U.S. Rep. Roger Williams fired back Thursday against questions raised about an amendment he made to a transportation bill last week.
In an article that ran in the Star-Telegram, the Center for Public Integrity stated that Williams, a longtime local car dealer, amended the transportation bill approved by the House to let auto dealers lend or rent vehicles that are up for safety recalls.
To suggest my amendment allows me, or anyone in my industry, to intentionally loan a dangerous, defective car is a damning assertion.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, a longtime car dealer
Williams, a Republican whose district stretches from the edge of Tarrant County to Austin, said the report mischaracterizes his amendment and the intent behind it.
“I offered a one word amendment that would affect thousands of auto dealers industry-wide because today, not all automotive safety recalls are created equal,” he said in a statement. “Dealers should not be forced to ground vehicles for a misprint or a peeled sticker.
“To suggest my amendment allows me, or anyone in my industry, to intentionally loan a dangerous, defective car is a damning assertion,” Williams continued. “Let me be clear that my amendment does not protect dealers from future lawsuits that could strip away their livelihoods.”
The Senate amendment that Williams amended in the six-year highway bill would forbid rental car companies from renting out cars that are under recall. It also applies to loan cars from auto dealers.
Although Williams made references to recalls like the stickers on the windshield visor, the exemption for the auto dealers applies to any recall, said Clarence Ditlow III, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington-based advocacy group.
“His examples are a red herring,” Ditlow said, adding that the examples Williams gave of typos in manuals and stickers are fixed by the auto companies sending the auto owner a letter — which means that the car would not be “under recall” for those things.
The reason for the original Senate amendment, Ditlow said, is the concern of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about a rental car under recall in 2004 that resulted in the death of two sisters. Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, 24 and 20, of Santa Cruz were killed while driving a recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser with a steering problem from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Boxer opposes Williams’ amendment.
Ditlow said: “It’s a horrible amendment. No one should be given a loaner car on an outstanding recall. It’s a crash waiting to happen.”
Williams’ amendment is part of the highway bill in conference between the House and Senate and is expected to be concluded by Dec. 4.
Henry Jasny, senior vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, when told that Williams was an auto dealer, said: “Has a self-interest. It’s bad for his clients, his customers who he gives a loaner to. We don’t think any car should be rented or loaned to the public without a repair.”
Williams said there’s no ethics investigation against him.
“I chose to apply some common sense to legislation that specifically intended to further over regulate small businesses and increase burdens on Main Street while they are still trying to survive in this Obama economy,” he said. “My minor, technical amendment reined in the federal government, and it passed the House unanimously.
“I remain committed to continuing to fight for my district, for my state and for all Americans against an administration that continues to choke small businesses.”
The Center for Public Integrity “stands 100 percent behind its reporting on this story,” its Executive Editor Gordon Witkin said.