A Look at Industry Legislative Issues for 2004Posted 1/16/2004
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
The 108th Congress will return this month with important unfinished business. At the top of the list will be several major appropriations bills for fiscal year 2004 awaiting U.S. Senate passage. The Energy Conference bill has yet to garner enough support for Senate approval. The Energy bill contains fuel efficiency, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and other issues important to the automotive industry.
In the fall of 2003, the Automotive Service Association, the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence and the National Automobile Dealers Association hosted a Hispanic Automotive Technician Summit on Capitol Hill to discuss issues important to automotive repairers and the Hispanic technician. Co-chairing the summit were U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee, and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. ASA is continuing to work with other organizations to determine the best approach in 2004 to deal with the many issues brought forth at the fall summit.
Congress will also take up Association Health Plan (AHP) legislation, S. 545, in the second session of the 108th Congress. The House has passed the AHP bill, but the Senate is yet to act. Aftermarket trade associations are working together to move the bill in the Senate. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has formed a coalition to support the legislation. ASA is a member of the coalition.
Insurer-owned repair shop legislation saw a successful season in 2003. Texas has enacted a law to prohibit insurer-owned shops from continuing to locate in Texas. Allstate Insurance Co. has challenged the legislation in Texas state courts. The suit against the Texas attorney general has been moved to the federal District Court in Dallas. The case is not anticipated to be decided, at the district court level, before the fall of 2004. Independent repairers are not waiting for a decision in the Texas case to pursue state legislation prohibiting insurer-owned repair shops. ASA is working with some 12 states that have shown an interest in pursuing similar legislation.
Replacement crash parts legislation and regulations continue to appear around the country. Alaska, Iowa and the District of Columbia are expected to finalize their positions on crash parts. There is growing interest in federal intervention in the crash parts arena. With the limited progress of aftermarket parts certification, repairers are reviewing closely the options available to ensure a competitive crash parts marketplace providing consumers with a quality, safe choice.
ASA has had more inquiries on shop registration or licensing from repairers than at any period in its history. With the increasing scrutiny of regulators and the lack of a consistent baseline in many states as to what repairers should do or not do, many industry leaders are reviewing options for licensing programs. ASA's Mechanical and Collision Division Operations Committees have been developing guidelines to assist repairers in states that want to pursue shop licensing programs.
Several heavily populated states are already developing licensing initiatives for 2004.
The ASA-Automaker service information agreement continues to work well for repairers. Complaints generated by repairers are pursued by the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). Repairers can obtain complaint forms on the ASA Web site, www.asashop.org. NASTF will meet in March in Detroit and again at ASA's Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) meeting in Las Vegas November 2004. Repairers are encouraged to continue to review these sites for service information, tools, tool information and training needs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting its review of the sites as far as their compliance with the 2003 Service Information Emissions rule. (As this issue goes to print, the EPA hoped to complete its review by the end of 2003.)
In addition to the Allstate case in Texas, collision repairers should pay close attention to a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Aetna Health v. Davila, the high court will determine whether patients may sue health insurance companies that refuse to pay for health care recommended by doctors in state courts. This impacts patients covered in employer- or union-provided group health plans - some 130 million Americans.
Repairers are becoming increasingly more active politically at the state and federal levels. To encourage and assist this increased interest in automotive policy, ASA will go online with a new legislative Web site in 2004. ASA is also reviewing new options for repairers to use online to assist in advocacy efforts.
A recent Washington Post story reported that President Bush's re-election campaign already had developed a list of supporters' e-mail addresses numbering 6 million. To put this in perspective, it is approximately 10 times that developed by Democratic hopeful Howard Dean of Vermont. Communicating directly with voters or repairers is essential to activating a successful grassroots advocacy program. ASA is focused on assimilating a strong, grassroots legislative structure.
It is important for repairers to become involved, get to know their legislators and support state and federal initiatives important to our businesses.
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