SEMA News—February 2014
LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Steve McDonald
Law and Order
Massachusetts Vehicle Miles Traveled: Legislation was introduced to establish a pilot program to impose a vehicle mileage user fee. The bill is intended to supplement the gas tax and implement alternative ways to raise transportation revenue for the state. The pilot program would include at least 1,000 drivers of trucks, passenger and commercial vehicles. These drivers would have onboard vehicle-mileage-counting equipment installed on their vehicles that could report the number of miles traveled. Payments would be collected from participants. As gas-tax revenues decrease due to a more fuel-efficient fleet of vehicles, states are looking for new sources of funding for pet projects.
Ohio Headlamps: In a unanimous vote, the Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation that originally required headlights on motor vehicles to display a “white light” without defining the term. A SEMA amendment that was included in the bill now conforms the legislation to U.S. Department of Transportation standards regarding headlamp color, with which all headlamps destined for on-road use must comply. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for a vote by all members. Under the federal standards, it is possible to design a headlamp that can be perceived as having a blue tint but that nevertheless remains within the federal boundaries that define “white.”
Ohio Historic Vehicles: SEMA is supporting legislation that would amend the state’s current law defining historical motor vehicles to permit use of these vehicles on public roads to and from a location where maintenance is performed. Under current Ohio law, a “historical motor vehicle” is any motor vehicle that is more than 25 years old and owned solely as a collector’s item and for participation in club activities, exhibitions, tours, parades and similar uses, but not for general transportation. The bill would give Ohio motorists the opportunity to have their historical vehicles serviced or repaired without the threat of being cited by law enforcement for violation of the Motor Vehicle Code.
State Automotive Caucus: At a gathering of state lawmakers during the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell was named chairman of the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. Howell was appointed to the post after the November 5, 2013, election of New York Assemblyman Bill Reilich to the office of City Supervisor in Greece, New York. Reilich had served in the role for six years and will continue as Chairman Emeritus. Supported by SEMA, the caucus is a bipartisan group of state lawmakers that serves to further raise the automotive hobby’s profile in the state capitols. To date, almost 600 state legislators from all 50 states have joined the group.
Health-Care Law: The Obama Administration delayed by one year the launch of the federal small-business exchange website. The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) will eventually operate alongside the individual health-care exchange, with one website serving individuals and the other small businesses (50 or fewer workers). The exchanges are intended to allow consumers to compare costs and coverage for a variety of plans and then purchase a plan. Nevertheless, small companies (49 or fewer workers) are not required to offer insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses seeking to purchase insurance through the federally based SHOP exchanges and take advantage of qualified tax credits will need to seek coverage through an agent or broker. The federal delay does not affect small-business exchanges established and operated by 18 states. For more information, visit www.sema.org/healthcare.
Business Tax Code: The leadership of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee released a proposal to address reforms to cost business recovery and tax accounting laws. Plan highlights include reducing the number of major depreciation rates from 40 to five, requiring businesses to deduct the cost of research and development and 50% of advertising expenses over five years, simplifying accounting rules to lessen the costs of tax compliance and enforcement, repealing the “last in, first out” inventory accounting method, and permanently increasing Section 179 expensing to $1 million. Congress may seek to consider legislation to revise the tax code in 2014.
Patent Trolls: The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a SEMA-supported bill to address patent-troll litigation. At issue are frivolous lawsuits asserting that a company or individual is infringing a patent. The entity making the assertion is usually seeking licensing fees for a common technology or business practice rather than for an actual product or service. The lawsuits have exploded in recent years, costing small and large businesses billions of dollars. Many companies have settled rather than fight the suits, allowing the patent trolls to secure funds to pursue other parties. In a separate action, the Federal Trade Commission has launched a study to address the problem. Among other actions, it may recommend that specific allegations be included in so-called demand letters that patent holders send to alleged infringers in order to create a public database and improve transparency of the allegations being pursued.
Ethanol: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged that a 2007 federal law sets unrealistic mandates on the amount of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that an increasing amount of biofuel be blended into gasoline each year, from nine billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. However, nearly all gasoline sold in the United States contains up to 10% ethanol (E10), and there is widespread opposition to increasing that amount to 15% (E15) in order to meet the RFS mandates. For the first time since the RFS became law in 2009, the EPA is lowering the targeted amount of ethanol blended in gasoline. SEMA has joined with a number of other organizations representing a variety of industries in asking Congress to reform the RFS biofuel mandates and to ban the sale of E15. While the EPA has approved E15 for use in 2001 and newer vehicles, the agency made it illegal to use in older vehicles for fear of equipment damage. However, the EPA requires only a gas-pump warning label for unsuspecting consumers. Congress is expected to consider legislation to reduce ethanol mandates in 2014.
Workplace Injury Reports: The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a proposed rule that would require companies with 250 or more employees to electronically submit their injury and illness records (Form 300) on a quarterly basis. The submissions would be posted on the OSHA website and made available for public inspection. Currently, employers with more than 250 workers are required to maintain logs of all workplace injuries and illnesses and post summaries of injury or illness rates in a common area for employees to inspect. The proposed rule would also require “high-hazard” employers with more than 20 employees to electronically submit their OSHA 300 logs (reports of workplace injuries and illnesses) on an annual basis. Industries subject to this requirement include the automotive parts and accessories industry.
Forest Service Planning Rule: An advisory committee convened by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) issued detailed recommendations on how to implement the agency’s 2012 “Planning Rule.” The Rule is the master guidance document for developing land-use plans instituted by individual forests. The Rule has been a subject of debate, lawsuits and court actions in recent years over the precise meaning of words and phrases used in the planning directives. The 21-member advisory committee is comprised of representatives from a wide variety of land-use stakeholders, including motorized recreation. Its recommendations sought consensus over topics such as adaptive management, National Environmental Protection Act integration, outreach for diversity, public involvement and collaboration, social economic and cultural assessment, water, wilderness, climate change, species of conservation concern and reducing litigation.
Canadian Tire Standards: Transport Canada updated its tire standards to harmonize them with counterpart standards in the United States. Canada’s Motor Vehicle Tire Safety Regulations 1995 have been revised and relocated within the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The new standards will also allow enforcement of winter tire standards if manufacturers place the peaked mountain with a snowflake symbol on their tires.