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Bill Johnson, body shop manager/lead tech, Beecher, Inc., Shenandoah, Iowa, asks:
“Why doesn’t the federal government mandate shop and technician
licensing by all state governments with strong enforcement to eliminate incompetent and unscrupulous shops and technicians?”
I suppose since I head up one of the few state agencies that does regulate collision repair operations, Georgina Carson felt that I could answer your question regarding uniform nationwide shop and tech licensing, so … here goes.
In the Beginning …
In order to adequately answer your question, a short history lesson is in order to provide a framework for my response.
As you know, America traces much of its history to our forefather’s days in England, along with their laws, rules and customs.
Essentially, the following three documents comprise the historical basis for the political thinking of our forefathers and, therefore, much of our present-day governmental structure.
- Magna Carta – In the early 1200s, feudal land barons of the day jointly developed a document known as the Magna Carta in response to King John’s taxation, land use and war-making policies. It established and set forth numerous laws, rights and legal principles – among them the separation of church and state, as well as the earliest versions of the “English common law,” which were, thereafter, to be applied to all peoples be they peasants or monarchy. It was formally recognized by the King in 1215.
- Act of Union – Following the incorporation of the Magna Carta, a treaty between Scotland and England – known as the Act of Union – was struck and established many of the same types of state-federal government principles we see in this country today.
For example, the Act formally recognized the sovereign existence of both Scotland and England but also deemed they work together for the common good of all under the collective banner of Great Britain. Several groundbreaking notions contained in the Act were, for example, the free passage of ships, peoples and goods from say, Glasgow to London and vice versa, without restriction, tariffs or duties and the like. Further, it deemed that both Scotland and England would act jointly in the defense of Britain should either lands come under attack by invaders – particularly France, in that day.
We know, too, from our elementary school days that in the late 1500s to early 1600s, disenchanted colonists fleeing repression in Britain – particularly religious – arrived on these shores. We also know the history of the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Rock and the Jamestown Colony.
Essentially, these three documents comprise the historical basis for the political thinking of our forefathers and, therefore, much of our present-day governmental structure.
Asserting Our Independence
At the onset of the Revolutionary War, delegates from the then-existing 13 states/colonies convened to draft, ratify and present the Declaration of Independence (from Great Britain) to King George III. Immediately prior to this, however, the Commonwealth of Virginia had drafted and adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which formally established Virginia’s sovereignty as a governmental entity -maintaining a measure of independence even as it sought to band together with other states to form a union.
A month later, in July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was produced and ratified, followed a year later by the Articles of Confederation. The Articles essentially defined the rights, responsibilities and limitations of individual states while also defining the role, scope and powers of the federal government, thereby allowing for the smooth functioning of a United States of America.
For example, it requires that each state maintain a standing military force or authorization to quickly raise one with which to respond to state emergencies. And in times of national crisis, those troops will be made available to secure the nation’s defense. Today, these units are collectively known as the National Guard.
The Articles also deemed there was to be a single, uniform monetary system to be coined by the federal government and to be used by all within the Union, among others. Thus, separate state and federal government functions/roles were created with each entity – state versus federal – charged with differing responsibilities, rights, powers, etc.
Back to the Question
Your question was: “Why doesn’t the federal government mandate that state governments implement shop and technician licensing coupled with strong enforcement to eliminate unscrupulous operators?”
Quite simply, none of the documents referenced above, nor our history of court decisions, legislative initiatives or agreements since have ever contemplated – let alone provided for – this type of federal intervention and what’s necessary for it to lawfully occur.
As such, each state is and remains an independent arbiter of whether or not to regulate collision repair shops and technicians. And few states have addressed this so far.
I can say, however, that the situation appears to be changing. I’ve had numerous discussions with groups pursuing the type of regulatory environment you suggest within their respective states. I’ve traveled to and met with people from both Kansas and Missouri to give them some first-hand experience in what establishing an agency such as this entails, as well as some of the high- and low-lights they’ll likely encounter along the way.
I’ve also spoken with two groups from Georgia and North Carolina, respectively, about the same. It would appear chances are fair-to-good that I’ll be traveling to Georgia to talk at length with them about establishing an agency similar to ours in the very near future.
Perhaps the best advice I can offer you, Bill, is to lobby within your own collision repair association – or start one, if need be. First, convince them of the need to regulate the industry. The purpose of doing so is to later be able to bring a concerted group – as opposed to a single individual – of supporters to the statehouse to advance the discussions, demonstrate support for the undertaking, etc.
By being proactive, you and your fellow repairers are also better able to control and/or dictate the outcome. Without your involvement, legislators and/or regulators could step in (without your input), which could have unintended consequences and repercussions.
I can think of few things in life that would be considered truly easy and, certainly, regulation is not among them. The mere exercise of establishing a regulatory agency is guaranteed to be chock full of anguish, teeth gnashing, long days and nights, frustrations and setbacks. And, ultimately, it may never come to pass.
The process is akin to sausage-making: You don’t want to watch, let alone know, what goes into it!
And regulation in and of itself doesn’t guarantee that problems are going to disappear since so much of success is predicated upon having the right personnel, effective statutes, cooperation among other agencies, receptivity by those being regulated, etc.
Also, the industry – and its problems – are national in scope. While the handful of states that choose to pursue industry regulation are, in my opinion, advancing the causes of the industry, it’s imperative to recognize that those efforts will be localized for the most part, at least initially.
Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that many of the problems faced by the industry are long-standing, deep-seated issues, some having been in place for decades. Therefore, it’s folly to believe that the solutions are going to happen overnight or occur simply due to the presence of a regulatory framework/environment.
Writer Jack Lundberg is the executive director of the Ohio Board of Motor Vehicle Collision Repair Registration.