Monday, 20 February 2017 14:45

ASA-MI: An Interview with Association President Ray Fisher

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ASA-MI has been very busy for the past couple years as, in addition to holding their normal programs, the association spent an exorbitant amount of time representing the collision and mechanical automotive repair industries in legislative battles.

"Our industry needs to understand the importance of being involved in legislation – because most of the time it is to make sure that IF there is or will be a law, that we ensure it meets the objective set forth and is done as efficiently as possible," ASA-MI President Ray Fisher stated. "Sometimes, it is done to make sure that EVERYONE plays by the same rules!”


Quoting Lily Tomlin, who once said, "Somebody should do something about that. Then I realized I am somebody," Fisher noted, "If there is any truth to this quote, ASA-MI not only showed that we are 'somebody' - we got legislators to listen and understand that we represent a respectful industry!"


Following ASA-MI's two-year legislative session, which ended on December 31, 2016, Fisher took time to talk with Autobody News about the association's recent initiatives and to offer insights to collision repair industry professionals interested in getting involved with such matters in the future.


In 2015, ASA-MI's focus was on updating the state Automotive Repair Licensing laws and seeking aftermarket parts to be certified as part of House Bill 4344. The Governor unfortunately vetoed that bill because "he had a short window of time to get answers, and beyond the opposition making their case, there was a great deal of propaganda flowing to him. He understood the mission, but he also wanted to balance 'free market.' We supported the Secretary of State’s efforts when the bill was reintroduced in the fall, and I am happy today that without the language on the Aftermarket Parts, the bill passed and was signed into law by the Governor, Public Act 430 of 2016," Fisher recalled.


Still, Fisher feels that Public Act 430 was a big accomplishment. "The law had not really been updated since 1974, and we know how much vehicles have changed since then," Fisher said. "One of the challenges that the collision industry has had when dealing with writing a fair estimate was the ability to define when something was structural, for example, which requires an additional license and skill level. The ongoing debate was 'when is something just sheet metal and when is something considered structural?' In Michigan, a technician performing unibody and structural repair or frame work, must have a license in that category demonstrating additional skill sets and certification. Though information providers have done a good job of helping to identify, we made it very clear in the law by stating 'if the vehicle has a unitized body, the parts identified by the motor vehicle manufacturer as structural components' – this language takes away all ‘grayness’ and defines when something is frame or structural repair.


"We still feel that non-OEM suppliers have a responsibility to the repair facility and, more importantly, the consumer to provide a third-party nationally recognized certification when it comes to parts. The parts we had listed within the law, which contrary to the propaganda that circulated and was given to the Governor’s office, never had ANY mechanical parts within the list. We feel that currently, or in the very near future, this list of parts will have an even larger role in safety going forward and especially with autonomous vehicles," Fisher explained.


In fact, ASA-MI had legislation addressing torts and liability on autonomous vehicles added to Public Act 251 of 2013. "I added the same protection to automotive repair facilities that basically states 'if a LICENSED automotive repair facility and a LICENSED mechanic here in the State of Michigan repairs a vehicle in accordance to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations, they too would be protected from liability.' Though not an issue just yet, the one thing we have learned is that it is much cheaper to make it a non-issue for the future by being proactive."


In response to the question of whether autonomous vehicles will have a negative impact on the collision repair industry as a result of being involved in fewer accidents, Fisher replied, "Autonomous vehicles are still going to crash. We still have wildlife that autonomy won’t be able to stop. I believe that what will happen is that we will see less 'total losses' and more 'repairable' vehicles. We must understand that we are taking away the human processing element which often causes decision making delays or inconsistencies. As autonomy is phased in, we will still have 'co-pilots' in charge for quite some time. I know that many states are wrestling with what the driver can or cannot do in an autonomous vehicle, and at current, the belief is not much different from today; it is just that they will be back-up to the computer."


In addition to these endeavors, ASA-MI has also been working on several other bills. "We also got involved in Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device installation requirements. Up until 2016, anyone could install them and they were not included in the licensing requirement as an automotive repair facility."


"We were occasionally getting reports that wrong wires were spliced into causing problems and extra costs to consumers, or having false accusations by customers occur, etc., so after surveying the automotive repair industry, we supported the Secretary of State’s office in requiring installers to also be licensed," Fisher elaborated. "It became law under Public Act 033 of 2016. The other two bills, which were companion bills, acted on a law dating back to 1933 which required sales tax to be collected on core charges – even when they were returned for credit or exchanged on the spot. I am happy to say that Public Act 515 and 516 of 2016 will now treat core charges like bottle returns in Michigan, meaning that they will be billed on a separate line and not taxed. Upon returning the part, the consumer will receive a full refund of the core charge – there is no tax – this was HUGE for us to accomplish!"


Despite the hard work that all of this legislative activity necessitated, Fisher believes the fruits of his labor was well worthwhile as the association continues to work on the issues that they were unable to progress during the 2015-16 legislative cycle. Addressing other industry professionals who may be interested in pursuing similar legislative actions in their states, Fisher said, "The best piece of advice that I can give is to be involved when someone is drafting a law in the first place. With good data, information, and professional opinions, you are more apt to get 'good legislation' or demonstrate to the legislators that legislation may not be needed. I look back to when I was working with our local DEQ liaison who also served on the National EPA committee many years ago and how our relationship along with great discussions curbed some unnecessary legislation because we could educate and share ideas. For example, we prevented some spray guns that were in use from being 'sunset', because we maintained the dialogue."


"My recommendation to anyone thinking about legislation is to realize these tasks are marathons and not sprints," Fisher continued. "If you do not have the patience or ability to run in marathon mode, legislation is not for you. The other key ingredient is the ability to gather information, data and other factual medium that supports your cause. In addition, switch roles and figure out why would someone be opposed, who would be opposed, and what influence they might have? From there, what would be your rebuttal? Lastly, it takes money, commitment, time, and more money to make it all work. Regardless of how something 'should be', a lobbyist can be your best investment as they help open the right doors for the right combination for your cause."


Regarding ASA-MI’s plans for the next legislative session, Fisher said, "Well, time and money will tell - the latter being more of a challenge. We did very well on some huge issues, and we left a couple on the table that we want to complete - we'll just have to wait and see what the industry thinks is important... I just hope they can now recognize what it takes and what it achieves to be involved proactively."


A staff member of ASA-MI since 2004, Ray Fisher has served as the association's President since 2010. Fisher's prior 20+ year tenure in the industry included managing at dealerships and serving as a volunteer for I-CAR in various roles locally and also residing on a national advisory committee. Additionally, Fisher held various positions on the board of the West MI Body Shop Association. Fisher has been recognized numerous times throughout his career for his devotion to improving the automotive repair industry, and most recently, ASA honored his legislative endeavors in 2016.


For more information about the association's current initiatives, visit their website www.asamichigan.com.