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Smart Politics: Money = Attention From Politicians

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“Anybody can say, ‘I’d like this law to be changed or that law to be changed,’ ” says a Virginia shop owner. “But I don’t see any politicians knocking on my door. … They do it with big insurance companies, but not me.”

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Well, for lack of a better word: Duh! Of course politicians aren’t knocking on his door (or mine or yours, for that matter). Politicians pander to those who have the money – which, historically, hasn’t been the collision repair industry.

To make matters worse, many repairers have the same attitude as this Virginia shop owner – “Insurers have the upper hand!” they complain, and then don’t do a darn thing to change it. Yea, good luck with that philosophy.

Many other repairers, however, are no longer content with simply whining about their problems to their equally whiny friends. They’ve had an epiphany of sorts: Since repairers will never have as much money as insurers, repairers will have to unify to wield any sort of political power.

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UNITY = ATTENTION FROM POLITICIANS

There really is power in numbers. Industry associations like the Massachusetts Auto Body Association, the Auto Body Association of Connecticut, the Independent Auto Body Association and the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Illinois know this first-hand.

They also know they aren’t going to get support with the old “insurers are bullying us” routine. If a politician has to choose between repairers and insurers, he’s going with the gravy train. But … if he has to choose between insurers and the safety of his constituents, even though he may want to choose the insurance industry (those big contributions sure are nice …), he can’t afford to come off looking like an uncaring SOB.

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UNITY + CONSUMER SAFETY = POLITICAL SUPPORT

But – and this is a big “but” – no matter how carefully crafted or meticulously thought-out a law is, it’s meaningless if no one enforces it.

“Stay away from anything to do with insurance because then you’re in [Department of Insurance] territory,” says Erica Eversman, chief counsel for Vehicle Information Services, Inc. “Don’t try to amend state insurance codes. … Insurers have a warm, fuzzy relationship with the DOI. Most of the people populating the DOI have come from the insurance industry so they’re pre-polluted. … And because the ‘business of insurance’ is governed exclusively by the DOI, there’s a lot of lobbying going on by insurers to get what they want.

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“… Repairers who think they’re going to get satisfaction from DOIs are out of their mind.”

Don’t waste your time and efforts. Lobby, instead, for legislation that relates to repairing vehicles, which falls under the jurisdiction of your state’s attorney general (AG).

“Repairers are governed exclusively by the AG, answer to the AG and have obligations under state consumer-protection statutes,” says Eversman. “Repairers need to remember that their obligation is to the consumer.”

REPAIR LAW (A.K.A. SAFETY) + AG = BETTER CHANCE OF ENFORCEMENT

I’m happy to report that a lot of repairers are beginning to play smart politics. In fact, some are even going one step further and trying to strip the DOI of some of its powers.

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“It’s gotten complicated because insurers used to just sell insurance, so it was OK they were regulated exclusively by the DOI,” says Eversman. “But today, insurers are involved in all sorts of things. Yet the DOI still has jurisdiction over all their activities, even if the activity isn’t the ‘business of insurance’ as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

But, even for insurers, all good things must come to an end. In Maryland, former-shop-owner-turned-state-representative Rick Impallaria is hoping to amend an existing law and grant authority over insurer-owned shops to the Division of Consumer Protection of the Office of the AG. In Connecticut, repairers are lobbying for a bill that would take away much of the DOI’s power and give it to the Department of Consumer Protection under the AG.

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“You should hear the squawking from the insurance industry,” says a Connecticut shop manager. “And they look like idiots for objecting because, after all, who would oppose better consumer protection?”

Exactly. Which is why you need to focus your political efforts on keeping consumers safe through proper repairs.

“It’s the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ approach,” says Eversman. “What politician is going to be against protecting moms and kids?”

Georgina K. Carson, Editor
[email protected]

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