The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Financial Services recently gave a favorable recommendation to several bills that the Massachusetts Auto Body Association (MABA) had filed for the current legislative session. In addition, the Committee favorably recommended a key labor rate bill drafted by the AASP-MA/RI chapter, with assistance from the Central Mass Auto Rebuilders Association and support from MABA.
MABA had filed nine separate bills on issues ranging from arbitration to shop equipment requirements, steering and labor rates. Of the nine, five were either favorably reported or combined into other redrafts that were reported favorably. MABA called it an “unprecedented success” for the advancement of collision repair-related bills favored by collision repairers and collision repair associations. A sixth bill dealt with labor rates, but at a hearing last year, MABA endorsed the AASP-MA/RI labor rate bill and asked the Committee to take no action on its own.
MABA spokesman Stephen Regan credited much of the success to two main factors: the professionalism that the association showed over the years through its participation in the legislature’s “Auto Body Working Group” and the united front and strong working relationship of the state’s three collision repair associations. He also credited the legislators who participated in the “Working Group” and spent a great deal of time listening to both sides, evaluating all the facts and following through on their commitment to their constituents to make the necessary changes to resolve the multiple problems facing the collision repair industry.
“If there is one message or lesson I hope all collision repairers and their associations take from this success, it’s that you must remain professional at all times, no matter how long it takes or how difficult the environment has become, when dealing with your elected officials and state officials,” said Regan. “You also need to offer legislative language as your solution and not just complain about your circumstances.Legislators are much more likely to evaluate a proposal you’ve presented to them and act on it, rather than listen and take information and draft their own proposal.
“In addition, I believe that the solidarity shown by the three state associations on so many of the issues truly impressed the legislators and regulators we were lobbying. I know we all have some differences of opinion and philosophies but we kept them private so as not to give our opponents any advantage. I think when MABA publicly supported the AASP-MA/RI labor rate bill over its own legislation, it showed how unified we were and that it wasn’t about ego or authorship but about supporting each other and using the best solutions to the problem, even when it’s another’s idea.”
The timing of these bills receiving a favorable report by the Committee and becoming eligible for a vote on the House floor couldn’t have been better, according to MABA. MABA has been in the process of hosting four regional legislative forums where state Senators and Representatives were invited to meet with repairers in their districts to hear about the problems those repairers are having and to get the legislators to support their legislative proposals.
H.B. 1085 is the comprehensive Labor Rate bill, which would establish a Commission that would set a minimum labor rate to be paid by insurers to repairers based on the national average labor rate adjusted for Massachusetts’ cost of living.
H.B. 1051 would provide the strongest anti-steering language ever drafted by adding insurance agents to the list of those who shall not steer, making steering an Unfair Claim Settlement Practice and providing specific monetary fines not less that $100 or more than $500 for each steering offense. The bill further provides that insurers must recognize and use the manual that a repairer has used to create a supplement request, allow a repairer to mandate that an insurance appraiser complete a supplement on the premises during the negotiation and allow a shop, at its discretion, to send a supplement request electronically with digital photos.
H.B. 1049, which also received a favorable recommendation by the Committee, was drafted with the intent of incorporating into Massachusetts law relevant portions of the 1963 Consent Decree, which is an agreement between 250 insurers and the United States Department of Justice to avoid an anti-trust lawsuit filed against insurers by the federal government. The bill would specifically prohibit insurers from directing state-licensed appraisers from following insurer guidelines instead of state regulations, steering and, most importantly, dictating what parts and procedures are used during a repair and the prices that are paid to repairers for parts, services and labor.
“Getting these bills out of Committee with a favorable recommendation is a great first step, but still just the first step,” said Regan. “We will now need to contact our legislators to obtain their support in making sure these bills are voted on. Then and only then will we get the much needed positive changes that these bills can bring to our industry.”
For more information, call (800) ITS-MABA.