Ruth Lemmon

CHARLESTON – Everyone who sells cars for West Virginia dealers will need a license to stay in the business.

A new state law will require licenses not only for those who sell cars but also for those who arrange loans and sell insurance.

About 2,000 dealership owners already held West Virginia licenses. Now they must make sure that everyone in their sales force of 5,000 obtains a license.

It won't take any effort for those already in sales jobs. Under a grandfather clause they will receive licenses automatically.

Every new salesperson must pay $25 for a background check, fill out a form, pass a test, leave fingerprints, and receive identification with a photograph.

An initial license will cover three to seven years, at $7 a year. When it runs out a renewal will cost $10 for five years.

New salespersons won't have to rush to apply. Although the law took effect June 9, the Legislature stretched the licensing deadline out to Jan. 1, 2008.

"We have about 18 months to phase everybody in," said Division of Motor Vehicles spokesman Steve Dale. "We hope people will not wait until the last moment."

In the background check the department will search for criminal records. On other points of integrity, the department will take the word of applicants.

Applicants must report if they previously held sales licenses, if anyone refused licenses to them, if anyone revoked or suspended their licenses, if they worked for dealers whose licenses were suspended or revoked, or if they were convicted of felonies.

They must even report child support obligations more than six months in arrears.

If anyone lies on the application, the division will refuse to issue a license.

If anyone obtains a license through misrepresentation or fraud, the commissioner of motor vehicles may suspend or revoke the license.

The division will not issue a license if any state has denied, suspended or revoked an applicant's privilege to sell cars, unless the applicant can show that he or she would be eligible for reinstatement in that state.

No one will sell for two dealers at once without a waiver from the commissioner.

When a salesperson leaves a dealership, the dealer will report it in 10 days. The license will become inactive, but another dealer can transfer the license and reactive it.

Salespersons will not have to display the license, but they will have to display it on demand to any customer, law enforcement official or division employee.

Each dealer will conspicuously display a list of all licensed salespersons.

The commissioner may revoke or suspend a license if anyone violates dealer laws or division orders, misappropriates money from customers, misrepresents terms of a sale, engages in deception, forges a name, or fills out a fraudulent title.

Revocation will mean permanent withdrawal of the privilege of selling cars, unless an applicant can explain why the commissioner should restore the privilege.

Anyone may appeal to the division for reversal of an order denying, suspending or revoking a license. Anyone may appeal a final order of the division to circuit court. Anyone may appeal a circuit court order to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Dale said division officials worked ten to 15 years on the law. He said that because all states bordering West Virginia required licenses, officials feared West Virginia would attract those who could not get licenses in other states.

He said officials also worried about the access that salespersons have to personal financial information.

He said, "There needed to be a little closer scrutiny."

A survey in 2003 found that each year, dealers hire about 2,400 new salespersons and about 1,800 salespersons transfer from one dealer to another.

This year, Rep. L. Brent Boggs of Gassaway, Braxton County, sponsored a bill the division drafted.

The state Motor Vehicle Advisory Board endorsed it.

So did the private West Virginia Automobile Dealers Association.

"Our people supported it because they wanted to treat people right," said WVADA Executive Director Ruth Lemmon.

She said many dealers videotape finance and insurance offices.

"A camera rolls to make sure the customer is being treated fairly and given the right information," she said.

"We deal with privacy issues more than we did five years ago. You want to make sure that person is credentialed enough so you can feel comfortable turning over all this private and personal information to them."

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