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Competitors no longer get say in letting movers open up in Connecticut

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published June 14. 2013 4:00AM
Bill approved to remove obstacles for firms from other states

Hartford - The state would no longer stop out-of-state moving companies from opening shop in Connecticut based on the opposition of competitors, under a bill passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor's signature.

Last year, the state Department of Transportation denied an application by Coutu Bros Movers of Rhode Island to expand into North Stonington because owner Bob Romano failed to prove "public convenience and necessity." In making its decision, the DOT took into account the potential impact on competitors.

"I found that to be an abomination," said state Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown.

After reading an account in The Day in January, Williams successfully pushed through changes to the certification process.

"I just found the whole process with regard to moving companies to be ridiculous, because in their application, the DOT found that they did everything right," Williams said.

Romano demonstrated he had the necessary experience and money and no criminal convictions, according to the final decision on his application.

But two moving companies, Atherton & Sons Moving & Storage in Pawcatuck and Barnes Moving & Storage in Mystic, told the DOT that their business was down 30 to 40 percent since the housing market decline in 2007.

"Ask a competitor, 'Do you want another competitor in the business to drive down prices and provide a better service?' Of course they don't want this," Williams said.

At first, Williams said, he wanted to repeal the entire certificate, which applies to moving, taxicab, livery and motorbus businesses. But as he spoke with more industry representatives, he decided that some of the regulations, such as the need for criminal background checks and a study of the impact on state highways, made sense.

His original bill, House Bill 6031, did not make it out of the Transportation Committee, but he was able to put together a coalition of Republicans and one Democrat, state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, to sponsor an amendment to Senate Bill 190, which concerns penalties for unlawful uses of dirt bikes.

Maynard, whose district includes Pawcatuck and Mystic, said he supported the amendment because he shared Williams' sentiments.

"It was troubling. On the basis of existing competitors, you would be sort of sent packing. But ... it is nuanced. …. To take no consideration of it (competition) might be problematic in the future," Maynard said on Thursday.

For example, a large-scale operation could come in and dominate the marketplace, he said.

"We will have to be cautious of that, we will have to see how it works," Maynard added. If the legislation causes other problems, the General Assembly will have to revisit the issue, he said.

Spokesman Kevin Nursick said the DOT doesn't have an issue with the regulation change.

"It was never the DOT that said that competition or proving the need for the service in the state should be part of the decision-making process. That was the General Assembly, so we are only executing the regulations that the General Assembly provides," Nursick said.

The changes came too late for Romano, who instead expanded his business in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Romano said the bill was a great "first step" but that he would have liked to see the entire "need and necessity clause" taken out.

"I feel that if an entrepreneur wants to come in and use his own resources, the state should welcome it with open arms, and if it fails, the taxpayers don't have to pay anything," Romano said.

Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said the original regulation was "ridiculous" and did not allow the free enterprise system to work.

"I think we are satisfied for now," he said of the new bill.

Williams said legislators hear complaints from businesses on taxes, energy and insurance costs and regulations.

"We are going to be aggressively out there, many of us talking to businesses about what is hampering their ability to grow and put together a regulation reform package next year," he said.

j.somers@theday.com

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