SACRAMENTO -- Though well-intentioned, Assemblyman Dave Cogdill relied on false rumors and inside information about the Laci Peterson case to push changes in insurance laws at his wife's urging.
It started last January, when Cogdill, a Republican from Modesto, and his wife, Stephanie, heard a news update about Peterson.
The pregnant Modesto woman had disappeared a few weeks earlier, around Christmas Eve. The story was making the rounds in the national media, and the whodunit talk centered on her husband, Scott.
The Cogdills heard on the radio that Scott Peterson was having an affair and had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife after she got pregnant.
His wife asked if it were possible to insure someone without that person knowing it.
"I think there ought to be a law against that kind of thing," she told her husband.
Cogdill agreed to look into it. And when he returned to the Capitol the following Monday, his staff began researching the issue.
On Feb. 20, Cogdill introduced a bill to require companies to notify people when life insurance policies are taken out on them.
The legislation cleared committee hearings and floor debate in the Assembly and Senate without much discussion. No one voted against it. Gov. Davis signed the bill on July 26.
By then, the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, had been found along the shore of San Francisco Bay, and her husband had been arrested on double-murder charges. He is set to stand trial Jan. 26, although that date is likely to be pushed back.
"The nation was shocked when Laci Peterson and her unborn son were brutally killed," Davis said in a statement after signing Cogdill's bill. "This bill would give married couples the assurance that no financial gains are hidden from spouses."
Specifically, Assembly Bill 1083 requires spousal notification of life insurance policies worth more than $50,000 that are taken out after July 1, 2004.
"It might keep someone that was insuring someone else for that very purpose -- to do them in to collect on the insurance -- keep them from doing it," Cogdill said.
Significant policy involves exam
The new law will affect only "a carrier or two," said Brad Wenger, of the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Cos.
He said it is almost impossible for people to not know that a large life insurance policy is taken out on them because of a standard industry practice -- a physical.
"Any kind of policy of any significant size would involve a medical exam," Wenger said.
Cogdill now downplays the connection to the Peterson case. One reason is that the stories about the life insurance policy -- the kind that he heard on the radio that prompted the legislation -- were not true.
"The initial reports about that -- it made it sound like this was something he did behind her back -- proved to be not the case," Cogdill said.
On Jan. 29, Scott Peterson told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he and his wife both took out $250,000 life insurance policies two years before.
Principal Life wrote policy
The policy was taken out on June 25, 2001, according to a lawsuit filed by the Principal Life Insurance Co. The company does not want to pay Laci Peterson's benefits to her husband if he is convicted.
Cogdill also told lawmakers that "Laci was in the room when her husband Scott signed the policy on her life."
Officials with Principal would not confirm or deny that information. Spokeswoman Rhonda Clark-Leyda said the company has a policy to not disclose client information.
Cogdill said he could not recall how he knew that Laci Peterson was in the room when her husband signed the policy.
"It may have come through a discussion that I had with a group of insurance agents that heard it from the insurance agent that actually wrote the policy," he said. "I don't remember exactly."
Stephanie Cogdill, a retired account clerk in the Sylvan Union School District, declined to comment.
Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Eric Stern can be reached at 916-326-5544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.