The reelection of President Bush and increased pro-business majorities in both chambers of Congress have the business community expecting great things from the 109th Congress. The president has laid out an ambitious second-term agenda, including social security reform, tax code overhaul, legal reforms, and other proposals to help protect American industry's competitiveness. While it may be tempting to sit back and assume important legislation will pass more easily, it is more critical than ever that our industry take an active role in ensuring our issues are taken into consideration.
President Bush has already signed class action reform into law and asbestos liability reform is under discussion in the Senate. But the work doesn't end there. Our industry is exceptionally vulnerable to product liability suits; you don't have to look far to find a dealer that has been named in at least one asbestos-related lawsuit. We have heard stories of dealers involved in suits where the claimant could not even prove they had purchased an asbestos-containing product from that dealer. We also know trial lawyers are actively searching for “the next asbestos.” The LBM industry can count on being squarely in the crosshairs of their effort.
NLBMDA's Government Affairs Committee, a group of dealers and state association executives who volunteer to direct the association's legislative activities, met in January to review legislative priorities for the LBM industry. Dealers who provided feedback to our year-end issues survey overwhelmingly cited legal reforms as their No. 1 legislative concern. In response, NLBMDA has set product liability reform as our top priority for the 109th Congress. We will work to promote reforms that specifically include a liability protection for sellers that were not involved in the design, specification, or manufacture of a product.
NLBMDA's Washington office is already hard at work lining up supporters in Congress. But there are powerful and well-funded groups opposed to any reforms that might limit a consumer's ability to collect damages for future injury or illness. Success in this effort will require the ongoing involvement of dealers across the country, united to educate legislators of the critical need for product liability reform.
Last month, approximately 200 dealers came to Washington to lobby their representatives during NLBMDA's Legislative Conference. This was just the beginning. Later this year, dealers will be hosting their legislators for discussions at their yards. You can take part in this effort by joining NLBMDA's Advocacy Network. You'll receive monthly updates and notifications when your participation is needed. If you've never contacted your legislator before, we have resources to explain how to do it and talking points to help you communicate your message. Sign up by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.dealer.org for more information.
Colleen Rocha Levine is director of legislative affairs for NLBMDA.