Former five-term state representative Peter Petrarca, whose ties to the auto body industry emerged as issue during his 2012 re-election campaign, has registered to lobby at the General Assembly this session for the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island.
Although Petrarca doesn't yet show up on the state's lobbyist registration system, the Secretary of State's office and Petrarca confirm he has registered to lobby for ABARI through his firm, Orion Consulting.
Petrarca says his top legislative priority for ABARI is a bill set to be heard Tuesday by the House Corporations Committee. The bill would create two distinct classifications for auto body shops, with different reimbursement for each. A handful of other bills related to insurance and auto body shops are also expected in this session.
The General Assembly has passed a series of bills related to auto body shops in the last decade. The insurance industry blames the bills for driving up the cost of car insurance in Rhode Island; Petrarca rejects that argument and says he believes the cost of insurance has declined in recent years.
Petrarca says the bill with two classifications for auto body shops is "not going to raise the cost for consumers when there's so much competition going on. That is a red herring." Petrarca says the two classification system is a matter of fairness for shops that invest more money in their businesses.
In a statement provided to RIPR, Frank O'Brien, vice president of state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, says, "Rhode Island now has the second-highest average body shop collision repair cost in the US, and Rhode Islander drivers are now paying the fifth-highest average collision insurance premium in the nation. PCI believes these increased costs are directly related to 17 pieces of legislation promoted by the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island (ABARI) that have become law over the past 10 years. We are concerned that ABARI’s 2014 bills (H-7404, H-7405, and H-7796) will continue this trend of increased costs for Rhode Island drivers."
Last year, the Providence Journal's Kathy Gregg reported on the auto insurance industry's deep disappointment about how Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law legislation limiting when they can declare a car "a total loss." O'Brien also decried what he described as the outsized influence of the auto body lobby.
Petrarca says the auto insurance industry is motivated by a desire to maxmize its profits while paying "the bare minimum" to consumers.
Petrarca's father, John, owns Providence Auto Body. Petrarca practices law with his sister, Jina Petrarca-Karampetsos, who has lobbied in the past for the Auto Body Association of RI.
Auto body legislation emerged as an issue in the Democratic primary 2012, when Gregory Costantino ousted Petrarca as a rep from Lincoln.
During a debate that year on WPRI-TV's Newsmakers, Costantino said Petrarca voted on auto body bills in 2003 and 2010, and Costantino called that a conflict of interest. A subsequent Providence Journal PolitiFact report found that Petrarca did vote on the two bills, although he denied the action posed a conflict of interest "because it doesn't affect body shops," Petrarca told the Journal. "He [Costantino] should get his facts right."
Petrara was a member of the House leadership as a senior deputy majority leader before he lost his seat. He says he has no intention of seeking a political comeback.