When you’re driving down the road behind a dump truck, sometimes a rock kicks up and bangs into your windshield.
Today, there are 34 independent, small mom-and-pop shops in Connecticut that replace auto glass. That’s down from about 70 such shops about 15 years ago.
A bill approved Tuesday by the state House of Representatives “prohibits insurers from requiring where an automobile has to have their glass replaced or repaired,” said state Rep. Robert Megna, the co-chairman of the legislature’s insurance and real estate committee.
The bill was approved by 107 to 38 on a bipartisan basis as four Democrats joined with 34 Republicans against the measure.
Overall, the automotive glass industry is “probably represented by five third-party claims administrators,” Megna said.
“You can’t tell an individual … to have their automobile glass replaced at a particular shop. Kind of what we do when it comes to autobody work,” Megna told his colleagues on the House floor. ”It’s a small thing. The installation is essentially the same. However, there are many small businesses – competitively priced – that can undertake the work. You have these small businesses that are disappearing. … What this does is help out those small businesses from disappearing. … Many of them are disappearing by this behavior.”
Megna, who said that 20 small businesses had testified in front of the insurance committee on House Bill 5072, said three of the benefits of the bill were to ”provide consumers with choice, keep an insurer from having an unfair advantage and keep these small businesses in business.” He added, “This is the evolution of an existing statute.”
Describing them as “small claims,” Megna said the prices are normally $300 to $400.
The subtext of the debate, insiders said, is that two former House Speakers – James Amann and Richard Balducci – have been working behind the scenes for different sides on the automotive glass issue.
Rep. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican who opposed the bill, said that the state’s insurance department said in testimony that the legislation was unnecessary.
“If there’s a problem to be solved, I don’t see where it is,” said Sampson, the ranking House Republican on the insurance committee who debated the steering statute that is known as 38 (a) – 354. “I don’t believe it is the business of this body or government in general” to get involved in the auto glass issue.
He added, “I think it’s going to hurt consumers. … There are no complaints at the insurance department. I don’t think it’s going to work. This bill tells private businesses that they have to refer other private businesses.”
After a long response by Megna at one point, Sampson said, “Forgive me. I didn’t really follow the chairman’s answer.”
House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said there is a fear that the third-party administrators, known as TPAs, “will steer the business to their guys.”
Cafero said that a consumer might want to say, “I want to go to Cafero’s glass shop or I want to go to Megna’s glass shop or somebody else’s glass shop.”