It has been a year since hurricanes ravaged much of the Gulf Coast, and little progress has been made to correct the underlying problems that contributed to the devastation endured by Americans there. Many of the problems are complex and will take time to correct.
But one national travesty can be fixed quickly: It is the lack of uniformity in vehicle titling laws in the 50 states. Now is the time for Congress to end the title washing that those inconsistencies foster and that threatens dealers and consumers. Without action, unscrupulous salvage operators can repair totaled vehicles, take them to states where they get clean titles and foist them off on unsuspecting buyers.
Dealers support a bill introduced by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., that would require insurance companies to report every vehicle they declare a total loss, whether damaged by bad weather, theft or a crash. The information would go into a national database that would be readily accessible.
It's not a new problem. The National Automobile Dealers Association, which has lobbied for a national-title-branding bill for more than a decade, says the Lott bill would protect Americans from unknowingly buying one of the 5 million vehicles that are declared totaled by insurance companies each year.
NADA has used the publicity generated by Hurricane Katrina and the other major storms of 2005 to exert pressure on Congress. But what seems an obvious solution to a nagging problem that fosters vehicle fraud is opposed by the American Insurance Association, which favors improvements in state titling practices and electronic links among states.
The problem with that approach is that efforts to improve matters state by state have failed because crooks know where state laws are lax. Despite the efforts of dealers and auctions, title washing remains a problem.
What is needed is a national solution.
Although this is an election year, Congress must not get bogged down in politics. The Lott bill would protect consumers and dealers in red states and blue states. Now is the time for Congress to enact an anti-title-washing bill and for President Bush to sign it.
To do anything less would be unconscionable.