MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Dust floated off the frame as we pulled the portrait collage off the credenza. The newspaper articles pasted inside, now yellowed and faded. The picture of Germantown attorney/certified fraud examiner Kevin Snider and I -- smiling, arms over each other's shoulders -- is photo-proof that we've grayed a little bit since then.
It was 2003. 14 years ago. And it still feels special.
"It really was special," said Snider. "It brought so much reform, needed reform, to the Tennessee lemon law."
In 2003, Snider and I teamed up to lobby the Tennessee General Assembly. We set out to reform the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Warranty Act, known as the state's "lemon law" for new cars. We successfully eliminated the law's "out-of-state penalty." It dropped state auto purchase protections for Mississippians or Arkansans who bought new cars in Tennessee, then registered them in their home states. We also convinced legislators to reduce the number of times a defect must occur before a citizen can file a lemon law claim (from four to three times for a vehicle still under its manufacturer's warranty. Click here for Andy's rundown of Mid-South lemon laws).
"Actually changing the law!" marveled Snider. "I mean, that's something that, quite frankly, would never have happened without your public persona and being involved in it."
The lemon law reform effort was the start of my involvement in a series of public policy changes.
When several government agencies failed to share the arrest history of a 6-time drunk-driver with police, allowing him to keep driving drunk and kill Briarcrest Christian School students Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch in 2015, my stories spurred Tennessee lawmakers to require all DUI arrest records to be reported to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within five days and every DUI conviction to be sent to the national crime database within seven days. Because of that, police officers nationwide now have immediate access to Tennessee offenders' complete DUI histories on the computers inside their squad cars. They can avoid the mistake of charging repeat drunk-drivers as first-time offenders.
Tennessee lawmakers also tripled the fines on uninsured drivers, authorized police to tow their vehicles and mandated a statewide system for tracking uninsured drivers to suspend their auto registrations after I stood up for Rossville, Tennessee's Rhonda Cochran. In 2014, an uninsured driver crashed into and killed her son James Lee Atwood, Jr. of Memphis. Just hours earlier, that same driver was ticketed in another incident for driving without insurance, only to keep driving, fall asleep at the wheel and hit Atwood's vehicle head-on, killing him instantly. Inspired by my investigation and our lobbying efforts, lawmakers named the tougher law after Cochran's son.
"You're the only person who gave me a voice," Cochran said. "You kind of helped me in the grieving process as well, and you were the only person who did that for me."
Looking back, having an impact on public policy wasn't about a portrait in a frame. It was about people like the Lynches and Kruses -- and Rhonda Cochran. Building relationships with them. Getting to know them.
Getting them help and getting things done.
"You get a consumer advocate like yourself involved, it's just amazing how quickly doors open and get things done," said Snider.