Volume 8, Issue 3, May-June 2004
Industry Leaders Lobby for Film
by Les Shaver
Imagine that you are a state trooper. You see a suspicious car speeding down the interstate. You pull it over and move in behind it. You notice both the back and front windows are covered with dark window tint. You approach the car, not having any idea whether the driver is an innocent person or whether he is a criminal ready to greet you with gunfire.
Luckily, it’s just teenagers out for a Saturday night spin. Other than dark tint and speeding they are innocent. Walking back to your squad car, you are relieved. If the driver or passenger had a gun, you may not have been able to defend yourself if he started shooting.
This scenario is why many police officers and state troopers are opposed to window film, especially dark tint.
“When I meet with people in the law enforcement community, the first reaction is that they often don’t want any window film [to be legal],” said Lynwood Butner, new legislative consultant for the International Window Film Association (IWFA).
Fortunately, industry leadership is sensitive to these police concerns. Outgoing IWFA legislative consultant Col. Robert Suthard was a former Virginia state trooper, Superintendent of State Police and the Governor’s Director of Public Safety. So when individual states target film to protect their officers, Suthard has the trooper’s safety, as well as film industry interests, in mind.
“The ... big picture is to have a reasonable law in place that allows enforcement officials to see the people in the front seat and have some view into the back [of the vehicle],” Suthard said.
A Happy Medium
Butner thinks state governments’ issues should be more properly addressed during the policy development phase (something he calls “the process”) when he says the industry is making every effort to provide appropriate information for legislative consideration. The process, for the uninitiated, could be defined as the industry’s lobbying effort, or the educational process, whenever a new bill effecting film is developed.
The process doesn’t just involve legislators. It should include manufacturers, distributors, and dealers—the heart of the window film industry. In fact the dealers out in the field can be Butner’s and Suthard’s most valuable asset, in educating, and in monitoring state legislatures.
“All 50 states have different statutory regulations and we have a lot of interest in those regulations,” Butner said. “We have to identify when statutory regulations occur ... Then we have to react to those in a way that gets information to legislators and the key people in that state.”
The first step is for Butner, Suthard, or the IWFA’s legislative representatives in that area to meet with state officials.
“Col. Suthard and I offer to meet with key legislators, their staffs and the enforcement community in order to give them a better idea of what industry is all about,” he said. “Both sides need to be successful. It’s a negotiated solution. It’s giving out correct info and being able to ask questions and identify where the issues are arising.”
In the end, Butner must make the other side comfortable with film.
“I think we have been able to provide a level of comfort with our enforcement community and make them realize that the window film industry is very much aware of and concerned that they are comfortable with whatever legislation passes,” he said.
One state where legislators may be getting more familiar with film is Pennsylvania: a state with notoriously stringent window film regulations. Earlier this year, a number of state legislators introduced a bill that allowed seven percent tolerance on films allowing 70% light transmission on the front side windows and liberalized the rules for back windows.
While the law was still in committee, Butner and Suthard mobilized dealers to act. First, they identified patrons of the bill, provided state dealers with that information, and suggested sending the sponsors a letter of thanks. Then they suggested a second letter that would go to the Pennsylvania’s House of Representative’s transportation committee. They also met with state officials and discussed the benefits of film.
“The discussions showed the law enforcement committee had real issues with window film,” Butner said. “We offered to go to Pennsylvania and appear before the legislative and enforcement communities and give them information that, I think, is critical in the decision making process.”
Butner is hopeful this multi-pronged approach will make the Keystone-state more film friendly in the future.
“This could mean some improvement,” he said. “That would be great because Pennsylvania is one of the largest states that does not have any statutory regulations for window tinting. If we could have some movement, it would tremendous for our members there and across the country.”
Benefiting All Sides
In the long run, Butner thinks educating legislators benefits both the industry and state officials.
“I think by going through that process—identifying the issue, getting the information out to our members and having direct contact with officials, we have been able to provide good solid info,” he said. “It’s hard for them to make decisions if they only hear from one side. We can also have a positive influence on the legislation that impact our members on a day-to-day basis.”
|Facing The Issues
While the International Window Film Association (IWFA) has a process in place to address any legislative challenge it’s facing, there’s no shortage of fronts on which to fight. Be it in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Georgia, or Michigan, film seems to pop up on a number of state dockets. Here is a sampling of the big issues in 2004, so far.
Enforcement at Inspection Stations: Earlier this year, some Mississippi state legislators, with prodding from the state police, moved to have window film measured at inspection stations, along with brake lights and windshield wipers. However, the Mississippi law gives no leeway if the meters are off by a couple of degrees. Light meters are under warranty to be accurate for up to two degrees, which could create uncertainty with more than one person inspecting the film.
“If you have a mechanic whose light meters is two degrees lighter and a inspector whose light meter is two degrees darker, then you have a variance of four degrees,” said Col. Robert Suthard, outgoing legislative consultant for the IWFA.
Suthard’s solution is two-fold: have some tolerance in the law to accommodate the light meters and provide state troopers with light meters and let them enforce the law. Only one light meter would be used to inspect film and if the film didn’t pass, the officer could write a ticket.
At press time, Mississippi decided to table this law until the Fall. By then, Calvin Hill, chairman of GDI, former president of the IWFA, and a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, thinks the industry can counter it, effectively.
“Now there is time for the industry to provide some input and we will probably get a reasonable law,” Hill said.
Just Passing Through: Hill had to deal firsthand with a law in Georgia that would have made its film law applicable to all vehicles who passed through the state, regardless of where they were registered
This would have been especially difficult for motorists from Florida, which has looser film regulations.
“Someone from Florida could just have been driving through to go to Tennessee and visit a relative,” Hill said. “Their film could be legal in Florida and not Georgia.”
Since driver’s aren’t allowed to operate vehicles with illegal tinting in Georgia, an out-of-state driver could be forced to take it off with a razor blade. At minimum they could still be ticketed.
“If this law had passed, the police could have sat at the Georgia/Florida state line all day long and wrote tickets,” Suthard said.
Fortunately, the bill never made it through the Georgia House of Representatives transportation committee.
The Building Code Dilemma: As the International Building Code has passed through state capitals across the country, one little noted part could come back to haunt both consumers and film dealers. It requires a solar heat gain coefficient of .40 or lower.
If you are meeting with Calvin Hill, chairman of G.D.I, a film distributor in Canton, Ga., one day and you notice he needs some coffee, don’t assume you are putting him to sleep. It might be because Hill was up another night cranking out legislation for the Georgia House of Representatives or plotting his reelection campaign.
You see, Hill is often on the run, whether it’s running his businesses (including two branches of Cherokee Bank, a property management company, and a hardware distribution business), volunteering on the boards of a number organizations (including the United Way, local Chamber of Commerce and the International Window Film Association) or politics.
Politics came last for Hill. He had already been in the film industry for about 20 years and volunteered his services just about as many when he decided to run for mayor of tiny Ball Ground, Ga.
From Film to the House Floor
While Hill has always dabbled in other businesses, he admits his film distributorship at G.D.I has always been his core. Others are aware of his dedication to the industry, too.
“Calvin really understands the window business, not only on a distributor basis but on a dealer basis,” said Bill Stewart, national sales manager of FTI. “Calvin was one of the founders of the IWFA. He understood the need for dealers to have their own trade organization. He understands what it takes to be successful and helps the dealers grow and prosper.”
Along with being the rock on which his business was built, film also is what first connected Hill with politics. His first foray came in the late 1970s when he was on the board of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA). At that time, the aftermarket automotive equipment was facing legislative attacks about anything from bright headlights to loud mufflers. In response to this, the organization formed a legislative action committee, which Hill served on for two terms. Soon, he narrowed his focus to window film.
“Because I was in the window film industry, that became my legislative specialty,” he said. “That got me very interested in the film industry. As an industry expert on legislation, I soon began writing laws for a number of different states. I began writing as many laws as most legislators.”
Hill became hooked on the legislative process. He started by running for mayor of Ball Ground, but during his second term, he moved out of the town and had to resign as mayor. This was not the end of his political aspirations, though.
“A few years ago  there was a seat open in my district for the state legislature,” Hill said. “I really thought the capability of the incumbent and the other people running were not what I wanted representing me. So, I reluctantly threw my hat in the ring.”
Hill was successful in his pursuit, taking office in 2002. Upon arriving in Atlanta he realized that, in some ways, the challenges he faced as representative were easier than what he faced as mayor or as a business owner.
“As a mayor, you have to do everything,” he said. “You have to know the laws and only go to your attorney when you wanted to pay him money. In the legislature, I can go to 30 or 40 attorneys and it doesn’t cost me a penny. In a small town it’s more hands on and intense because you have to know more. Being a legislator is really much easier because you can go to others for expert advice.”
Having expert advice at one’s disposal makes the job a easier, but a legislator still needs to know what he’s doing, which Hill does.
“He’s been in politics for a long time. He has a good understanding of how the process works,” said Matt Jobe, vice president at GDI, who has worked with Hill for 18 years.
That doesn’t mean being a legislator is simple. Two things are especially important: knowing the legislative process and being able to manage a budget. Hill’s experience in building his businesses and working for film manufacturers has helped him with this though.
“You have to understand budgets, economics and accounting,” he said. “The reality is that running a small business is more difficult than running a big one. Running a small company is tighter and more difficult because there is less room for error.”
As far as the other challenge—knowing the legislative process—Hill is up to speed, but he lacks seniority.
“I don’t have power because I have no seniority,” he said.
Hill’s lack of seniority doesn’t bother his supporters.
“Calvin has an incredible work ethic and looks out for the little guy,” said Stewart.
Despite not having a lot of power in the legislature yet, Hill has had success fighting for the film industry. With the help of his legislative wife and aide, Cheryl Lynn Hill, he helped stop a law that would hold people passing through Georgia to the state’s film laws. It would have allowed law enforcement to ticket out-of-state drivers if their tint exceeded Georgia standards.
While these kinds of laws interest Hill, he also is concerned with issues outside of the industry. The two receiving most of his attention right now are transportation and water conservation.
Like many metro areas, Atlanta has congestion problems on its roads during both the morning and evening rush hours. Hill has studied this issue and thinks the key is not building more trains, buses or roads, but getting businesses closer to their workers.
“In no place can you build roads, buses or trains fast enough to accommodate the number of people who commute from the suburbs into town,” he said. “The manufacturing jobs should be out in the suburbs where people making $10 or $15 per hour can live without making long commutes. The high salaried jobs should be [in] the cities where executives live. The long-term solution is to get people closer to jobs.”
As for water, Hill realizes that most of Georgia’s water is in the Southern portion of the state, while most of the population is in the northern section. While he said there are no clear solutions, he thinks conservation is a start.
“You have to protect everything from the head waters to the streams,” the Republican said. “You don’t have to be a ‘tree hugger’ to worry about water conservation. It’s a very limited resource and we are using it up quickly. You have to balance the industrial uses of water versus the drinking use because we need them all,” Hill said.
If anyone else in the industry wants to move into politics, Hill’s advice is to get involved in their community. Do some volunteer work, meet the key people and find out what their needs are.
“I have always been involved in my county,” he said. “You have to learn to involve yourself in the community and be active before you get into politics.”
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