Association Health Plans
A bill to authorize the formation of Association Health Plans (AHPs)-under which professional organizations and trade associations may pool their members to bargain for multi-state health insurance policies-remains a major legslative goal for TIA.
However, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., have strong reservations about the AHP bill currently before Congress, Mr. Littlefield and Ms. MacDicken said. Mr. Littlefield called Mr. Frist's decision to appoint a task force on the subject of AHPs ``a stall tactic.''
Nevertheless, recent meetings with Mr. Gregg on AHPs were friendly, and TIA hopes the bill will move in 2004. ``AHPs are not a silver bullet, but they are a big step toward solving the problem (of skyrocketing health insurance premiums),'' Ms. MacDicken said.
State laws and regulations
2003 was a year in which state legislatures gave the tire industry at least as much grief as Congress. Both the RMA and TIA have a list of state laws and regulations they will be watching and/or trying to change in 2004, including:
* The new California law mandating implementation of energy efficiency ratings for replacement tires by 2008.
``Our position is that we are unsure how much fuel would be saved by a ratings system,'' RMA's Ms. Wilson said, adding the industry is also concerned that California tire dealers could lose sales to out-of-state sources or the Internet. ``We want to make sure our concerns are being heard.''
* Another new California law, which went into effect July 1, 2003, requires all scrap tire handlers and processors to write up a series of manifests as to the transport and use of the tires.
Retreadable casings are included in the requirements, and ``this creates a paperwork nightmare for California retreaders,'' Mr. Littlefield said.
* The new $2.50 scrap tire fee in New York, of which only a fraction goes to scrap tire abatement.
New York tire dealers also are upset that the law expressly forbids them from listing the fee as a line item in invoices, thus either forcing them to eat the cost or making their tires appear at a price disadvantage against tires sold in neighboring states. TIA and the RMA are working with the New York Tire Dealers Association on getting the law changed, and Bridgestone/Firestone and the Service Station Dealers of America also have pledged their help, Mr. Littlefield said.
* The workers' compensation law in Oklahoma, a major tire manufacturing state, where ``workers' compensation costs are exponentially higher than in any other state,'' Ms. Wilson said.
Tire cord steel rod
President Bush's recent decision to rescind tariffs on imported steel did not include steel rod for tire cord, which still faces stiff anti-dumping tariffs. This issue remains an important one for tire manufacturers, Mr. Shea and Ms. Wilson said, especially since Georgetown Steel, the only domestic supplier of tire-cord-quality steel rod, recently declared bankruptcy.
Right to repair
On the subject of right-to-repair legislation, yes or no seems to be the question. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) points with pride to its September 2002 service information agreement with 15 international auto makers-``everyone except Porsche,'' according to ASA Washington representative Robert L. Redding.
By April 2003, all the auto industry signatories had abided by the agreement and had Web sites up to provide independent auto repairers with the same service and repair information they provide new auto dealers, in an easily accessible, reasonably priced format, according to Mr. Redding. All those auto makers sent representatives-``for the first time ever,'' he said-to the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service meeting in Las Vegas last November, to demonstrate their online informational systems to attendees.
But most of the rest of the auto aftermarket-TIA included-is not persuaded by the ASA's enthusiasm. The ASA first began negotiating with the auto industry after receiving a senatorial edict during hearings for the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right-to-Repair Act. However, ``the problem was that the ASA didn't reach out to the rest of the aftermarket'' and give other associations a say in the agreement, according to Mr. Littlefield.
The Right-to-Repair Act, with its sanctions against auto makers for failing to live up to their promises, is necessary ``to enforce the handshake agreement between the ASA and the auto makers,'' Mr. Littlefield said. He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency's rule on providing the aftermarket with emissions equipment service and repair information mandates fines against auto makers of up to $10,000 for every violation. That, he said, is exactly the sort of teeth the ASA agreement needs in order to be effective.
Mr. Redding noted there is significant congressional support for the Right-to-Repair Act. Though there is no bill currently in the Senate, the House bill has 73 co-sponsors. Nevertheless, ``this legislation is not necessary at this time,'' he said. ``The agreement is working better than we thought it would. We got more information from the auto makers in the last year than ever before in our history.''
``We're not convinced that the aftermarket is focused enough on the training issue,'' Mr. Redding said. Training materials were as much a part of the information agreement with the auto makers as repair and service information, he said, but ``we spent so much time on tools that training was a second-tier issue. We need to be specific in telling the original equipment market what training materials we need.''
The Hispanic Auto Technicians' Summit on Capitol Hill last October pointed out a desperate need for very specific kinds of training, according to Mr. Redding. ``The needs of Hispanic technicians still are not being addressed,'' he said. ``We've had meetings with congressmen on setting up apprenticeship programs, but at this point we don't know what to ask for. There are multiple issues that aren't going to go away. Now that Hispanic immigrants are shifting into high-level jobs, we want the best training for them, and we need to deal with language issues.''
Repair shop certification
The 2004-05 season in state legislatures will see a lot of activity in the area of repair shop certification, Mr. Redding said. Several states already have certification programs, he added, but the ASA wants all such programs to be based on criteria-employee training, up-to-date equipment, OSHA compliance, etc.-that truly signify a superior independent repair shop.
``We want licensing, but we want it to be substantive,'' he said. ``We're willing to pay for that.''