LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Steve McDonald
Massachusetts Exhaust Systems:
A bill to ban the “use and sale of any exhaust pipe that increases the sound emissions of any vehicle including motorcycles” has been assigned for study. The study order authorizes the Joint Transportation Committee to meet during the legislature’s recess to make an investigation of the bill and report to the General Court the results and its recommendations, if any, together with a draft of legislation necessary to carry the recommendations into effect. This action essentially kills activity on this bill for the year. An identical bill was introduced in 2009 and was set aside for study without any additional committee consideration. Several other Massachusetts bills were assigned for similar studies, including a bill to provide for the adjustment of registration fees based on vehicle weight and one to exempt new vehicles from motor-vehicle emissions inspections for the two years succeeding their manufacture year.
North Carolina Emissions: SEMA-supported legislation to extend the emissions inspection exemption to vehicles three years old and newer was signed into law by Governor Bev Perdue. Previous law required the inspection of all ’96 and newer vehicles. The new law acknowledges the relatively minimal environmental impact of the newer vehicles targeted for the exemption. The idea behind exempting any class of vehicles is to reduce regulatory costs while not losing appreciable emissions reductions. This strategy builds support for emissions-inspection programs but also directs finite resources to where they will be most valuable in cleaning the air.
Pennsylvania Emissions: SEMA-supported legislation to provide a 10-year emissions inspection exemption for newly registered vehicles was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee. Current law provides only a one-year exemption. The bill now moves to the Appropriations Committee for consideration. The bill acknowledges that it is senseless to test newer vehicles, the results of which demonstrate no significant air quality benefits.
Save Johnson Valley: The U.S. Marines are seeking to expand their base at Twentynine Palms, California, to include nearly 189,000 acres of adjacent land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The land is a designated off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation area and is the site of “King of the Hammers” and other OHV events throughout the year. The Marines would provide the OHV community with limited access to 40,000 acres for 10 months a year. SEMA is working with the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and others in the Save Johnson Valley Coalition to preserve OHV access to the land. The coalition has proposed that the BLM retain ownership of the land and issue the Marines special use permits for the two months a year they need the land for large-scale training exercises. Congressional approval is required for any land transfer to the Marines. The coalition is working with members of Congress to support the BLM special-permit approach. At the coalition’s request, the U.S. House of Representatives has included a provision in the upcoming Defense Authorization Act that would require the Marines to study alternative ways to share the land with the OHV community. The Senate is expected to include the same provision in its version of the bill.
Crash Parts Legislation: A U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on a bill that would allow companies to market collision-repair parts without infringing a design patent once a vehicle has been marketed for two-and-a-half years. Under current law, a design patent covers the ornamental design for an object having practical utility for a 14-year term. At issue is the recent practice of many automakers to obtain design patents for individual vehicle parts associated with collision repairs, such as fenders, lamps, hoods, bumpers and grilles. Historically, the auto companies have sought design patents for the car’s overall design rather than individual parts. A design patent allows a company the right to exclude others from copying the product or, alternatively, to license the rights. Representatives for the vehicle manufacturers, dealers and auto workers claim that the auto companies invest billions of dollars each year to develop and patent the part designs and are then seeking to protect that investment through rights available under current law. Representatives for the collision parts market counter that the auto companies are seeking to eliminate competition for “cosmetic replacement parts” that had traditionally not been protected by a design patent, thereby raising consumer repair costs and insurance premiums.