An amendment to a federal transportation bill that exempted car dealers from a regulation involving vehicles under recalls, proposed by Rep. Roger Williams, R-Weatherford, was tweaked in conference committee this week.
Senate and House conferees announced agreement on the overall bill on Tuesday. It must still be passed by the House and Senate.
The amendment now says that rental agencies and car dealerships that have 35 vehicles or more used for rental or lending will be required to make recall repairs before customers can use the cars. That effectively exempts smaller dealerships.
Williams, a second-generation North Texas car dealer, argued that the recall restriction was an onerous regulation and that the companies would not let customers use dangerous vehicles.
“The provision included in the House/Senate bipartisan conference agreement is a victory for small businesses which have suffered tremendously under an administration that holds the self-righteous belief that government knows what is best for the American people,” said Williams in a statement.
Williams’ amendment was added to a portion of the bill called the Raechel and Jaqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, a measure advocated by Cally Houck, whose two daughters died in 2004 in California in a rental car wreck. The faulty steering wheel system under recall notice was found to be at blame — but so was the rental company.
“I’m thrilled that we’re finally close to passage of the Rental Car Safety Act named for my beautiful, treasured daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline,” Cally Houck said Tuesday. “But I’m worried about the loaner car loophole for car dealers and remain committed to closing that dangerous safety gap.”
For advocates of auto safety, it was an emotional victory to secure the safety provision.
“I am deeply moved that we included the Raechel and Jaqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act in the bill to protect consumers from leasing unsafe recalled rental vehicles,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Williams’ role in drafting the amendment drew the attention of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which asked the House Ethics Committees to look into a possible conflict of interest.
Williams told the Star-Telegram previously that “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. My minor, technical amendment reined in the federal government, and it passed the House unanimously.”
Rosemary Shahan, president of Sacramento, Calif.-based Consumers of Auto-based Safety and Reliability said, “The exemption has nothing to do with safety. It’s a special favor for dealers.”
The bill covers a wide range of transportation issues, from highway funding to railroad improvements and public transportation.
“I expect this bill to have a huge amount of support throughout the country from businesses and workers alike,” Boxer said. “Although it is not perfect, I believe it is a major accomplishment for our people who expect us to fund a top notch transportation system.”
Maria Recio, 202-383-6103 Twitter: @maria_e_recio