Volume 9, Issue 3                                      May/June  2005

Legislative Battles
Film is on the Agenda for Some Key States
by Les Shaver

The window film community, like many industries, can have a difficult time getting through to state legislators. Whether it’s lack of understanding or just a lack of concern, lawmakers don’t have window film high on their list of priorities. So when the industry can get an opening with a legislator, it’s something to be celebrated. 

That’s what happened when the International Window Film Association (IWFA) and film dealers and distributors in New York were able to get a state legislator out to Tint King in Colonie, N.Y. (a suburb of the state capitol), for an educational session. Assemblyman Michael J. Cusick (D) and one of his aides made the trip to Tint King, owned by David and Sandy Zel, after he introduced a law that would have restricted visible light transmittance (VLT) on all windows to 70 percent with exception of the rear window (if mirrors were on both sides of the vehicle). 

The IWFA contacted Cusick after he proposed the law and discovered that he was interested in learning more about the business. At Tint King, Lynwood Butner, IWFA’s legislative consultant, David Metcalfe, a sales representative for Bekaert Specialty Films in Clearwater, Fla., and the Zels taught the assemblyman about film and how his proposed law would affect the industry. Not only did Cusick witness demonstrations, but he also learned that, under his law, the windows on new SUVs would be illegal in New York.

“I thought that he seemed pretty open-minded about film when he was there,” David Zel said. “I think it was more of a case that he wasn’t educated or familiar with window film percentages and things like that. We basically showed him that what he had proposed would make all auto glass illegal. We showed him what 50 percent looks like. He obviously saw that those were very light films.”

Unfortunately, not all legislators are as open minded as Cusick. Many have, in fact, proposed laws that could hurt both the industry and the consumer. This keeps Butner, his staff and many local film dealers and distributors very busy. Here’s a look at some of the hot spots:

New York
After Cusick’s visit to Tint King, things seem to settle in the Empire State. The original bill he proposed (Assembly Bill 9698) didn’t advance. Unfortunately two bills written this year (Assembly Bills 10518 and 723) do the same things.

As Butner fights these laws, he’s working with Cusick’s office to try develop a law similar to the one in Massachusetts that allows 35 percent VLT all the way around the vehicle and has language for multi-purpose vehicles. 

“We have tried to provide sample legislation to the assembly in New York in hopes that they would recognize the benefits of putting legislation in that would make enforcement easy for citizens as well as members,” Butner said.

The association is also busy fighting two bills (Assembly Bill 3387 and Senate Bill 1640) that would add tinted or shaded windows to the list of items inspected during the annual safety inspection. While other bills proposing similar legislation failed in New York, Butner knows he must track it.

“In the past, these bills never advanced,” he said. “But you can’t take these things for granted. We need to be aware of them, let our members be aware of them and track them to make sure we keep up with what’s going on.”

Just down I-95, film dealers in Pennsylvania face similar threats as those in New York. In fact, film shouldn’t officially be applied to cars in the Keystone State. But just because film is illegal, doesn’t mean it’s not applied. In some areas, like Philadelphia, auto tinting thrives, according to Terri Fair, general manager of SAGR Products in Gettysburg, Pa.

“There are areas where authorities aren’t enforcing the film laws,” Fair said. “When tint shops are using 35 and 50 percent film, they’re not getting hassled. They take that as enabling them to install the product legally. But what happens when the cop in his area retires and a new guy comes in and shuts the film dealer down? These tinters don’t understand they’re under a lit firecracker.”

To standardize things, the IWFA, with the assistance of Fair, have worked with Pennsylvania State Representative Joseph Preston (D) to introduce Bill 277. The bill specifies 35 VLT percent on the rear window, 70 VLT percent on the front and sides, medical and multi-purpose exemptions and stiffer penalties for lawbreakers. Right now, Butner is trying to arrange a meeting between Pennsylvania officials and a local dealer to do a demonstration, similar to what he did with Tint King in New York.

But the process still has along way to go, according to Fair. Members who are getting by with tinting in the state are upset that it could be passed. 

“We can’t get the tinters to back it up,” she said. “They claim that if they can’t put the film they had been putting on the driver and passenger’s side, they’ll be out of business.”

Because of this, Fair isn’t hopeful.

“The only way it has a chance to pass is if the industry [manufacturers and distributors] go straight to [the state capitol in] Harrisburg and hire a lobbyist,” she said.

New Jersey
The third key state for the film industry in Northeast region is New Jersey. While Pennsylvania and New York are dealing with legislation affecting all drivers, New Jersey legislators are dealing with legislation for those people who are sensitive to sunlight. The legislation, Senate Bill 1791, is still in committee.

“This is for people with medical conditions, such from cancer, leukemia and eye sensitivity, that can’t have light on them as they conduct their normal business,” Butner said. “This bill would allow them to get [lower] levels of visible light transmittance on their window film to help their medical condition.”

Window film applicators in Michigan had two bills to follow over the past few years. One, Senate bill 682, was intended to assign points for various violations, such speeding and illegal film. It’s in the transportation committee.

Another bill would have eliminated the term reflectivity from the law and substituted the term absorption. As most people inside the industry know, it’s difficult to measure absorption. 

“The only way you can do it is go through a fairly lengthy process,” Butner said. “You have to take the amount of light transmitted and the amount of light reflected. Then you can come back to the remaining amount, which is being absorbed.”

Butner contacted Senator John Cherry (D) and provided him with technical information on reflectivity, absorption and reflectance and eventually the bill died.

“With the assistance of a lot of members in Michigan and manufacturers, we were able to provide them with different types of film so they could understand what we were talking about,” Butner said.

Much like parts of Pennsylvania, Nevada has a reputation of being a state where film laws aren’t really enforced. To dealers who follow the rules, such as Craig Hartman, owner of Nevada Eclipse in Carson City, this is a big issue.

“We’ve had a long-time problem with illegal tinting,” he said. “For the past couple of years, I’ve complained to the highway patrol and written letters, but they just shrugged me off.”

Then Hartman started running into important people. He tinted windows for a lady in the highway patrol who said the cops weren’t enforcing the law because they eventually wanted to get film banned. Then, as he was Christmas shopping, he saw an influential state legislator (for whom he once did work) who said the highway patrol wouldn’t enforce the film law because they wanted more money and officers. Eventually their goal was to have a “no film” law.

The last thing Hartman wanted was a film industry running rampant without laws. So he worked with the industry, contacting the IWFA, and went to the local authorities, talking to a local sheriff and the head of law enforcement. Now the enforcement head is working out a policy that Hartman hopes will end illegal tinting. Butner gives Hartman all the credit for this.

“Hartman has been invaluable to the industry in Nevada from his activity on this particular piece of legislation,” Butner said. “ He identified a potential piece of legislation that would have eliminated the film law in Nevada, he contacted the office and looked at the types of educational materials we could use [to help the authorities in Nevada].”

Like the Zel’s, Hartman has proven that a small film dealer can have a big impact on the legislation in his state.

“That’s the type of interaction we need,” Butner said. “It truly is a partnership to make these things work. It’s really extremely critical that we have that kind of ability to work with the local [film dealers] on these types of things.” 

The legislative climate in Mississippi is still not the best for the window film industry. The industry has been working for 18 months it doesn’t support. The problem areas include: no tolerance in measuring light transmittance, testing of reflectance, confusing language on multi-purpose vehicles and fees for safety inspection. 

“The requirement that film is part of safety inspection program had some problems in other states,” Butner said. “In other cases, it’s done on the spot by the enforcement official.”

Les Shaver is a contributing editor for Window Film magazine.

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