S.2615 Hide No Harm Act of 2014

Question of the Day 1:  Will NHTSA’s investigation of Fiat Chrysler revive S.2615?

Yesterday I contacted my U.S. senators (Kaine and Warner, democrats from Virginia) and asked them about the Hide No Harm Act of 2014. I shared the short version of the Jeep #4 story and explained that it led me to become more interested in consumer protection. My experience is benign compared to what has happened with the Jeep fire, GM ignition, and Takata airbag fatalities. The corporate culture and lack of accountability that creates flawed designs and defective products from date of sale, which lead to fires and water leaks and financial and time losses to customers, perhaps loss of life or injury, however, is the same.

S.2615 establishes criminal penalties, including jail time (5 years) for corporate executives who fail to notify appropriate government agencies, employees, and consumers of defects and dangers. At the same time, it would protect executives who take steps and do the right thing.

The bill would eliminate the $35 million penalty that the National Highway Transportation Association can fine Fiat Chrysler. That’s $35 million per recall; NHTSA is investigating nearly two dozen Fiat Chrysler recalls. It sounds like a lot to us regular folk, but as is pointed out in the press conference introducing S.2615, corporations view these fines as “the cost of doing business,” and they don’t effect changes in business practices.

This bill says that in America we put people before profits. — Katherine McFate, president and CEO of Center for Effective Government

Question of the Day 2:  Why wasn’t S.2615 passed? Why was it “referred to committee”?

Some say “referred to committee” means the bill “died.” A similar thing happened with H.R. 4451, S.2615’s sister bill in the House of Representatives.

The press conference introducing S.2615, which occurred on July 16 last year, is worth watching. Following is a quote that reflects the spirit of the bill.

In our day-to-day lives we don’t behave the way we find a corporate executive would behave. A neighbor would not sell a car to another neighbor that he knew had an ignition failure that was going to leave the car stuck on the highway and imperil the driver. A doctor would not prescribe a drug to a patient that she knew was going to lead a heart attack in that patient. A mother or father would not serve peanut butter to a child that they knew was going to give the kid salmonella. The people who run corporations are neighbors, and mothers and fathers and friends, but they behave differently when they are inside the corporation. A different culture exists and different social norms have been allowed to prevail. There is no other way to explain what is going on. They are not held accountable, and they don’t believe that they are supposed to behave the way they would in their day-to-day lives, according to the he same moral code they would exercise in their homes or with their family or with their friends. — Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen

When people feel they can’t trust the management of American companies to behave responsibly, with candor, with honesty, they don’t trust the products that those people produce. — Katherine McFate, Center for Effective Government

America and its politics will change when everyday citizens like you and me stand up and speak up. (I admit I’ve not done enough of this.) I encourage you to write to your political representatives about the issues you care about (even if you did not vote for him or her and you don’t agree with how they want to better the country). Yes, it can be frustrating when you get the boilerplate responses, but keep going.

Americans deserve an effective government, by the people and for the people (not run by corporate and industry lobbying). Effective government includes a Supreme Court that does not have activist judges, but rather judges who uphold the law and understand the limits of their role and the purpose of the checks and balances of the three branches of government we all learned about in school.

Cast your vote. Engage in respectful dialogue and debate (not name calling and silencing people who disagree with you). Find common ground as a base from which to begin. Most people share the same goals of reducing poverty, creating jobs, ensuring everyone has access to decent health care, keeping our country (and the personal information government agencies have collected on us) secure, and so on. The disagreement is often in how to achieve the goals.

Always treat others with respect, especially when you they don’t give you the same courtesy. Be willing to listen and learn and think about the issues in a new way and from someone else’s perspective and experience.

Government reform starts today. It starts with you.

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