The Right to Repair Act, which has sharply divided the aftermarket, is expected to see passage this year.
More than 250 members of the aftermarket community gathered in Washington, D.C., the first two days of March to lobby on Right to Repair and other matters that will ultimately affect the industry during the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s (AAIA) Legislative Summit.
Expected to be reintroduced this year in the House by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY), and in the Senate by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the Right to Repair Act has caused debate among a number of organizations including AAIA and the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers favoring legislation, while the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and several others continue to believe a voluntary agreement will be sufficient to guarantee access to the necessary information to service and repair current and future vehicles.
Aaron Lowe, AAIA’s vice-president of government affairs, asserted that, “the OEs like the voluntary agreement, but they are not doing the job completely.”
Barton provided encouragement to the attendees — his prediction is that this bill will pass in the 109th Congress in 2005. “We are working with the FTC (on several issues)…the Senate and House bills will be the same except for the numbers, and we will pass this bill this year,” said Barton. Last year, the bill had 118 co-sponsors but despite all its efforts, was unsuccessful. Barton encouraged attendees to meet with legislators in their home towns, saying this kind of “grass roots effort” can have a strong effect on pending legislation.
The congressman also noted that the bill would be modified during March to assure that the carmakers’ intellectual property rights will not be influenced by the implementation of the bill. He claimed this was one of the reasons the OEs resisted the bill last year.
Aftermarket representatives emphasized that the act is equally for the motorist, who has the right, they stressed, to be able to access all the information about their vehicle, or have their service dealer do so.
An answer to asbestos
After Right to Repair, the agenda switched to asbestos litigation. Sources say asbestos litigation is responsible for 70 corporate bankruptcy filings and the loss of 60,000 jobs. Litigation supporters argued that certain distributors and retailers who sold a small amount of asbestos brake pads to service facilities or consumers are being held accountable.
The aftermarket group requested legislation that would “establish a trust fund supported by annual contributions of defendants and insurers, which would compensate certified victims with defined payments,” according to an AAIA position paper. The legislation would allow for a return to court if funds are insufficient for claims.
The Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act of 2005 (H.R. 32) also appeared on the docket. The chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, (R-MI), explained that new legislation would tighten criminal sanctions against convicted counterfeiters by mandating the destruction of equipment and materials used for making and packaging counterfeit goods. Also, the bill clarifies that current law on trafficking in counterfeit items applies to labels, patches, medallions and other ancillary items. Knollenberg introduced the act during the 108th Congress. The current bill has 21 original co-sponsors, essentially the number that joined on the bill after its introduction last year.
Health care help
The Small Business Health Fairness Act, H.R. 525 and S. 406, which has been introduced into the 109th Congress, was the last issue addressed by AAIA Summit attendees. According to the AAIA, small businesses often pay 18 percent more than big businesses for employee health care. Annual double-digit increases are not uncommon, staunch supporters of this relief effort said.
The bill would enable small businesses to band together and purchase quality health care at a lower cost. AAIA says more than 170 national trade associations support this bill.