As with most things in the past year, uncertainty was the prevailing sentiment heading into this year’s legislative cycle. Now that nearly all state legislatures have adjourned, hindsight has revealed some counterintuitive results that bode well for dealers on an economic and policy level.
We kept our track record of success against Right to Repair intact while achieving some of our own legislative victories in other areas. Here is a breakdown of what occurred this legislative cycle.
Expectations vs. reality
For most policy analysts, the threshold question was whether state legislatures would convene at all. Despite a bumpy beginning with a variety of COVID protocols, it can be said that state legislatures carried out the people’s business. A variety of methods were used ranging from states like Oregon and Washington that chose to go entirely virtual to states like Missouri, where there was no noticeable difference from any other year.
The other primary consideration was whether this would be a budget or policy year. The consensus heading into 2021 was states would be in rough financial shape due to decreased revenue from lockdowns and curtailment of business operations. The focus on budgets would foreseeably leave little room for legislatures to focus on policy issues like Right to Repair. That turned out to be entirely inaccurate as we now see budget surpluses across the country and an explosion of legislation in several policy areas.
Right to Repair surge
After beating back Right to Repair legislation several years in a row, we came into this year with a track record of success. No legislation had passed its chamber of origin. That was put to the test this year as we saw 40 Right to Repair bills introduced in 27 different states. This was unexpected but given the tactics used by advocates of this issue, not entirely surprising.
Several states reintroduced legislation where Right to Repair was thought dead and defeated. In WEDA’s territory that included Oregon, Oklahoma, and Missouri. As with many things in the COVID era, misleading information ran rampant, and we found ourselves battling back against proponents’ baseless and absurd claims, such as manuals not being available for tractors. For those who think this might be an exaggeration, look no further than Montana, where this claim was made on the Senate floor by the primary bill sponsor prior to a close vote on Right to Repair legislation.
The amount of misinformation spread this year renews the need for education about our industry and what dealers do to support their customers. Dealer demonstrations have been an excellent tool on this front. Inviting stakeholders, such as legislators, farm bureaus, and commodity groups to the dealership for a discussion about what our industry does to support customer uptime is a critical component of providing correct information for decision-makers. Testifying in committee hearings is necessary, but at that point, many legislators have their minds made up about an issue. The work must be done prior to that point to give ourselves a fighting chance.
At the end of the day, the results were positive. Not a single bill passed its chamber of origin and Right to Repair has been beaten back again. There is no need to capitulate on this issue.
The lack of legislative success also explains new tactics being explored by Right to Repair proponents. As we’ve discussed in past issues, the rise of ballot measures is a real threat following the success of a Right to Repair ballot title in Massachusetts last year for automobiles.
Those concerns have proven accurate as a Right to Repair ballot measure has been certified in Missouri. WEDA led a large industry coalition that provided comments to the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Those comments resulted in the ballot measure not including Right to Repair anywhere in the language or title. Signatures must now be gathered to have the measure qualified for the ballot in 2022 and we have yet to see funding or activity on this level.
WEDA priority legislation
In the midst of our predominantly defensive posture relating to Right to Repair, it’s easy to lose focus on the positive things we continue to do for dealers in the legislative arena. This year there were two successes to share that came directly from dealer issues.
The first is a transportation bill in Oklahoma. After hearing from a dealer about an enforcement encounter relating to oversized loads being hauled without escort vehicles, WEDA dug into the issue. An agreement with transportation agency officials had been in place for several years that exempted dealers from escort vehicle requirements for oversized loads. However, that agreement was never codified in state statute and was forgotten about after time.
With dealer engagement, we secured a bill sponsor and worked with agency officials to move a bill through the Oklahoma legislature. The bill is now law and exempts dealers from escort vehicles when hauling oversized loads. This not only saves dealers time and money, but also protects them from increased liability exposure.
The other dealer-derived bill came from Texas. During an audit, an assertion was made that the dealer owed a substantial amount of additional sales tax on credit card surcharge fees. WEDA followed this down the rabbit hole and found that the auditor was relying on an old definition of data processing to assess the additional tax.
Through meetings with the Texas Comptroller, WEDA initially believed the matter was cleared up, but the agency reversed course and stuck to its auditor’s interpretation. Legislation became necessary and we passed the bill this year. Coincidentally, the day the House passed the bill and sent it to the governor was the same day that the comptroller’s office notified the dealership that it no longer owed the additional sales tax.
These are both great examples of legislation initiated by dealer issues that resulted in a policy outcome benefitting dealers. That is the association at work for its members.
In a year marked by many unexpected challenges, it’s gratifying to accomplish these things on behalf of dealers.
Article Written By Eric Wareham
Eric Wareham is vice president of government affairs for the Western Equipment Dealers Association. He is a graduate of the Willamette University College of Law and Augusta State University. Eric may be reached by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.