With the final races in the midterm elections decided or nearly there, the 2023 Congress will be taking their oath come the new year, which means a new legislative cycle is upon us. For tire dealers and automotive repair shop owners, this means a new crop of legislators will hold the power on hot-button issues, such as right to repair, that affect their business.
To recap some of 2022 and get into issues that should be on tire dealers’ minds for 2023, we caught up with Roy Littlefield IV, vice president of government affairs for the Tire Industry Association. In this episode of What’s Treading with Tire Review, presented by AAPEX 2023, Roy delves into:
- Where the right-to-repair legislation passed in Massachusetts in 2023 stands (1:49)
- A status update on the Right-to-Repair Coalition in Maine (3:46)
- Action on the federal level on right-to-repair and what a new Congress means for this issue (5:24)
- Federal and state-level issues that tire dealers need to know about now and into 2023 (8:49)
- How tire dealers can get involved with TIA legislatively and stay informed (14:48)
Maddie Winer, Editor, Tire Review: I want to talk about right-to-repair legislation. This has been a huge topic particularly this year This issue has gained momentum because of the Massachusetts ballot referendum. Massachusetts voters passed the ballot measure on right to repair in 2020, Can you explain why the Massachusetts legislation in particular is being held up in court right now?
Roy Littlefield, TIA vice president of government affairs: First and foremost, this right-to-repair issue is really the biggest issue right now for TIA. It’s an issue on both the state and federal levels, and we really need action on both those levels. In Massachusetts in 2020, we had this voter referendum pass overwhelmingly by about 80% of the vote. There was so much money spent by the car manufacturers trying to stop that referendum from passing. The voters up there still found the importance and still overwhelmingly saw the importance of keeping these independent repair shops as an option for their vehicle repairs. It passed in November of 2020, and what happened shortly after is there is an alliance of car manufacturers who then sued the state. So, the Attorney General now is having to defend the law, and it is a federal judge who has been looking at this case now for over two years. We are beyond frustrated because we have had delays now in this case. It’s been for all kinds of different things. Most recently, it’s been on the disagreement of the definitions of key terms in the case.
It’s just getting so silly because this legislation was supposed to cover model year cars beginning in 2022. So, we’re already behind now in getting this implemented. It’s just a very difficult situation for us because if we could get it opened up in Massachusetts, it would really help to get it open across the board. But we still need some federal codification as well.
MW: For sure. I know there’s another right-to-repair initiative taking place in Maine, and a coalition is at work there. Can you describe what’s happening there?
RL: Yes, absolutely. Up in Maine, as is the case in a lot of New England states, they all kind of play off each other in terms of ideas of legislation. In Maine now, over the frustration that’s been with the rollout of the law in Massachusetts, voters now have an appetite to put something on their ballot. So the paperwork has been filed now in the state. That is official. It’s been approved. Now, we’re in a process where we’re going to need 70,000 signatures by Jan. 26. And if we’re able to accomplish that, we’ll be able to put it on the ballot in 2023. VIP Tires & Service has been leading the effort up there. VIP Tires is a strong member of TIA. We have a board member from VIP Tires, so we’re working closely with them. We’re also working closely with the New England Tire & Automotive Association up there. We have a strong coalition with them as well on these issues. If we could get it on the ballot in Maine, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to get it through and maybe we’ll have a different federal judge that’ll look at this differently and not want to delay it so many times.
We would love to have some more state bills introduced as well. We are talking to a couple different legislators about that. But once a legislator takes an interest in that, they quickly find the backlash from the car manufacturers who do have such an influence in a lot of these states. So that has been one of our issues. So I think these ballot referendums are a great way to show that this is not just an industry issue, but the general public is also concerned about this as well.
MW: Now, I know there’s a lot of stuff happening on the federal level with right to repair. The legislation was filed in Congress earlier this year called the REPAIR Act, or Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair Act. So can you describe what that legislation covers, and right now, where it stands in Congress?
RL: When we’re talking about this act, we’re really talking about the right to connect because we have all of this repair data now that is in the “cloud.” If we don’t have access to that, we’re not going to be able to work on these vehicles. So, this bill really would provide some federal codification for allowing dealers to have the tools necessary to access that data. It was the first federal bill that we’ve seen in a while on this issue. It was great to see that it was introduced. This was H.R. 6570. The unfortunate thing about it was Congress runs on a two year cycle, and it was introduced in year two of the Congress, and at that point we have a midterm election. It’s hard to not only pass a bill that’s focused on something like this, but also hard to just to pass a standalone bill as it is. A lot of bills right now end up being tacked onto something bigger like the Highway Bill.
This particular legislation just didn’t have a vehicle that it could move on this Congress. It was great to have a bill introduced. This was Rep. Bobby Rush (D- Ill.) who brought it forward, and he wanted to bring it forward in a bipartisan way. But, Bobby Rush is going to be retiring. He’s not running for reelection this year. So, we’re going to have a new Congress coming in the spring, and we’re going to need a new champion on this issue to introduce the bill. We’d like it introduced early in the Congress, so we’re not in the situation we were in this Congress where it was introduced late and it was harder getting co-sponsors and getting a hearing and some action moving on it.
Our goal right now is to find that congressional champion who is willing to run with the issue, to introduce it and move forward with another bill in the next Congress. I think we’re very realistic about this year’s bill. It was great to see, it was a good start and it rallied some coalitions behind it, but we’re just at a time in this Congress in terms of a lame-duck session. I think the most we’re going to see is something done with the government funding, and it might just be a short-term extension. Next Congress, it’s going to be a fight and we’re going to need the industry to rally. We’re going to need to get our grassroots behind this because that’s the only way that we’re going to beat this. There’s so much money being thrown into it [from automakers] that we need people who know their congressional members to reach out to them and let them know what a big issue this is.
MW: That’s a huge issue and we’ll be following it as well come Jan. 1, but for 2023, I’m curious to know… What are three important legislative issues that you think tire dealers should be following at both the federal and state level? I know right to repair is a big one, but are there others that you can maybe point to?
RL: For us, a big issue next year that we’re going to be focused on is sustainability. We want to find new scrap tire markets, better scrap tire markets. For us, we think tire-derived aggregate (TDA) and rubber-modified asphalt (RMA) are both great markets for scrap tires. We’re facing legislation in the states trying to ban crumb rubber. We’ve had to combat that. So we’re looking to advance these markets. There was a lot of money that passed in the Highway Bill–that five-year bill in the infrastructure package that every year is supposed to put millions of dollars aside for different recycling initiatives. We think this is a great opportunity for the federal government to lay better roads that last longer, that doesn’t crack and are just better built.
As is the case with right to repair, we face a strong lobby against us. The construction lobby is very strong. We’re trying to educate members of Congress on this issue. We need another congressional champion. Earlier this year, we had a meeting with the US Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) – a joint meeting with the Biden administration– to talk about RMA and TDA and some of the opportunities.
Everyone we talk to in Washington has an interest in these markets, but they don’t know enough about it, so we’re continuing that education process. We’re trying to put materials into the hands of legislators and their staff just so they’re more aware of the current technologies because some of the technologies have really improved since the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a new process now, and there’s a lot of great information out there that can prove that.
Another couple issues I just want to mention: The Department of Labor is going to be looking at making changes to the overtime rules. Under the Obama administration, he had looked at making some pretty substantial changes to the rules. A federal judge had held that up last minute. So, it never went into effect. The Trump administration then came in, they did not defend the rules, so they never took effect. The Biden administration is now talking about proposing new rules, possibly similar to those that were proposed under the Obama administration. So, any dealer with managers and staff, this is going to be a big issue for you. It’s something we’re going to be tracking. We’re going to certainly submit comments on it. We’re going to talk to the Department of Labor, but we want dealers to know that there’s some potential regulations that could be coming down in the next few months that they need to be aware of and they need to comment on.
Another state issue that’s going to be coming down potentially next year… California has had this on its books for a long time, but they’re looking at potentially implementing a replacement tire efficiency program.
This is something that they were granted in a bill that passed in 2003, so it’s been on their books for a long time, but they seem to have an appetite to do something now with that. Now, there’s no formal regulations being proposed at this time. The California Energy Commission is in some testing stages, looking at different energy-efficient tires, trying to get a read of what the market is. But really TIA’s position on this is we don’t want to limit dealer choice in California. We don’t want a dealer to be told what they can and can’t sell.
We’re all about selling energy-efficient tires, but there are a lot of options out there. And when you tell a dealer that their customer has to have an energy-efficient tire equal to the OE in some situations, it’s a very difficult task. And that customer may not want that tire and it’s going to hurt our dealers, especially near the border.
So at TIA, we would like to see California come out with more of an education type program. They’ve done an Energy Star in the past out there– inform the consumers, let them know what their options are, but don’t limit them. There’s no proposed regulations at this time. We could maybe see something next year, but I think California, as they dive deeper into this testing on these energy-efficient tires, they’re finding some interesting results.
MW: Interesting. Those are huge issues. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens next year. And especially with a federal right-to-repair initiative and see how all that shakes out.
RL: And we still have supply chain issues, employment issues… Congress is going to have to look at increasing the debt ceiling next year. So there’s going to be a lot going on.
MW: Roy, I know you guys do so much legislatively, but if dealers are interested in getting involved with TIA, either federally or in their state associations, can you give us some ideas of how they can do that?
RL: First and foremost, dealers need to be informed. They need to know what the issues are and they need to know what the bills are. What I have done since being in this role is really try to improve our communications. We now have a newsletter that goes out every Monday, and that’s on federal legislation. We have a monthly one on state legislation and a quarterly one on our Tire PAC. We’re very transparent, so people know what our positions are, where we stand, and kind of where those issues are. We also release 10 position papers a year on our top 10 federal issues. So, it’s very clear to the press, the tire manufacturers, our membership and to Congress where we stand on these issues. I would encourage dealers, if they’re not getting those newsletters now, reach out to me. I would be happy to put them on those mailing lists.
I want them to be informed. I want them to know what these issues are. And when there is an issue, get involved, especially with these state bills. Wwe need you to go to the hearings. We need you to testify. We need you to talk to your legislators, write letters, let them know what the issue is.
When I go in and talk to a legislator, they know that I’m hired help. But when you go in as a business owner, it makes a huge difference. It’s especially impactful if you live in their community and you let them know, this is a harmful regulation. This is going to hurt my business. This is going to have a negative impact. In those situations, we normally have pretty good success defeating those bills. I would encourage dealers to get involved, figure out what the issues are and talk to your legislators.
Next year, I think one thing we’re going to do with this whole Repair Act is to really rally the industry and start some kind of industry petition to really rally the whole industry behind this. Let Congress know that this is a big issue. A lot of people are talking about it and they need to hear about it.
On that note, we’re going to try to do a Lobby Day next year. It’s something that we like to do once every Congress, so every two years. Washington has been very slow to open. It’s been a very frustrating situation down there. If you have a congressional meeting now, you have to go down there, have it set up ahead of time with security, call your congressional escort, have them come down to the building, let you in after going through the whole security process. It’s not the halls of the people right now that our members would be used to on a typical Lobby Day. So, we’re hoping that things next year, based on the leadership, how things go with the new Congress, things may be a little more opened up. We’re hoping maybe in the September timeframe, sometime in the fall, to bring our members in and experience Washington and really dive into some of these issues. Hopefully, by the fall, we can have a right-to-repair bill introduced, and we can really start rallying behind it.