Long-time Industry Lobbyist Offers Perspectives on Government’s Role in Industry Issues
Written by John Yoswick, Autobody News
Published March 5, 2020
Bob Redding serves as the industry’s eyes, ears and voice in Washington, D.C.
As the national lobbyist for the Automotive Service Association, Redding helps keep the autobody industry (along with the mechanical service industry) appraised on legislative and regulatory activities and proposals, and brings the industry’s viewpoint to table when lawmakers or government agencies are making decisions.
During a recent interview in his office, just a five-minute walk from key U.S. Senate office buildings, Redding talked about some of the topics he’s engaged in as part of his work for ASA.
Almost every year, for example, the association opposes efforts to curtail or even eliminate existing state vehicle inspection programs. This year there are been proposals to scale back the inspection programs in Virginia and West Virginia.
Redding said in addition to helping shops in those states voice support for the vehicle safety inspection programs, ASA is supporting efforts to add such programs in those states without them, including California.
“There’s interest there, but we’ve got to get a study first, and that’s what we’re working on now,” Redding said of the multi-association effort in California.
Redding said such programs---in place in only about 15 states---are increasingly important as ride-share and other trends reduce private ownership of vehicles in use.
Those riding in such vehicles should be able to expect they’ve been maintained and repaired properly, Redding said, but those owning them may not “have skin in the game” for ensuring that happens.
“If your family needs some cash so you’re driving for Uber or Lyft, (safe repairs) might not be the first thing you have in mind as long as the car is blowing and going,” Redding said. “We think with new vehicle technologies, somebody needs to be looking at these vehicles. Not just post-repair inspection, but also some type of annual or biennial vehicle safety inspection.”
A topic Redding said he thinks the industry should be more attuned to is eminent domain, the right of a local or state government to expropriate private property for public use.
The New York Times recently published a special section on the many automotive businesses---including Joe’s Auto Body---in a section of Queens now owned by the city and slated for redevelopment to “become New York’s next gleaming neighborhood.”
The city of Austin, TX, is seeking to update its land development code in a way that will effectively zone out some existing automotive businesses.
Redding said a section of Alexandria, VA, that “has a long history of having collision and mechanical shops” could change as a major Amazon facility and new subway service moves into the area.
“How are you going to have a subway station and Amazon across the street from a mom-and-pop mechanical shop and a couple collision shops,” Redding said.
He said it’s hard to get the industry motivated on the issue.
Redding is one of three co-chairs of the Collision Industry Conference Governmental Committee, and in a recent poll by that committee, eminent domain ranked a distant last on the topics CIC attendees said they wanted the committee to address at upcoming meetings.
“I almost think it comes down to: If it’s not my shop, I’m not worried about it,” Redding said. “Which is tragic. Because next time it could be your shop.”
As a long-time observer of politics, Redding tends not to speak about one party being better for the industry than another. He understands many ASA members share positions relative to taxes as Republicans, but sees Democrats as also being sympathetic toward small businesses and some industry issues.
At a state level, for example, he points to a Republican-controlled Senate in Pennsylvania that wanted to kill that state’s vehicle emissions testing program---a program ASA supports for its mechanical shop members---only to have Democrats in the state House save it.
So Redding mainly focuses on what likely can and cannot be accomplished based on whatever party has control.
Looking to this fall’s election, Redding said control of the U.S. Senate is “really up for grabs,” but that Democrats will likely maintain the majority in the U.S. House despite Republicans likely picking up some seats there.
“If it stays Democratic, you will see more vehicle safety initiatives, and efforts to put much more money into electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure,” Redding predicts. “If autonomous vehicle legislation has not gone across the finish line by then, they will have another two years (to work on it) and I think it likely would.”
Democratic control of the House also would likely ensure the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), created in 2010 within the Department of the Treasury, isn’t dismantled, Redding said.
“Now, you might ask, what have they done lately,” Redding said of the FIO. “Well, they have no money and no staff and no authority, so it’s not a lot. But as I keep saying, FIO is the bones of federal regulation of insurance. The only groups that appreciate the potential of FIO are insurance companies, and they hate it.”
Redding said the FIO hasn’t focused at all on issues related to property-casualty insurance, but that’s something ASA hopes to change.
“The FIO is going to be with us at least another three years, because I don’t think any administration can kill it with either a Democratic House or Senate in place," Redding said.
"But if you have both a Democratic House and Senate, it’s going to get more aggressive," he said. "If you get a trifecta, with a Democratic House, Senate and president, then it could really have some meat to it.”
If President Donald Trump is reelected, Redding said, “then the tax and regulatory aspect for small business should be good to go.”
But the Department of Justice (DOJ) under a Republican administration, Redding said, probably won’t address “most favored nation clauses,” such as those in some direct repair program agreements requiring a participating shop to give the insurer the same or better pricing than the shop offers any other insurer.
“We have Democratic support (on that issue) from a House member from the Northwest who brought the head of antitrust at the Department of Justice over for a briefing when Obama was still in office,” Redding said.
“So if a Democrat is elected president, the most favored nation clause issue could be back on the table because back in 2010, the DOJ went after Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan,” he said, alleging the insurer’s "most favored nation" clauses in its contract with hospitals were anti-competitive.