Why Lobbyists Matter

By Darrell W. Fuller, OVDA/OPSA Lobbyist

At the risk of being self-serving, I’d like to share a story about a bill that went through the process this session. It is a clear “teachable moment” about the value of your membership in OVDA, and the importance of associations being engaged in the legislative process with a professional lobbyist.

There is a national problem with counterfeit airbags being installed in vehicles. The counterfeiters know the airbags don’t work. Sometimes the shops installing them know they don’t work. Sometimes the shops are a victim, just like the end consumer. There are also shops that don’t replace airbags but tell their customers they have. And they bypass the vehicle’s computer system so the airbag warning light doesn’t get triggered. These are bad people. And an effort to go after them began. But the devil is in the details, often in the definitions section of a law. In this instance, all the national stakeholders agreed to a “California Compromise” — language to be added to state laws to provide more tools to law enforcement and to allow regulators to go after bad actors on installing counterfeit or nonworking airbags. Dozens of states across the country began adopting the “California Compromise” language.

Then, here in Oregon, Senate Bill 256 was introduced at the request of A2C2 (the Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council). This group is comprised of major vehicle manufacturers. You can read their testimony on SB256 here. The summary of SB256 (written by the professional staff in the Office of Legislative Counsel) reads:

Prohibits person from knowingly or intentionally manufacturing, importing, distributing, offering for sale, selling, or leasing or otherwise transferring, or installing or reinstalling counterfeit automobile supplemental restraint system component, nonfunctional airbag or object that does not comply with federal standard for make, model and year of motor vehicle. Punishes violation of Act as unlawful practice under Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

That sounds like something OVDA should support. But then I read the actual bill. By design, the Oregon bill was not the California Compromise language. It was much more expansive. As originally written, SB256 would have made buying or selling any vehicle (equipped with an airbag when manufactured) unlawful unless it had a working airbag. You read that correctly: all vehicles bought and sold in Oregon would have to have a working airbag. The implications would have been staggering. As originally drafted, a vehicle in a dealer’s inventory with an airbag warning light could not be sold to a consumer until the airbag was repaired or replaced, and we all know the cost of an airbag can be more than the value of the vehicle. The language was so strict that after an accident, a damaged vehicle couldn’t even be sold to a dismantler without a working airbag. When I read that, I assumed I was just reading it wrong. I assume I just wasn’t smart enough to understand the language.

So, I began to alert other Oregon lobbyists, and I sent the bill (along with my analysis) to national trade associations and companies closely aligned with OVDA values. These contacts included, among others, Emil Nusbaum, the Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs with the Automotive Recyclers Association, Catalina Jelkh Pareja with the Government Affairs Office at LKQ, and Catherine Boland of MEMA (the vehicle suppliers association).

Working closely with Emil (and Tom Holt with the Oregon Tow Truck Association), we were able to negotiate substantial changes to SB256, so that it now closely reflects the California Compromise. In turn, other states are now reviewing their already-adopted laws to ensure the language doesn’t stray from the California Compromise. After alerting other states of the language in Oregon’s legislation, at least one state discovered they may need to amend their language to narrow the scope.

This was a group effort. I rely heavily on national associations for their expertise and legal prowess. At the same time these large national associations rely on state organizations – like OVDA – and OVDA’s lobbyist (that’s me) to protect and defend the industry at the state level. We are a great team, and in this case, our teamwork really made a difference for everyone in the auto repair, parts, and dealership industries in Oregon.

You can check for yourself. The original version of SB256 can be found here, while the final version can be found here. You can also read all the testimony submitted, including twice by NATA, by clicking here. (In the end, SB256 may not become law due to the Senate Republican walkout.)

Your membership in OVDA really matters. What OVDA does for auto dealers is crucial, and I am proud to be a small part of the work they do. I am proudly your eyes, your ears, and your voice at the Capitol in Salem.

Email from Emil Nusbaum from ARA to the Executive Director of the Northwest Auto Trades Association (another of my auto-related clients):

I want to thank you on behalf of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) for all the great work you, Darrell Fuller, and NATA do for our shared members. I have really enjoyed working with Darrell over the past three years on industry matters in Oregon. Darrell has been a tremendous resource when our associations have worked together on matters related to vehicle sales and airbags, catalytic converter theft, stormwater permitting, and waste tire recycling.  

Most recently, when dealing with OR SB 256, which would have prohibited the sale of any motor vehicle with a nonfunctional, deployed, or recalled airbag, Darrell identified and helped ensure that OR SB 256 would not inappropriately interfere with the commerce of motor vehicles. He clearly has a very strong understanding of the issues and concerns for those industries we represent.  

Our association and shared NATA members are very satisfied that the problematic language was eliminated from OR SB 256 and that NATA and ARA’s concerns were recognized and understood by the legislature. This is especially true considering NHTSA’s recent announcement of a recall of 67 million ARC airbag inflators. Had the problematic language in SB 256 become law at the behest of the car manufacturers, it would have been illegal to sell any vehicle with a recalled air bag – even if the car had reached its end-of-life. This would have had enormous consequences for vehicle dealers, repairers, rebuilders, salvage auctions, insurers and automotive recyclers.  

It has been a pleasure working with Darrell and he is a great representative for NATA. He is professional, extremely knowledgeable of the Oregon lawmaking process, and collaborative. He has been great to work with.  

All that said, thank you again for the help. I look forward to continuing working with you and Darrell on future initiatives.  

Emil Nusbaum Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs
Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA)

Darrell Fuller has been a lobbyist for various sectors of the auto industry since 1996. He began representing NATA in 2006. You can reach him at fuller_darrell@yahoo.com, or at 971-388-1786.