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Montana Governor Vetoes Unisex Insurance Repeal

April 10, 1987

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Gov. Ted Schwinden preserved the nation’s only ″unisex″ insurance law when he vetoed a bill that would have repealed the 18-month-old prohibition on basing insurance rates on gender.

Schwinden’s action Thursday, which surprised supporters and opponents, was a defeat for the insurance industry, which has battled the insurance law from its inception in the 1983 Legislature.

But it was hailed as a victory for women’s groups pressing a nationwide effort to ban insurance rates based on gender.

Four other states - North Carolina, Michigan, Hawaii and Massachusetts - have banned sex-based rates in auto insurance, but Montana was the first state to apply the ban to all types of insurance when its law took effect in October 1985.

In his veto letter, Schwinden cited the state constitution’s prohibition on discrimination and said while the law has increased insurance costs for some women, that wasn’t the issue.

″The Legislature and the governor are bound, not by our perception of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ economically for women, but by the unequivocal language of ... the Montana Constitution,″ the Democratic governor said.

″On matters of principle - particularly constitutional principle - I’m not prepared to sacrifice an inch,″ he said.

Supporters of gender-free insurance say insurance companies often use sex- based rates to discriminate against women by charging them higher rates for health insurance or providing lower payouts in life insurance.

Opponents of the law argue that differing rates are justified by statistical differences between men and women in such things as life expectancy, auto accidents and doctor visits.

Rep. Helen O’Connell, who led the fight for repeal, said she would try to overturn Schwinden’s veto next week.

″My heart is with those thousands of young ladies and young married couples who carry such a large financial burden″ of higher rates under the law, said O’Connell, a Democrat from Great Falls.

Bonnie Tippy, a lobbyist for the American Alliance of Insurers, predicted lawmakers will overturn the veto in resentment of Schwinden’s action and said the industry ″feels very strongly about this issue.″ Earlier, she had met with the governor and expressed confidence that he would sign the repeal measure.

Debra Jones, lobbyist for a coalition of women’s groups, said she also was surprised about the veto, but she lauded the governor’s support.

″Economic impacts are not the issue; it’s fairness,″ she said.

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