trao Dec 02, 2016
Latest Towing Industry Overhaul Bill To Receive Changes, Vote Next Week
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Towing companies and lawmakers are close to an agreement on legislation that would make a number of changes to the industry.
Sen. Frank LaRose, chair of the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Labor Committee that’s considering the bill (HB 341), said a handful of amendments to address issues raised in each camp will be added before the legislation is reported next week.
“I’ve got a whole list of concerns that other members have brought to my attention,” he said in an interview.
However, the chairman said he’s hopeful that any differences can be resolved before the committee meets again next week.
“I think that we’re close enough in all of those negotiations that we’ll be able to bring this in for a landing on Tuesday,” he said.
Lawmaker concerns include reversing penalties set in a previous towing industry overhaul bill (SB274, 130th General Assembly) and giving the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio more authority over towing businesses, Sen. LaRose said.
Under the bill, a tiered violation and penalty system would be created to separate major and minor penalties.
Industry advocates have been supportive of the change because new PUCO regulations that went into effect last month as a result of SB274 could be a death knell for businesses that commit administrative offenses such as failing to provide towing cost estimates or receipts.
“There are several changes where a major violation is turned into a minor violation,” Sen. LaRose said. “There are a few members who have concerns about that and so we’re working through those discussions.”
In addition to fines that increase along with the number of major and minor violations, the bill keeps in place the ultimate penalty of repeat offenders losing their Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity that are now governed by the PUCO.
Sen. LaRose said committee members are leery about a provision that would give the PUCO more control over the industry by allowing it to set towing rates.
Currently, tow away zone laws set the rates at $90 for a tow and $12 per day for storage. Those fees would increase slightly to reflect the consumer price index and the commission would hold a hearing after five years to potentially set new rates if the bill becomes law.
The price for tows that occur after traffic accidents have long been up for debate as insurers claim that some companies send inflated bills for coverage. The bill creates a Towing and Quick Clear Board to review appeals while owners get their cars repaired.
Although the Association of Professional Towers-Ohio and the Ohio Insurance Institute are backing the solution, Sen. LaRose said changes may need to be made in that area of the legislation.
“I think there is a well-known sense around here that the administration just doesn’t like creating new boards under the idea that we have quite a few already and we just don’t want to go creating new boards every General Assembly,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Towing and Recovery Association of Ohio has submitted some of its own amendments. At least four are being considered, its counsel Robert Mecklenborg said.
Among the requests: That the final version of the legislation address problems that can occur when offering consumers that ability to pay with credit cards with the use of a mobile device and limit the prohibition on compensation for authority to tow vehicles to monetary compensation.
“These hard-working men and women perform an important service which promotes the free flow of travel and trade day after day often under severe and dangerous conditions. They perform these regulated and needed services only after considerable training and capital outlay,” Mr. Mecklenborg told lawmakers.
“This bill gives you the opportunity to go beyond providing the traditional lip service to our small businesses by improving the regulatory climate in which they operate.”
The legislation as it stands would give operators more leeway in various instances, such as increasing the number of miles a towing lot can be located away from the site of the tow and clarifying that drivers must deliver cars to low within two hours only if it’s practical.
It also creates a process for a storage lot to receive a salvage title for abandoned or junk vehicles so that space can be freed up in a reasonable amount of time. Witnesses who testified in support of the measure on Thursday applauded the provision that makes changes to a process put in place by SB274.