Now more than ever, the rental car industry needs to unite and actively engage in the public policy process at all levels of government ­­— local, state and federal. That was the main point made by the ACRA seminar panel at the 2013 Car Rental Show.

Ray Wagner, vice president of government and public affairs for Enterprise Holdings, underscored the point in his acceptance speech after winning the 2013 Russell Bruno Award for outstanding service to the car rental industry.

Led by the Legal and Legislative Committee of ACRA, the panel presented an update on many legislative issues facing the industry in Washington, D.C., and throughout the states.

At the federal level:

  • ACRA continues work on legislation that would protect our customers from discriminatory excise taxes imposed by states and local governments. Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) will once again be our champions on this issue. They will introduce legislation in the coming months.

  • ACRA supports federal legislation that would govern our industry’s recall procedures. As reported last year, the industry reached an agreement with consumer advocates and Sens. Schumer, Boxer, McCaskill and Blunt. This legislation will be introduced soon. We support a federal resolution to this issue so that the industry can avoid the potential of a differing patchwork of laws at the state level.

  • Also on the agenda is the continuing effort to defend the Graves Amendment. Since the industry prevailed on the legal challenges (including the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case), trial lawyers would need to mount a legislative challenge to reinstate vicarious liability. Therefore, we will watch vigilantly for any potential repeal efforts.

At the state level:

  • ACRA has successfully worked to stall progress on New York and New Jersey’s rental recall bills in order to continue support for the federal effort. 

  • State and local excise taxes continue to pop up. At present, 41 states (or one or more cities in those states) have a rental car excise tax, and, of those, 13 state legislatures are attempting to maintain or increase the existing tax. This makes our effort to address the issue in federal legislation all the more critical.

  • ACRA is working to defeat a Texas bill that would regulate damage waiver as an insurance product. This would be a terrible precedent that could spread to other states. Also, we are working to renew the New York law that permits the industry to offer damage waiver. (This law is subject to renewal every five years.) A longer-term goal is to reform Civil Code 1936 in California, an outdated and unnecessarily complicated regulation. 

  • ACRA led the charge to repeal a law in Florida that required international customers to have an International Drivers Permit, in addition to a driver’s license, to rent a vehicle. This was tucked into a larger bill last year and created confusion for many customers. To their credit, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the legislature heeded our call and acted quickly to repeal the law, retroactive to Jan. 1.

  • Several other bills affecting the industry have come up:

  • A winter tire mandate for all rental cars between November and March in Vermont

  • A voluntary check-off fee on all rental contracts for customers to donate to certain state park efforts 

  • A ban against rental companies requiring a credit card number of a secondary driver (many companies do not currently do this, but it is critical to preserve our options).

During the ACRA panel, Frank Colonna of Triangle Rent A Car made sure to impress on attendees that, clearly, much of this legislative activity has the potential to impact our companies — and more importantly, our employees and customers. “To be successful, we need to work cooperatively from the city halls to the state capitols to the halls of Congress,” he said.

Frank is right. We as an industry need to be engaged and develop relationships with our public officials on a local and national level. These relationships will enhance our opportunities for success in the public policy arena. It is often said that “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” So let’s make sure we have our seat at the table. ACRA is prepared to lead the way.

You will be hearing soon how, as an ACRA member, you can be more involved in your community. Stay tuned!