Congress Rejects 'Right to Repair' Before Going Home for Break
Although Congress has not adjourned sine die (Latin for "without day") for the 110th Congress, it has left Washington, D.C., scheduled to return in January 2009. Some anticipate Congress may reconvene after the November elections for party leadership contests. It is clear that the "Motor Vehicle Right to Repair" legislation, H.R. 2694, is dead for the 110th Congress.
Advocates for federal government intervention in providing service information to independent repair facilities insisted on having the U.S. House of Representatives' Small Business Committee address the "Right to Repair" issue in a recent hearing on "Small Business Competition Policy: Are Markets Open for Entrepreneurs?"
Witnesses for the hearing included:
• The Hon. William E. Kovacic, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairman
• Aaron Lowe, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA)
• Dr. Jonathan Rubin, American Antitrust Institute
• Dr. William Hazel, American Medical Association
• Said Hilal, Medical Device Manufacturers Association
• William Macleod, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
After opening statements by members of the Small Business Committee, the FTC chairman presented his statement. In written comments to the committee, no reference to service information complaints by consumers or repairers was included in his testimony. Kovacic also did not mention this issue in his oral remarks. In response to questions by committee members, Kovacic noted that the current voluntary effort by the industry, referencing the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), held much "promise." Kovacic also noted in questioning that no complaints had been filed on service information with the FTC. Deborah Platt, former chairman of the FTC, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May of 2006 and made the same observation - that the FTC had not received any service information complaints from repairers or consumers.
In the 2006 hearing before the committee of jurisdiction for the "Right to Repair" issue, Platt also responded that she was not aware of any behavior that would contravene the context of the "Right to Repair" legislation.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., queried the AAIA as to how many complaints had been filed with the NASTF. AAIA responded that it had filed no complaints.
In a colloquy with Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., Kovacic noted that there were better choices for consumers today, as far as automotive repair, than in the past. Shuster also pointed out that ASA, whose leadership is comprised of independent repair shops, was in the best position to formulate whether legislation was necessary.
Of particular concern were AAIA's comments that the NASTF was just a pass-through for complaints to the automakers. The auto industry has exercised many resources, through the NASTF, to develop a structure for improving not just service information but training and other areas of automotive repair. Recently, the NASTF has succeeded in developing a secure data information process for repairers and locksmiths. The Automotive Service Association has been very involved in the NASTF effort to secure data.
Since its introduction in 2001, the "Right to Repair" legislation has been rejected by Congress and state legislatures in Florida, Oklahoma, Maine, New York, Nevada and New Jersey and, most recently, Massachusetts. ASA has found that a majority of Congress agrees that the voluntary ASA-Automaker Agreement put in place in 2002 is preferable to legislating a solution in search of a problem.
In the fall of 2007, ASA recognized those members of Congress that have been involved in the service information issue. ASA made a special presentation to U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., for his leadership in developing the ASA-Automaker Agreement. ASA leaders also fondly remembered the role of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., in the agreement.
ASA will continue to work to ensure that independent repairers have the service information, training and tools available to compete in today's changing marketplace. ASA is most concerned about the research pressure on new engine and fuel technologies by the federal government and how critical it is for repairers to have access to training in the repair of vehicles with these new technologies. Various energy bills that have been addressed by Congress in recent years include large sums of fuel and engine research monies.
To track "Right to Repair" legislation or other federal and state issues important to independent repairers, please go to www.TakingTheHill.com.
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