by Eric P. Ewald, CAE
The Minnesota Glass Association (MGA) assigns great importance to activities at the
Minnesota State Capitol. Why do we devote so much time to legislative issues? Because if
we are not present to promote the glass industry, then the other players who offer
opinions about legislation affecting our industry will have a much easier time shaping
policy to their liking, whether to our benefit or not. Often, it is the latter.
At MGA, a staff of four lobbyists works with MGA board members and legislative committee members to monitor the work of the legislature and to advocate issues important to the association. We do this by monitoring all of the bill introductions in the House and Senate, identifying bills that would impact the industry, and following those bills through the legislative processsometimes actively supporting or opposing particular bills.
The MGA had its hands full during the 1999 legislative session. The association took an active role in opposing a number of pieces of legislation, in addition to the usual monitoring performed by staff lobbyists. The most significant piece of legislation we fought would have had a significant negative impact on many glass shops in Minnesota. The legislation would have allowed insurance companies in the state to designate three glass shops where their policyholders must have their auto glass replacement performed. The MGA worked very hard to oppose this bill and uphold the consumers right to chose. MGA representatives met with the author of the bill, members of the House and Senate commerce committees, as well as with the commerce committee chairs.
We also contacted MGA members across the state whose legislators were authors or co-authors of the bill and asked them to call their legislator and voice their opposition. The end result: this bill was pulled from the hearing list (by the sponsoring author) due to lack of support and opposition voiced by the industry.
This is just one example of legislation aimed at the glass industry that associations and individual companies must be prepared to respond to. Many other pieces of legislation have, and will continue to be introduced, which could have consequences just as protecting the consumer or better business practices. Whether the introduced legislation is well-founded or not, it will continue to arise. The question is, when legislation is considered by your legislature, will you be there to represent your industry and your business?
Following are some basic principles individuals and associations can use to
develop a legislative presence.
This is not an exhaustive list, but a good place to start:
1. Become familiar with the legislative process: how a bill becomes law. Also, get to know when your legislature and the committees relevant to the glass industry meet. You should get on the mailing list that details the meeting locations, times and agendas. It does not take more than a couple minutes to scan the agenda for the week and determine if there is anything significant to the industry, pro or con. Be cautious, agendas can change frequently.
2. Learn the political process behind the legislative process. Recognize that different political parties and legislators might be more or less inclined to promote your issues. Get to know the political landscape of your state.
3. Identify and use key information sources, starting with your own state association. Continue by finding sources within the legislature including information offices and your own legislators.
4. Know what it is you want or do not want. Work with your association (if you have one) to develop a clear agenda that can be presented on behalf of the industry in your state. A unified industry carries clout.
5. Know the best course to follow in getting what you want or preventing what you do not want. Talk with your legislator and revisit principle number one. While it is often easy to become cynical of the legislature, try to recognize that most legislators have a real desire to help you. Also, recognize that legislators have a very difficult job. They are often expected to be experts on dozens of issues, so try to educate them about the glass industry. But, never threaten or mislead them: these actions are wrong and could hurt your legislative effort for years.
6. Call your state representative and get to know him or her. Sometimes the representative will come to you, perhaps while campaigning. Take the time to let them know who you are and what issues are important to you.
7. Call your states legislative information office and get on their mailing list and ask if they have a website. This will allow you to stay abreast of what your elected officials are doing.
8. Get involved in your local political scene, on a legislative campaign, on your associations legis-
lative committee and in the legislative session.
Eric P. Ewald, CAE, owns Ewald Consulting Group Inc. and serves as executive director of the MGA.
A number of state glass associations have taken an active approach to the legislative
process by introducing laws to guarantee their members and consumers rights.
Here is a look at those associations and what they have accomplished.
VGA Virginia Glass Associationwas instrumental in the passage of two laws that guarantee the insureds right to choose. The first law specifies that no person can require an insured to utilize designated repair or replacement facilities or the products of a designated manufacturer as a prerequisite of settling any claim. A second part of the bill insures that no person shall engage in any act of coercion or intimidation intended to cause an insured to utilize designated repair or replacement facilities or services or products of designated manufacturers in connection with settling any claim. Another law holds insurance companies who utilize third parties accountable under the enforcement provisions of the aforementioned law. It also instructs the State Corporation Commission to investigate all written complaints whether glass shops or consumers initiate them.
CGA California Glass Associationchallenged the California Highway patrol and overturned the arrest of a glass truck driver who was driving a truck that had violated the width provision of the states vehicle code. The association successfully argued that glass racks were a safety device and should be excepted under the ten feet provision for safety devices. It successfully overturned the arrest by emphasizing that modern glass stakes were a safety device.
MGDA Massachusetts Glass Dealers Associationattempted to push a number of laws through the Massachusetts legislature that dealt with the insurance industry. One law championed by the association would guarantee that after an insurance company verifies coverage and a glass shop does the job, the insurance company owes the glass shop for the claim. Another law proposed by the group focuses on safe glass installation by insuring that any vehicle less than 30 months old is entitled to an OEM installation. Finally, the group has three bills on the docket that combat steering. One of the bills would guarantee that a glass shops bill must be honored provided that they have applied with the insurance company to do work.
MGA Michigan Glass Associationtook on in-surance companies through the legislative process in the early 1990s and, though it was unsuccessful, the association established a presence and educated legislators about the importance of consumer choice and safety issues related to the glass industry.
In addition, the association recently attempted to require licensure of windshield replacement through the Attorney Generals office by asking whether the replacement of automobile windshields fall under the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Act (1974 PA 300).
MIGA Montana Independent Glass Associationplayed an important role in the passage of a bill that makes it an unfair trade practice for insurers to direct consumers to certain automotive repair facilities (including glass shops). This law also prohibits certain persons from processing auto glass and other repair claims and prohibited discrimination against insured customers for automobile glass replacement services.
The legislature also amended earlier sections to prohibit offering coupons or credits that would waive some or all of the automotive glass deductible and prohibit insurance companies from using coercion or threats to steer a customer to a particular glass shop. Most importantly, the bill made it unlawful for an insurance company to directly or indirectly establish a glass broker for the company. The broker sets the price that must be met by the glass shop as a condition to
doing repair or replacement work with the insurance
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