ABAT Fights for Safe Repairs and Fair Appraisal at the Capitol

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

They came down from the north central plains of Dallas. They journeyed from as far east as Houston and Beaumont, and they made the trek from San Antonio in the south.

Two technicians even traversed the Chihuahuan desert, leaving their homes in El Paso at midnight and driving nine hours to reach Austin – nearly 30 passionate people in various positions, from all over Texas, came together last month in the name of safe repairs and fair appraisal!

ABAT members know how important it is for Texas consumers’ cars to be repaired correctly and to pre-loss condition, and they also recognize the value of ensuring policyholders have access to the Right to Appraisal when there’s a value dispute with an insurer. And on Thursday, February 23, they made sure that Lone Star State legislators were also aware of exactly how relevant these matters are during the association’s 2023 Collision Day at the Capitol in Austin. Body shop owners, technicians and other automotive professionals, along with participants from non-partisan consumer advocacy group Texas Watch, gathered in unity to garner support for House Bill 1321, the Safe Repairs Bill, and House Bill 1437/Senate Bill 554, the Fair Appraisal Bill (flip to page 6 for a brief explanation of both bills or get the details on what ABAT has been up to legislatively in recent issues of Texas Automotive, available at grecopublishing.com/texas-automotive-archives).

“Passing HB1321 and HB1437/SB554 will greatly enhance the safety of Texas consumers, and we gathered in Austin to bring legislators’ attention to some matters we feel should be addressed,” said ABAT President Burl Richards. “Both of these bills are designed to address safety issues for Texas drivers, and ABAT thought it was really important to make sure our legislators were fully aware of these issues so they understand why they need to vote in favor of safe repairs and fair appraisal. We aren’t just body shop owners; we’re also their constituents, and we’re calling on them to help us!”

Advocates for the two bills spent the day “visiting nearly 150 legislators’ offices and attending over a half dozen meetings we’d scheduled in advance,” according to ABAT Executive Director Jill Tuggle. “We passed out flyers that described both bills in an easy-to-understand way along with pamphlets from Texas Watch containing testimony from consumers who have been impacted by the appraisal process. I believe everyone we spoke to now has a better understanding of why we’re so passionate about our legislation.”

Texas Watch Executive Director Ware Wendell agreed, “It was a great day with an outstanding turnout of safety advocates from all across the state who blanketed the Capitol. It was a privilege to visit legislators’ offices shoulder to shoulder with all the good people from ABAT. We’re building great momentum and impressing upon the entire legislature that we’ve got to get this legislation passed.”

ABAT Board member Robert McDorman (Auto Claim Specialists) was pleasantly surprised to find many of the legislators already possessed knowledge of HB1321 and HB1437/SB554. “It’s apparent that we have made a lot of progress in providing our representatives and senators with a better grasp of why safe repairs are quality repairs and how appraisal is the guardrail for indemnification when a dispute over the loss arises between the insurer and the insured because nearly every legislator I spoke with had some knowledge of our bills! They were all very interested in how safe repairs and fair appraisal will benefit and protect Texas consumers, and they asked some very insightful, direct questions to better understand why this fight means so much to us. It was a full day, but it went better than expected, and our success directly resulted from everybody’s efforts to raise awareness…Several representatives specifically mentioned that they have received calls from their constituents, and that’s a direct testimony to ABAT members’ passion and dedication to our legislative agenda.”

“The fruits of our labor has shown through the positive outcomes we experienced during our meetings on Capitol Day,” ABAT Lobbyist Jacob Smith (Longleaf Consulting) concurred. “It’s very exciting that we enjoyed so much support not just from the legislators when we were in Austin but also from the ABAT members who showed up to do this important work that day, during the interim and year-round. Many legislators knew a lot about our bills because of all the awareness we generated in between legislative sessions, and it seems like everyone understands the issues…and the majority of folks even seem to realize these bills need to be passed because they’re in the best interest of Texans; they protect the safety of the motoring public.”

Tuggle also believes that the legwork ABAT and Texas Watch did in advance made a huge difference. “Jacob has been doing a great job of visiting legislators’ offices to educate them about these bills, and our members have been emailing their representatives since the last session ended. We also sent out flyers the day before heading to Austin, and as a result of that joint effort, all the pieces fell together perfectly; the day went exactly as we hoped it would, and I’m feeling very optimistic about the progress we made.”

What made the day so successful really boiled down to the common ground that advocates were able to find with legislators. “They’re just people who want to make sure our cars and trucks are safe, and now they better understand how the insurance industry puts pressure on shops to cut corners,” Wendell recalled. “It’s unfair

to the consumer and the shop, but more importantly, it’s dangerous for everyone on the road when insurers are allowed to put their profits before our safety. That message came through loud and clear, and although you could see legislators and their staff getting the point, we’re going to keep educating them about why we need safety in this state.”

Stressing the importance of safe repairs, Richards explained, “Shops are responsible for repairing these vehicles, yet insurance companies – merely a third-party payer – want to dictate the repair process to us when they aren’t the ones liable for unsafe repairs. I think legislators really enjoyed hearing the perspective of the technician who told them he can’t perform a truly proper repair when the insurer won’t pay for it, and that just ain’t right…It hurts the vehicle owner and creates the potential to hurt others on our roadways! Yet, insurers are only interested in their own profits, and that’s also why they want to remove the Appraisal Clause from their policies, preventing consumers from being able to have a fair method for value disputes with their carrier.”

Senator Phil King’s recent introduction of Senate Bill 1083, also related to the use of OEM versus aftermarket parts, on behalf of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), offered another example of how widespread this problem has become. “The fact that other organizations are bringing up this issue clearly indicates that it’s an important topic to more than one sector of the industry,” Tuggle pointed out, indicating that it’s likely ABAT will support TADA’s bill.

“We made it very clear that a line has been drawn in the sand,” Wendell added. “On one side, you have the people pushing for safety – repair professionals, consumers, manufacturers and auto dealers. The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) both recently highlighted how the Right to Appraisal protects consumers. And on the other side of the line, you have for-profit insurance companies that are just trying to increase their profits. Everyone we talked to seems to have walked away with a better comprehension of where the line was drawn and who stands on each side of it.”

The day was filled with interactions that left ABAT members hopeful for the future, and one of the most important meetings took place with staff members from the Business and Commerce Committee, which is where HB1321 and HB1437/SB554 are likely to wind up. “I believe the committee staff has an excellent understanding of the intent of both bills, and they seemed very receptive to them,” Smith reported.

“I’m glad that we got a chance to meet with everyone and really help them understand the importance of appraisal because it’s a complicated (but extremely important) issue,” Tuggle added. “I feel like we opened some eyes simply by explaining that this isn’t something new we’re asking for; it’s something we already have and are trying to keep, but the insurance companies want to take the Appraisal Clause away from us.”

“So many insurance companies are trying to get policies approved with bad appraisal provisions,” Wendell lamented. “It’s the eleventh hour on this; we have to get this bill through the process, and we’re very hopeful about our chances since we have Senator Bryan Hughes as a sponsor.”

Fortunately, the number of advocates visiting legislators offered a unique opportunity to find common ground with legislators and their staff members on these matters.

ABAT Board member Greg Luther (Helfman Collision; Houston) spoke with a state representative who recently had a repair cost dispute with his insurance company where the insurer wanted to underpay by $2,000 compared to the shop’s repair plan. The legislator was unaware that the Appraisal Clause existed for him to invoke and was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a safeguard to protect consumers in such situations. “His personal experience helped him truly understand the importance of requiring Right to Appraisal in Texas insurance policies,” Tuggle recounted. In fact, after all the visits were conducted, “every single participant shared stories about people they’d met with who’d had negative collision repair or claim handling experience, so they all really understood the issues we were talking about.”

While engaging in a conversation with a staffer about her son’s vehicle being returned recently after an accident where the other party was at fault, Richards recommended that she pursue diminished value on the claim, and she indicated that she would be doing exactly that after he explained the concept to her. Another lady kept insisting, “We have something in common” because her family owns several dealerships and mechanical shops, according to Richards who told her to “stress to her representative that this legislation matters to her too because it affects her family! Being able to have these types of personal conversations to help people understand what we’re trying to do is invaluable.”

McDorman recalled a meaningful exchange between a legislator’s chief of staff and two former shop owners, Craig and Rhonda Anderson, who discussed their decision to sell their shop due to bullying from the insurance industry. “They were not able to repair cars the way they should and stay competitive, so they elected to get out of the business,” McDorman recalled, adding that the listener was so invested in their story that he expressed interest in supporting ABAT’s legislation.

In fact, a number of legislators “from both sides of the aisle indicated interest in signing on to support our bills,” Smith reported. “It’s always refreshing when an issue has bipartisan support because that’s how you really know that what we’re doing is truly in everyone’s best interests.”

Overall, Richards believes the group’s efforts were “very positive. This was our third time doing this and the best experience by far. I’ve got to tip my hat to Jill, Ware, Jacob and Kelly [Taft from Texas Watch]. The sheer size of the Capitol can be overwhelming, but Jill had the plans organized and gave everyone tasks, so we were able to maximize our time and accomplish more than ever before. It’s taken a few sessions, but we’re starting to feel like seasoned professionals now!”

ABAT celebrated the day’s successes by treating participants to dinner at the prestigious Austin Club, and the gathering reminded Tuggle “how important it is to get together and work on these issues. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day of life and business, but every time we gather, I remember that we’re incredibly powerful together, and it gives me so much hope for all the great things we’re going to do legislatively and for our industry.”

The complete text of HB1321 can be found in its entirety at bit.ly/ABAThb1321. The complete text of HB1437 can be found at bit.ly/ABAThb1437. The complete text of SB554 can be found at bit.ly/ABATsb554. Learn more about ABAT’s legislative agenda at abat.us/legislative-action, or get involved now by asking your local representatives to support HB1321 and HB1437 at texaswatch.org/fair-appraisal. 

Want more? Check out the March 2023 issue of Texas Automotive!