New England Right to Repair bill fails to pass, but is far from dead in the water

Dec. 7, 2007

Dick Cole, executive director of the New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA), was caught off-guard by a committee meeting held to discuss the Maine Right to Repair Bill, LD1210, in a work session.

According to Cole, the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee of the Maine Legislature met on Dec. 4 in Augusta, Maine. However, interested parties were not notified.

Fortunately, Cole found out about the meeting, albeit three days before it was held. "We knew that much of your and our public testimony had already been heard by the committee on May 1, 2007," he wrote to NETSA members and the media.

"We also understood that normally the work sessions allow only the committee members to speak, and that the stakeholders are not allowed to speak unless the committee has a question to ask them. Therefore, our lobbyist, Pam Cahill, and I felt we should attend."

Here is Cole's report on the session in its entirety.

We arrived at the work session to find over a dozen people attending from the National ASA, the car manufacturers, and Tom Brown from the Maine Automobile Dealers Association, all representing the opposition to the bill. We were very surprised, as there had only been four people in opposition attending the public hearing before the same committee on May 1, 2007.

During the May 2007 public hearing, there had been over 25 in attendance that were in support of Bill LD1210. Many of them testified in support of the bill before the committee had to limit the number testifying in support of the bill. There were only three that testified against the bill. They were Tom Brown (MADA), Jennifer Cole (ASA -– Washington, D.C.), and Jim Mitchell (GM).

The committee decided, after the public hearing, that they would "carry over" the bill to the next session in January 2008. They instructed the vehicle manufacturers and car dealers to meet with the stakeholders that supported this bill, before January 2008, to see if an agreement could be worked out. Many on the committee made comments that they saw problems with the bill but were inclined to support it if the opposition couldn't get an agreement.

Our first and only contact from the vehicle manufacturers and car dealers was when our lobbyist, Pam Cahill, received a letter of "Invitation" dated Oct. 10, 2007, from Tom Brown, John Delahanty and Jim Mitchell concerning three "workshops" they had scheduled on their own for Oct. 24 in Bangor, Oct. 25 at 9 a.m. in Auburn, and at 1 p.m. in South Portland. Pam forwarded the letter to me, which I received on Oct. 16, 2007. NETSA then sent out a notice of these "workshops" to its members in Maine, ASP of Maine, Maine Custom Auto Association, and others.

The three meetings took place with very few independents and car dealers attending. I attended all three meetings and found each meeting was completely different from the others.

Donny Seyfer (ASA and Seyfer Automotive in Colorado) was the main presenter in Bangor and Auburn and the only presenter in South Portland. We found the meetings helpful but found that VW and Toyota and others are not currently giving the same information to the independents as they are to their dealers.

The Business, Research and Economic Development Committee began yesterday's (Tuesday, Dec. 4) work session by commenting that they understood that the stakeholders had gotten together at three meetings and had come to an agreement. The committee understood that the solution was to educate the technicians as to how they could get to the proper information to repair vehicles. They then called on Tom Brown to give his synopsis of the meetings. (A synopsis from Seyfer follows.)

Tom Brown, Maine Automobile Dealers Association (MADA):

* notified the stakeholders of the meetings but there was limited attendance (Bangor, nine; Auburn, seven to 10; South Portland, 12 to 15).

* The three meetings showed that the issue is how to get the information -- not that the information is not available.

* His board (MADA) has approved limited funds to support an educational effort to train the instructors at the six Maine community colleges about the process to get to the car manufacturers information on the Web which will allow the proper repair of vehicles. The instructors would then be able to train their students and also the independent technicians and others.

* The cost of the training to students and technicians would be determined by the schools.

* Bill Haas from the Automotive Service Association (ASA) would be putting together the program with the Maine community colleges. Bill would then be training the instructors, i.e., training the trainers. This will take place in early 2008.

Donny Seyfer, Auto Service Association (ASA), Colorado:

* NASTF has been very effective in handling complaints. They're very aggressive about responding to complaints and generally do so in a day of two.

* The three meetings showed that the information is there for all technicians.

* Shops have to be professional.

1. Need to have lap top computers, (high-speed) Internet, and willingness to learn.

2. Older technicians generally got into the automotive repair field because they couldn't keep up with others academically in high school. They were in the bottom of their class.

3. Older technicians usually don't have the knowledge nor the savvy to learn the new skills required to repair vehicles with computers.

4. Gave an example of an older technician he observed just looking at the vehicle needing repairs, as though the vehicle was going to fix itself or tell him how to fix it.

5. Must spend the time and money to educate your technicians and yourself.

* Younger technicians are much more computer literate, and therefore can be educated easier in the new car computers, electronics and process as to how to find the answers to repair questions they don't know the answers.

* Bill Haas, from ASA, is working with the Maine community colleges to put together a course for car technicians to be able to better repair today's vehicles by knowing where to go to find the answers to repair problems.

* Maine doesn't need LD1210 as the information is already there. Just need to educate technicians as to where to look to find this information.

The committee then asked for our opinion of the three meetings and the synopsis just given by Tom Brown and Donny Seyfer by those that support LD1210.

Mark Duval, Duval's Automotive Sales & Service, and ASP of Maine:

* He attended the South Portland meeting and found the meeting helpful to those attending.

* Many independents didn't attend because they were not notified by the car manufacturers. Also, many are small shops and can't get away during the day.

* Educational offer is a step in the right direction but won't solve the problem. Still need LD1210.

* How do we know the car manufacturers will continue to show interest in helping the independents get the information and education for their vehicles, if the bill doesn't pass? The manufacturers didn't show this effort before this legislation was presented.

* Why is it that Donnie Seyfer is here as a technician representing ASA? Donnie's from Colorado and doesn't know the problems in Maine. Mark also expressed that he didn't appreciate Donnie's remarks about older technicians.

* The issue is not with the car dealers but with the car manufacturers. The car dealers are generally co-operating with independents and he appreciates this.

Dick Cole, New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA):

* We were only given one week notice of the three meetings. Hardly time to get a well-attended meeting together. The written notice was in the form of an invitation and no verbal communication was made to explain it to us.

* Many independent shops have only one to three technicians and are booked with appointments for a week or two. They can't leave their shop during the day on such short notice.

* I attended all three meetings and found the presentation completely different at each meeting.

* We did not find much of the information available that Mr. Brown and Mr. Seyfer stated earlier today is available. At the Auburn meeting, Chrysler couldn't show us how to find the information on their vehicles as the vehicle information was coded on their Web site. The Chrysler person couldn't tell us which code meant which vehicle. Thus, we couldn't go any further with their demonstration. He indicated they were working on this. Mr. Seyfer agreed that VW was not forthcoming with much of their information to independents. Toyota is also withholding information from independents and the question was asked of Tom Brown at the South Portland meeting, why isn't Toyota here? No response.

* We are very offended and insulted by Donnie Seyfer's remarks about older technicians and wish to make it known to the committee of our complete disagreement with his comments. The committee said they agreed entirely with us on this.

* The same information is not available to independents in a timely manner, that is available to the car dealers. The European Union (EU) just signed an agreement in September with Daimler/Chrysler, Toyota, GM and Fiat to provide automotive technical repair information to all independent garages in the EU. If they don't, the EU can impose fines up to 10% of a company's revenue. If the information is available, as the car manufacturers are telling this committee, why the necessity of the agreement in the EU?

* We welcome the education piece presented by the car dealers. They have been very helpful to the independents and continue to be. Our issue is with the car manufacturers and our Bill LD1210 is directed at the manufacturers. We have not agreed nor do we agree that a solution has been found without this Bill.

The committee then began to discuss the LD1210. Rep. Kimberly Silsby (Augusta) made a motion that Bill LD1210 "ought not to pass." This was seconded by Sen. Elizabeth Schneider (Penobscot).

The committee discussed the bill for a time with many comments by its members.

Sen. MacDonald (Boothbay) said it appeared that most of the stakeholders had not been heard from by the committee since the public hearing, and it appeared they had been left out of the meetings. He would like to hear from them before a vote takes place. He also felt there was still a differing opinion as to whether the repair information is or isn't available to independents.

The committee had further discussions and then voted in favor that LD1210 "ought not to pass."

The committee required the car manufacturers to have at least one meeting with the other stakeholders and report back to the committee by the second week in April 2008:

1. to discuss and hopefully agree on solutions to the problem without

having to pass a law. It was felt that if any such law was necessary, it would be better for it to go to the U.S. Congress.

2. Work on the educational package through ASA and the Maine community colleges as outlined by Tom Brown, must proceed quickly.

3. The committee would like to exhaust all possibilities to resolve this without requiring a law be passed. However, should the report in April 2008, by this group to the committee, not show satisfactory progress, there would be an opportunity to present a new bill in the

124th legislative session.

NOTE (from Cole): Maine law requires all bills presented must be disposed of during that legislative session. Hence, those bills must be voted out of committee and brought before the House and Senate.

Thus, the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee had to vote up or down. They chose to vote LD1210 down with hopes that the car manufacturers could come up with a solution without requiring LD1210. However, the committee will closely monitor the progress of the car manufacturers, and if there isn't satisfactory progress, they will allow re-introduction of a similar bill and indicated they would be inclined to pass it.