Two former House Speakers turned lobbyists are facing off over a bill regulating auto glass, legislation that has escaped extensive attention amid controversial debates on the death penalty, liquor regulations and teacher tenure.
The bill creating the Speaker vs. Speaker clash is H.B. 5231. It would require insurance companies to provide a list of auto glass shops instead of referring a customer to one specific shop.
Under current law, insurers are required to ask customers if they have a preferred glass shop and, if the customer doesn’t, can suggest one.
This is a contentious issue because Safelite Solutions, a subsidiary of auto glass company Safelite, has contracts to administer auto glass claims for insurers. Therefore, when customers of client insurance companies call to report a broken windshield, Safelite Solutions takes the call.
If a customer has no preferred auto glass dealer, Safelite Solutions can refer customers to Safelite.
Richard Balducci, vice president of Doyle, D’Amour & Balducci, represents Safelite and opposes the bill. A longtime representative of Newington in the legislature who now lives in Deep River, Balducci served as Speaker two decades ago.
James Amann represents the companies that support the bill, including Pay Less Auto Glass, The Whalley Glass Company, Plymouth Auto Glass, Auto Glass of New England Hamden and National Glass & Mirror, according to state ethics filings.
Pay Less Auto Glass was one of Amann’s first clients, according to the Connecticut Mirror.
James Amann, who represented Milford, served as Speaker of the House from 2005 to 2008, immediately preceding current Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden.
Amann formed his lobbying firm, International Government Strategies, after a $120,000 gig advising Donovan fell through. He did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Balducci said “when you undress the bill” the object is to get at Safelite, his client, because “they’re the big guy.”
“What they want us to do is more or less to advertise for them,” he explained. “They want us to present a list. Our guys would then become liable.”
“We are trying to continue our business as everyone can continue theirs,” he said.
Balducci said both the state Insurance Department and insurance companies in Connecticut oppose the bill. “There’s no complaint from consumers on this,” he said.
“We help save consumers money by shortcutting the process,” Balducci said.
Balducci said customers have the opportunity to go to any shop if they have a preference, but if Safelite Solutions provides a list, it seems like an endorsement.
“We become liable for making this recommendation,” he said.
Balducci said he chuckled thinking of the bill as a competition between him and Amann – or “Jimmy” as Balducci called him.
“He’s a lobbyist. I’m a lobbyist,” Balducci said. “We’re just like anybody else up there. No big difference.”