ATLANTA — A proposal designed to halt insurance scams passed a Georgia Senate subcommittee Tuesday without a provision that would have prevented news coverage of accidents.
House Bill 828 restricts the release of information about accident victims and increases the penalties for buying it for the purpose of snagging clients for attorneys and doctors eager for the insurance claims.
The first offense is punishable as a misdemeanor with at least 30 days in jail and a fine of $1,000 or less.
A second offense brings a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
“This is to stop ambulance chasing,” the bill’s author, Rep. Ronnie Mabra, D-Fayetteville said. “... The intent of the bill is to stop the harassment and politicizing of accident victims.”
The House passed it last month, 168-2, and sent it to the Senate. On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee recommended the full committee approve it, along with revised wording.
The House version would have also prevented the news media from gaining access to accident reports until 60 days after they occurred. But after discussions with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Press Association, Mabra agreed to restore media access to the reports as long as the reporters sign a statement asserting it they will be used for legitimate news reporting.
“I think we don’t have any other reservations,” said Hollie Manheimer, the executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.