In any business, if you have a problem you find a solution. You don't wait for someone else to fix what's broken; you put out your own fires. So, why do so many people expect others to change a law for them when it's crippling their own industry? It might be that they just don't know where to begin, or they think they won't be effective when it comes to politics - the most frustrating, slow moving, at times ineffectual, often confusing process that exists in the world today.
Your state is a permissive use state. How can you change it? There is another discriminatory tax for automobile rentals. How can you stop it from happening again in your state? The government thinks that anyone who has a license, regardless of age, should be allowed to rent your car. How can you make sure this bill doesn't move forward? Every year countless bills are introduced in Congress and in state legislatures that will affect your business, most of them negatively. So what can you do?
Start by knowing that you usually can't do it alone. Most of the time it takes numbers to stop, support, or introduce legislation. Join your state's rental organization and become active by attending its meetings. Even if you don't think of yourself as a political animal or a joiner, you can't ignore that the car rental industry is plagued by government regulations and taxes. At the minimum, you need to stay informed of the political climate surrounding your business.
Meet the Politicians
When you want to introduce a bill or an amendment to a bill, you need an elected representative on either a local, state or federal level to introduce that bill or amendment. That's where the real politics begin. Being a part of your community and meeting these representatives is very important. It's always harder for someone to refuse assistance when they know you. This principle applies to industry events, such as the Car Rental Show. At this annual industry gathering, you have the opportunity to meet and greet the people who can help you improve your own business -financiers, software providers, insurance company executives, manufacturers and the vendors.
Getting to know the politicians and lawmakers and, more importantly, getting them to know you, make the business of doing business easier. So goes politics. Start with your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers have an annual breakfast meeting where the state senators or house members are invited to speak on the state of the state. This is a great place to begin your own campaign to meet the people you will be asking for support in the future.
If a bill regarding our industry is introduced, it goes through 53 steps, and sometimes more, before it becomes a law. Therefore, most bills introduced in Congress don't become a law. Some bills don't even get noticed, but those that do can be extremely detrimental. That's why you also need to join and support your national association, the American Car Rental Association. ACRA can be there when you're too busy running your business to go lobby at your state capital. ACRA watches the bills that are introduced, tracks their progress and makes every effort to influence the outcome of new or amended bills that will be a problem for our industry.
Check ACRA's Website for information about the current bills that are being watched or acted upon. When a bill is introduced to amend an existing law or when new legislation is introduced that will benefit the car rental companies, which are members of our association, ACRA aggressively lobbies legislators for passage.
Besides joining ACRA, what can you do? Communicate with your legislators. Don't know where to start? Start by writing and explaining how legislation will affect you and your customers. Can't seem to get it started or get it done? ACRA can provide you with the tools that you need to lobby on your own. ACRA will provide you with sample letters to put on your letterhead and give you your legislator's contact information so you can submit your correspondence. ACRA will provide you with updates on the combined lobbying efforts to halt or promote the legislation that directly affects you.
Become an Advocate
Becoming an effective advocate on legislative issues isn't easy. Being successful at it is even harder. But it can be accomplished. ACRA, with the aid of its members, has stopped taxes from being added to our rentals, has reinforced our stance against the return of vicarious liability, and has monitored thousands of legislative matters affecting you and your company.
Every day you are an advocate for your customers, your employees and your family members. You need to add your livelihood, the car rental industry, to your advocacy group. Our industry can accomplish much more as a common voice than any one person can do alone. Become a part of the solution to your legislative problems. You fixed the car wash, you upgraded your software and you hired an experienced manager. Now you can also put out the legislative fires before they ever get out of control.
Sharon Faulkner is the executive director of the American Car Rental Association. As a former Dollar and Thrifty franchise owner, Faulkner played an integral role in shaping auto rental-related legislation in New York State and nationally.[PAGEBREAK]
Timeline of actual legislation and amendments, 1988-2002
If you want to change a law, it takes time, commitment, money and a unified front from within the ranks of your industry.
This timeline outlines the 14-year effort to change the New York State law regarding the ability to sell a collision damage waiver.
An act to amend the general business law section 396-z in New York passes. It limits negligent drivers' liability for damage to vehicles rented from rental companies to $100 and eliminates the sale of any collision damage waiver in the state of New York. It defines "authorized driver" to include a wide range of individuals, including most 18 year olds.
This amendment passes without opposition because at the time there was no national or statewide car rental association that monitored legislative issues. It also passes because it was actually supported by a major car rental company. The RAC did not share its knowledge of the bill until it was too late to stop it.
The New York Vehicle Rental Association forms to reverse this amendment. Independents, franchisees, lobbyists, industry vendors, travel groups and local politicians gather to discuss possible strategies and plans to propose new legislation. The first lobbyist is hired.
April 16, 1989
State legislature passes the bill, effective retroactively, to redefine the authorized driver definition that is more favorable to the industry.
For six years, briefing papers are written and distributed. Lobbying assignments are given to participating car rental owners and vendors. Politicians are contacted and appointments with legislators are made during every session that the legislature meets in Albany, N.Y. Full days are set aside to visit each legislator that is in opposition to amending 396-z as well as revisiting each legislator who supports the amendment to thank him or her and ask for their continued support.
Letters are presented to every member of the Senate and the House. Each member of the association is asked to send letters to his own representative. (Note: It only takes 25 letters to your legislator to acknowledge that there is a concern that needs to be addressed.)
Members attend chambers of commerce meetings, business organization dinners and, most importantly, political fundraisers at every opportunity. Members repeatedly discuss and outline the devastation of this legislation with politicians.
A model amendment is proposed to increase customer liability from $100 to $500. Sale of collision damage waivers would continue to be prohibited. The amendment is approved by Senate and Assembly committees. Lobbyists for the industry are convinced that the amendment will pass. During the final state Senate debate, one major rental company registers opposition to the amendment and it is not brought up for a vote. (Note: Without the cohesive agreement and support of the entire industry most legislation will not pass. With the opposition of just one company no legislation will pass.)
The New York Vehicle Rental Association continues to meet and raise money for lobbyists and political contributions. More letters are written. More breakfasts, lunches, dinners and conferences are held. More legislators are contacted and appointments are made for lobbying days at the capital. No legislation is passed in support of the car rental industry.
The Vehicle Renters Financial Responsibility and Protection Act is introduced. It would allow the sale of damage waivers and outlines when a rental company may or may not void a waiver. It also limits the amount the rental company would be allowed to charge per day for that waiver. The amendment does not pass.
The car rental industry is still not working together to pass the proposed amendment that would make the renter responsible for damages to rental cars. A bill to repeal the law is stopped in the Assembly by Assemblyman Pete Grannis, who speaks out against it. It is pulled off the calendar.
The industry mounts a major lobbying campaign to repeal the law. It redoubles its efforts and the large car rental companies pour money into lobbying and hire a former aide of the House minority leader. The industry puts forth the argument that there has been a decline in the number of rental cars from 120,000 in the decade previous to just 64,000. In addition, more than 360 rental offices have been closed and counting. The moral argument is presented that it is wrong to allow bad drivers to walk away from accidents after paying only $100. The bill passes the Assembly and the Senate and goes to Governor George Pataki for his signature.
The major rental car companies combined with the small car rental companies-the ones that survived the devastation caused by the original amendment from 1988-form a united front and finally succeed in passing an amendment that would allow rental vehicle companies to hold the renter responsible for damages and reinstate the sale of collision damage waivers with a cap of $9 per day.
Dec. 3, 2002
After a devastating 14-year saga, during which time hundreds of rental companies failed, Governor Pataki signs into law a bill that allows car rental companies to sell collision damage waivers to cover the cost of repairs. The amendment that the industry has been seeking since 1988 is finally attained and the industry attempts to rebuild. There is a five-year sunset on the amendment. The car rental industry finally works together to assure the success of the amendment.
After the five-year mark, the amendment is not challenged.