Nobody likes "ambulance chasers" - the unscrupulous lawyers, doctors and chiropractors who cull police accident reports so they can drum up business by soliciting victims.
Insurance-industry officials say the practice is often the first step in an insurance fraud, so there is arguably a legitimate public interest in reining it in.
But a bill (A801) approved by the Assembly last week goes way too far. The measure bars the release of motor-vehicle accident reports for 90 days, except to people involved in the accident, representatives of insurance companies and law-enforcement authorities.
Despite the fact that accident reports are clearly public documents under the Open Public Records Act, despite the fact that police officers are required to complete accident reports within five days, the bill would ban members of the public - and the news media - from obtaining reports for three months.
Which means: We could not provide you with the complete details of that accident down the street from your house until 90 days have passed.
Nor could you go down to the police station and get a copy of that accident report for 90 days.
Does that sound like a free and open society to you? Because it sure doesn't sound like one to us.
And especially galling, it's completely unnecessary if the goal is only to stop ambulance chasers.
The original version of the legislation simply prohibited anyone from using information from an accident report to solicit professional employment for 30 days after the accident. There. Done.
Extend that prohibition about soliciting professional employment to 90 days, if that's what the sponsors want, and they will have accomplished the exact same goal regarding ambulance chasing as the current legislation. And they would do it without blocking the media and the public from obtaining clearly public information in a timely fashion.
The rewritten bill is not only offensive. It makes no sense. And it passed the Assembly by a lopsided 73-4 vote? The only explanation we can see is, with so many member of the Assembly being lawyers, they didn't want to appear soft on ambulance chasers.
As we noted in a previous editorial on the bill, state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, has said the measure is akin to "using a nuclear weapon to kill an ant." He's right. After all, how much of a social problem is ambulance chasing anyway? Accident victims are always free to tell these people to get lost.
The bill is overkill. Its passage in the Assembly is disappointing. Here's hoping the Senate shows some sense and rejects the measure.