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May 30. 2013 10:08PM

Senate OKs changes made by House on auto dealer bill

CONCORD — The Senate on Thursday agreed to changes the House made to a bill auto dealers say will give them greater flexibility in their business dealings with auto manufacturers.

Senate Bill 126, or the Auto Dealers Bill of Rights, had overwhelming support in both the House and Senate and now goes to Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has not said what she intends to do with the legislation.

The bill changes business practices between manufacturers and their dealers, giving local auto, and construction and farm equipment dealers more flexibility to run their franchises. All other states have similar laws.

Supporters say the bill will level the playing field for the dealers who have said they are often held hostage to the manufacturers' demands.

But opponents believe the bill overturns existing business contracts and rather than leveling the playing field tilts it significantly in favor of the dealers.

"No one knows the business landscape of New Hampshire better than the men and women who own and operate these local dealerships every day," said Pete McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association. "This law ensures that critical decisions about spending and sales are made right here in New Hampshire, not in a corporate conference room in some other state."

Manufacturers say the bill is unprecedented and will drive up costs for consumers, adversely affect their brand image and efforts to make auto purchasing more consumer friendly.

But local auto dealers say they are often threatened with loss of their franchises if they do not bow to manufacturers' demands to update showrooms and change signs and locations.

SB 126 includes a "buy local" provision allowing dealers to use New Hampshire contractors and suppliers when updating facilities and limits upgrades to once every 15 years. Most states have a 10-year limit on mandated updates.

The bill also requires manufacturers to pay dealers retail rates for labor and parts when they perform warranty work and requires manufacturers to open their inventory and sales files to dealers.

"For too long, there has been a one-way dialogue with manufacturers and it has cost New Hampshire dealers millions of dollars," says Andy Crews, President and CEO of Autofair.

The bill's provisions also cover equipment and farm and construction equipment dealers.

No immunity

The Senate killed a bill that would have granted immunity to gun owners whose weapons are stolen and then used in a crime.

House Bill 388 passed the House on a 211-151 vote after a committee recommendation to kill the bill was overturned on a 192-167 vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee said the bill would have been more restrictive than current case law rather than protect gun owners.

Status quo

The Senate killed a bill that would have limited the state Liquor Commission's authority to transfer funds within the agency. House Bill 394 was one of the recommendations from the Special House Committee to Evaluate the NH State Liquor Commission that met last summer and fall.

The bill would have required the commission to seek Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee approval for transfers greater than 5 percent of its operating budget.

The Liquor Commission opposed the bill saying limiting transfers would harm revenue enhancing programs such as the "Outlet Price Busters" marketing campaign producing $2 million in additional sales in a four-month period.

The commission said the bill would also hamper repairs, relocations and renovations at liquor outlets.

grayno@unionleader.com


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