for extensions.

If there comes a time in the future when the fleet and commercially insured vehicles can be readily distinguished from those that do not have insurance and other technical challenges can be solved, we will go to the legislature and ask for the law to be changed back so plates will be denied at the counter to those that are uninsured.

Q.  How will we handle unverifiable customers between January 1, 2013 and when the proposed bill passes?

A.  The law says that for original registrations, the treasurer is only required to "use the system" to verify. For renewals, the treasurer is required to not only use the system to verify but is required to deny renewing a registration unless " the system is temporarily unavailable."

MACo legal staff feels that due to implementation problems, the system is not fully functioning and is therefore "temporarily unavailable" to accurately verify all policies.  This argument has been presented to DOJ.  They are researching to see if they agree and if so, they could issue a rule stating such prior to January 1, 2013.  That would allow the treasurers to simply inform customers of their insurance status rather than deny renewals.

Q.  How will mail in registrations be handled?

A.  This is one of the areas that DOJ is not yet sure how to handle.  Thus, the request to the legislature will be to remove any type of enforcement from the local treasurers’ office.

Q.  How will on-line registrations be handled?

A.  Eventually, DOJ will merge the insurance verification system with the MERLIN system so that an online registration will be immediately verified before it is processed.  However, it may be some time before this portion is fully implemented.  Until that time, on-line registrations will not be insurance verified.

Q.  Is there any liability associated with the Treasurers issuing plates to a vehicle that the system says is uninsured but the customer has proof of insurance?

A.  MACo legal staff and DOJ have met to discuss concerns expressed about liability for issuing plates to an uninsured vehicle. Attorneys involved all felt that the chance of liability was minor and could be alleviated with the proper paperwork.

Making changes to the law so that the treasurer only notifies the customer and does not deny plates when a vehicle does not verify should eliminate all concerns about liability to the counties.  The treasurer would be following the law as written.

Q.  How will customers be notified of this program?

A.  DOJ has begun a public relations program that will explain the new program to the public.

Q.  Are motorcycles and ATV’s that are licensed for on road use required to carry insurance?  Will they be in the system?

A.  Motorcycles and ATVs that are licensed for on road use are exempt from Montana’s mandatory liability insurance law.  They may be reported by some insurers however the insurance verification laws only apply to vehicles required to comply with Montana’s mandatory liability insurance law.   Government-owned vehicles are also exempt from Montana’s mandatory insurance law.  Motorcycle and ATV owners will get their plate no matter what.

Q.  Are tribal members handled differently in this program?

A.  When presented with this question, Brenda pointed out that although they are exempt from taxes if they are members living on the reservation, she didn’t think that they were exempt from insurance requirements.  We need to check further as each tribe may be different.

Q.  What do we need to do now?

A.  Brenda has indicated that all counties now have access to this program but it appears that many counties have not used it very much.  We are going to ask that you all give it a try for an extended amount of time prior to the legislative session.  The only way for Brenda to know what needs to be fixed and for Ronda and Harold to offer testimony on why you should not be enforcing this at your local counter, is to have some actual numbers and facts.  In mid-December, Ronda will attempt to gather results from all of the treasurers’ offices on how well it worked, what didn’t work, etc.  This will produce facts to present to the legislators on why we need to have this portion of the law changed

We will keep you posted when the bill draft is available and when hearings are scheduled.

 

UPDATE:  November 27, 2012

Harold Blattie and Ronda Wiggers had a conference call with Brenda Nordlund today about implementation of the Montana Insurance Verification System (MITVS).  The purpose of the call was to determine a short-term fix to address the imminent January 1, 2013 implementation date where treasurers could not issue plates when a vehicle shows up as “unverified” in the system. 

Rather than a message saying “unverified” the system will return a message saying “System is temporarily unavailable." This meets the letter of the law and does not force treasurers to deny issuing plates on vehicles that are insured but not in the system because they are insured under a fleet or commercial policy, are insured by an insurer domiciled out of state or one of several other possible reasons the vehicles coverage is not being reported to DOJ by the insurance companies.

At some point, there will be consequences for being “unverified,” so treasurers do want to notify their customers if they are not showing up in the system; therefore, a short statement was been drafted that can be used at the counter when treasurers receive this message.  The message is posted below:

The new insurance verification system is not able to verify that you have insurance on this vehicle.

It is not a problem right now and I can still register/renew your vehicle license.

If you have a commercial policy or a policy issued out of state; that may be the reason that it is not showing up in our system.  We are working to correct that.

If that is not the situation, you may want to check with your insurance provider, because at some point, not showing up in the system may cause you problem.

This is a short term solution, but a longer-term solution via legislation is being worked on with DOJ.

Harold Blattie | hblattie@mtcounties.org | 406.449.4360 | Ronda Wiggers | rondawiggers@bresnan.net