FROM THE HILL
SEMA Intensifies Advocacy Efforts at 2021 Virtual Washington Rally
By Eric Snyder
SEMA’s Washington Rally looked a lot different in 2021 than in years past. It marked the first time SEMA members met with their lawmakers and their staffs in Congress remotely rather than in person. While the goal was to have everyone come to Washington, restrictions on meetings in the U.S. Capitol complex made it impossible. Nevertheless, the virtual meetings were focused, beneficial, and helped to build support for top industry legislative priorities.
This year’s Washington Rally saw record participation from SEMA members as more than 70 industry professionals met with their U.S. Senators, representatives and congressional staff in June and July. The meetings proved to be an effective way to connect with Congress and ensure that lawmakers hear directly from their constituents. In this instance, the Rally was policy-centered, since there are more issues facing the industry than ever before, including the continued right to modify a vehicle, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act, business tax incentives, off-road access, and the importance of the internal-combustion engine.
Enacting the RPM Act (H.R. 3281) into law took center stage at the Rally. The bipartisan bill will guarantee the right to modify street cars, trucks and motorcycles into dedicated race vehicles and ensure that the motorsports industry can offer parts that enable racers to compete. Rally meetings reinforced the outpouring of support for the bill this year—enthusiasts sent more than 1.4 million messages urging lawmakers to pass the bill. The RPM Act currently includes 77 co-sponsors, including several lawmakers who joined after meeting with SEMA-member business representatives and staff or because of the letters they received from their constituents in support of the bill.
The RPM Act was first introduced in 2016 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that the 50-year-old Federal Clean Air Act gave the agency the authority to regulate race-car conversions and emissions-related racing parts. SEMA has led the fight to overturn this interpretation and confirm that it is legal for street vehicles to be converted into dedicated race cars and to sell parts of those cars.
“We cannot let up on our efforts to push for the RPM Act,” said Daniel Ingber, SEMA vice president of government and legal affairs. “As the EPA attacks the motorsports industry, we must protect our right to modify vehicles. The RPM Act will clarify that it is legal to modify street vehicles into dedicated race cars and give the industry the assurance it needs to continue to legally compete.”
Lawmakers were also asked to co-sponsor the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act of 2021 (H.R. 1346/S. 477), which would provide tax credits to cover 50% of the expenses associated with exhibiting or attending a trade show or a business conference in the United States from 2022 through 2024. The legislation recognizes that ongoing assistance is still needed for the entertainment, travel and hospitality industries and convention centers—targeted relief not addressed during the pandemic.
Ensuring that enthusiasts can continue to customize and personalize their vehicles was an important topic. SEMA is focused on staying ahead of new technology, ensuring that specialty parts work seamlessly when installed on new vehicles. SEMA-member companies often need access to data when designing and producing products that are electronically installed or plugged into a vehicle.
While aftermarket businesses have relied on reverse engineering, Tech Transfer and other ways to supplement available service and repair information, technological advances should not prevent specialty auto products from meshing with vehicle hardware and software. For example, while cybersecurity is important to vehicle owners, automakers cannot use it as a pretext to lock down electronic control units and prevent vehicle modifications.
SEMA members talked to lawmakers about the importance of being able to modify vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), which are active and passive safety performance technologies that assist drivers and automate vehicle systems. ADAS gather information and help to improve driving safety through features such as electronic stability control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, advanced braking and adaptive cruise control.
Aftermarket parts must be interoperable with OE vehicle sensors that track speed, location and other conditions about the vehicle being driven. SEMA and industry partners are working to develop tests to confirm that ADAS features operate as intended when vehicles are modified (such as with lift kits, suspension upgrades, and larger tires and wheels). The association’s new SEMA Garage near Detroit will feature ADAS testing tools and equipment.
Protecting and expanding access for off-highway motorized recreation was another popular topic. SEMA members asked lawmakers to support and co-sponsor the Recreational Trails Full Funding Act of 2021 (H.R. 1864). The bill would require the Federal Highway Administration to estimate the amount of gas taxes paid by non-highway recreational users (ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, etc.).
Gas taxes paid by OHV users fund the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). It is estimated that OHV users pay more than $270 million each year in gas taxes, yet the RTP is currently funded at $84 million. The legislation would increase RTP funding to $250 million or the amount the Federal Highway Administration currently estimates OHV users are spending, whichever is higher.
SEMA members also spoke with federal lawmakers on a host of other issues, voicing support for increased federal investments in roads and bridges while raising concerns about electric-vehicle mandates. Additionally, SEMA members spoke about niche issues such as ensuring that Congress funds restoration of the Bonneville Salt Flats and the need for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to complete its replica-vehicle regulation so that small businesses can start producing completed vehicles that resemble the classics.
While SEMA looks forward to hosting the Washington Rally in person in 2022, there’s no reason to wait until then to engage your federal lawmakers. SEMA staff is available to schedule meetings with your lawmakers and invite them to tour your business or visit key industry events. Lobbying is a year-round activity, and it is crucial that we keep our issues in front of federal and state lawmakers.