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  Legislative Feature

Congress Wraps Up Session with Little Progress on Major Issues

Posted 10/14/2010
By Robert L. Redding Jr.

Vehicle Safety Legislation Unlikely to Move

The 111th Congress is wrapping up for the year a little early due to the contentious fall elections on the horizon. Members of Congress want to get back to their districts and states to campaign for the Nov. 2 elections. With the U.S. House of Representatives in play for control and the Senate increasingly up for grabs, House and Senate leaders are opting to cut short an already abbreviated fall agenda.

Although legislation has moved steadily through the House of Representatives, much of this has stalled on the Senate floor. Climate legislation is just one example of a contentious debate by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as on the floor of the House, before finally passing due to efforts by the House leadership. The Senate has not taken up the climate bill, and it is highly unlikely it will be addressed prior to adjournment for the year. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., opened the climate debate in a July 2009 hearing titled "Legislative Tools for Addressing Global Warming," but the Senate would fail to act in the 111th Congress on climate legislation.

In addition, energy legislation began with a multitiered effort by U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. During this past summer, supporters of energy legislation believed a scaled-down version of an energy bill would move before the end of the year, but it is not likely to occur.

Of particular interest to automotive repairers is the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. Both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings and bill markups to address the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. The Senate Commerce Committee passed its bill in June of this year and the House Committee in July. The House Rules Committee was set to bring the bill to the floor but the legislation was delayed due to procedural issues raised about the potential economic impact of the bill. The House has not scheduled its bill for the floor. With only weeks to go before adjournment, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is expected to die for the year.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) had discussed with key members of the House the possibility of addressing crash parts policy in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. Any parts policy changes will now move to the 112th Congress. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act as proposed in the House:

    • Establishes Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies

    • Provides for new safety standards related to electronics and unintended acceleration

    • Establishes provisions for accelerator control systems

    • Provides for increased transparency at NHTSA by requiring that more early warning reporting data be made public

    • Provides for increased public accessibility to data

    • Improves vehicle defect reporting system

Another bill that is expected to die again is the Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act. This legislation has been offered in the Congress for almost a decade, yet has not passed a full committee to date. ASA opposes this bill. The 111th Congress has not scheduled a hearing or consideration of any kind for the Right to Repair bill prior to adjournment.

Senate leaders have indicated that the Senate will consider the defense authorization bill, food safety, immigration reform, expiring tax policy extensions and Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations legislation before adjournment. No more than Homeland Security and Defense appropriations bills are expected to be finalized. Congress is anticipated to pass a continuing resolution for most if not all Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills. There is speculation that Congress will come back for a lame duck session after the November elections and move the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills.

The Senate did pass the Small Business Lending Fund Act of 2010, H.R.5297. The House of Representatives had previously passed this bill but with Senate changes it will now return to the House for final passage. Key provisions in the bill include:

    • Requiring applicant institutions to deliver to the appropriate federal banking agency a small business lending plan describing how its business strategy and operating goals would allow it to address the needs of small businesses in the areas it serves;

    • Setting forth financial incentives for small business lending by such institutions;

    • Instructing the secretary to require capital investment recipients to provide outreach and advertising in the appropriate language of the applicant pool using media outlets that target organizations, trade associations and individuals who represent or work within or are members of minority communities;

    • Establishing the Small Business Lending Fund Program as separate and distinct from TARP. The bill states that an institution shall not be considered a TARP recipient by virtue of a capital investment under this act;

    • Directing the secretary to study and report to Congress on the number of women-owned and minority-owned businesses that receive assistance as a result of the program.

The November elections could have a tremendous impact on the agenda for the next Congress. Automotive parts, vehicle safety, climate, energy, vocational education, immigration reform, tax reform and other legislation could again be top issues in the 112th Congress. What party controls committees and the House and Senate leadership will determine much about public policy impacting the future of independent automotive repairers.

To view legislation discussed in this article and other federal and state policy initiatives, please go to ASA's legislative website, www.TakingtheHill.com.

Taking the Hill

California Smog Check Program Awaiting
Governor's Approval

The California Assembly has sent Assembly Bill 2289, the California Smog Check Program, to the governor for signature. The existing law establishes a motor vehicle inspection and maintenance (smog check) program, developed, implemented and administered by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The bill would enforce a number of requirements, including testing using onboard diagnostic systems in place of loaded mode dynamometer or 2-speed idle testing on model year 2000 and newer vehicles, beginning no earlier than January 1, 2013; and otherwise authorize the department, in consultation with the State Air Resources Board, to determine the appropriate test procedures, as specified.

The existing law also authorizes the Department of Consumer Affairs to issue a citation to a smog check station or technician who may specify certain civil penalties. Assembly Bill 2289, as amended, would repeal this provision and related provisions specifying the circumstances in which such a citation may be issued and certain minimum and maximum amounts for civil penalties. It would, instead, authorize the department to issue a citation to a licensee, contractor or fleet owner for a violation of smog check requirements. The citation could contain an order of abatement or the assessment of an administrative fine between $100 and $5,000, or both, meeting specified requirements. - Philip Thompson

States Address Airbag Fraud Legislation

Recently, some states have proposed or enacted airbag fraud legislation, similar to an airbag fraud model act provided by the National Conference of Insurance Regulators (NCOIL). These states - Pennsylvania, California and Rhode Island - all include similar language in their legislation. Pennsylvania Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-District 70, introduced his bill to penalize fraudulent practices regarding airbag installation and reinstallation. This bill outlines restrictions for purchasing, selling or installing new or salvaged airbags. In addition, the act states that anyone aware of the fact that they are selling or trading an inoperable airbag must notify the person they are selling or trading to by written confirmation. The act concludes by outlining the consequences of violating the Motor Vehicle Fraud Prevention Act.

Similarly, in California, Senate bill 427, proposed by California Senator Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, has been passed to crack down on airbag fraud. This bill includes language that condemns perpetrators of airbag fraud, stating that those who "fail(s) to repair and fully restore the airbag to original operating condition where the customer has paid for the airbag repair as provided in the estimate" can receive up to a $5,000 fine and land up to a year in prison. The language of the bill also includes restrictions for invoices.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri has signed R.H. S. 2514, the Automobile Airbag Fraud Prevention Act. The act includes language that says perpetrators of violations can be fined between $1,000 and $2,000 and can land up to two years in prison per violation. In addition, those "whose violation ... results in serious bodily injury or death" can be fined up to $100,000 and serve up to 10 years in prison per violation. This act also outlines restrictions regarding the purchase, sale or installation of a new or salvaged airbag.
- Kaitlyn Dwyer

NHTSA Releases 2009 Motor Vehicle Crash Data
Data indicates decreasing number of crashes

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have released a report on 2009 Motor Vehicle Crashes. The report includes details regarding different types of crashes. Fatal crashes, non-fatal crashes, injury crashes and property-damage-only crashes all decreased significantly between 2008 and 2009 by 5.3 percent, a reduction of 306,000 vehicle crashes. The total number of vehicle crashes in 2009 was 5,505,000.

Both roadway departure crashes and intersection crashes declined from 2008 to 2009 as well, with roadway departure crashes decreasing from 19,878 to 18,087, and intersection crashes decreasing from 7,809 to 7,043. About a third of the crashes were the result of alcohol-impaired driving.

The data released also shows that the rate of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has decreased to 1.13 percent, down from 1.26 percent in 2008, while the vehicle miles traveled has slightly increased.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) encourages independent repairers to visit its legislative website, www.TakingTheHill.com, to view the NHTSA report.

Bob Redding Bob Redding is the Automotive Service Association's Washington, D.C., representative. He is a member of several federal and state advisory committees involved in the automotive industry.

For more information about the legislative activities of ASA, visit www.TakingTheHill.com.

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