We're On Twitter!
If you're on Twitter, let me know. I'll follow you too.
Specter Opposes Card Check
Ending weeks of speculation, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) finally broke his silence about Card Check today and said he opposes the legislation.
Specter, who was the only Republican to support Card Check in 2007, made his announcement in a speech from the Senate floor today. In his remarks he called the secret ballot "the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a Democratic society."
Click to see how national media outlets are covering Specter's announcement:
Chambers Speak Out on Card Check
More and more chambers are making their voices heard about the Employee Free Choice Act. They are submitting editorials, running newsletter articles and placing calls to representatives. They know that without direct action by concerned business leaders from across the country, it will be hard to stop this bill's momentum.
Here are a few recent examples of chambers and other business organizations speaking out about Card Check through local media:
- Card Check Law Would Hurt Small Businesses- BizTimes.com, Milwaukee
- Chamber of commerce officials oppose Employee Free Choice Act- The Fargo Moorhead (ND-MN) Forum
- Employee Free Choice Act damaging to entrepreneurs - The San Angelo (TX) Standard-Times
- State chamber rallies against federal union bill - The Minot (ND) Daily News
Mandate-Free Coverage in Oklahoma
Just last week we discussed the inherent problems with additional coverage mandates for health insurance plans. State legislatures are always proposing them, but this year, Oklahoma bucked that trend.
Last week the Oklahoma State Legislature passed a bill allowing insurers to offer mandate-free coverage to people under age 40. The mandate-free plans will allow a more affordable insurance options to Oklahoma's uninsured. According to KTEN News: "Oklahoma has 36 health insurance mandates for such procedures as immunizations for children, mammograms, breast reconstruction and prostate cancer screening."
For more info, check out this article from The Oklahoman.
Member Profile - Norma Ritz Johnson
Norma is an active member of the ACCE Government Relations Division Advisory Board. She leads the policy and government relations program for the Lubbock (TX) Chamber, a 2008 ACCE Chamber of the Year Award Winner. She's a graduate of Texas Tech and is currently completing the US Chamber's Institute for Organizational Management program.
For this interview I caught Norma in the airport on her way the state house in Austin.
ACCE: How did you get started in chamber work, and what keeps you in the profession?
Norma: I first came in contact with the chamber while working as Communications Director at National Grain Sorghum Producers Association. My communications role sort of morphed into issues management and policy oriented work during the very demanding 2002 Farm Bill negotiations. When you have a small staff, you take on new roles, I think chamber folks can appreciate that.
While at NGSP, I was a member of the Chamber's Legislative Affairs Committee and participated in, as well as sponsored, the Chamber's D.C. Fly-In. I developed some great relationships with the people here at the Chamber, and that helped pave the way for my taking on this role here when the opportunity presented itself.
Policy and legislation affects every area of life and work, and I enjoy helping others engage in and understand the process and its significance. The opportunity to represent and make a difference for small businesses and business in general is the best part of my job, and the bonus is that I get to do that while helping Lubbock grow. I have a special affection and dedication to the Lubbock area. Though I grew up in a tiny community about 30 miles from Lubbock, I was born and married within one block of the Chamber building.
ACCE: What policy issues are currently occupying your time?
Norma: Our state legislature meets biennially, in odd-numbered years for 140 days, and we are almost at the half-way mark of the 81st Texas Legislature. There are a number of issues we're monitoring and active on, but our priorities are Tier One status for Texas Tech University, health care and health insurance related legislation, transportation, and water. I'm actually on my way to the state capitol waiting to testify on a bill related to health care purchasing cooperatives that we have been working on. It will allow even greater potential improvements to our award-winning Lubbock Chamber Employer Health Plan. Yesterday, I crafted and distributed an "Action Alert" urging state legislators not to replace the 5-member Texas Transportation Commission with a single commissioner. Since we are in a less populous area of Texas away from the metropolitan center, geographic diversity and representation is always a priority for us.
ACCE: What are the biggest challenges your chamber/community currently face?
Norma: Access to water and sufficient funding to develop this infrastructure is an important local issue. Meanwhile, an aging population and the ability to retain young people are important for the future vitality of our community and to ensure population growth. Though Lubbock's economic indicators continue to look favorable compared with much of the nation, our Chamber like so many others, is watching the situation and our own bottom line closely and strategizing to be ready to help our members through this downturn in the economy. We're also working to ensure that local consumers keep the situation in perspective.
ACCE: Finish this sentence. Never again will I...
Norma: Never again will I assume that there will be someone else or some other organization to take on initiative or issue while the Chamber merely weighs in the background. Lately we've taken a more hands-on approach with many issues. We take the initiative on projects because it's our responsibility, and with many issues, if we don't do take them on, who will?
New COBRA Stimulus Provisions
Here is an issue for your radar screen. A provision in the stimulus bill allows for a 65% premium reduction on COBRA health insurance plans. It also expands the election opportunity for people who have been terminated since Sept 1, 2008.
Under the plan, COBRA eligible individuals would pay their employer 35% of their health insurance premium. Employers with more than 20 staff would then recoup the remaining 65% of the premium through a payroll tax credit. For employers with fewer than 20 staff, the remaining premium would be collected by the insurance provider.
This program could pose significant administrative headache and cash flow issues for businesses. Its an important alert for your members.
The Council of Smaller Enterprise (COSE) at the Greater Cleveland Partnership has compiled information on COBRA changes. Check out: COSE.org/COBRA. They have also put together this great on page fact sheet.
For moreinformation about COBRA changes under the stimulus and downloadable factsheets, follow this link to the Labor Department's webpage: www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRA.html
Auto Supplier Rescue
This morning the administration announced a $5 billion program to support auto parts suppliers. According to Crain's Detroit Business news: "Treasury will guarantee supplier receivables, or payments owed to suppliers for parts already shipped to automakers, and allow suppliers to sell receivables to the government for immediate liquidity access."
According to the Detroit Free Press: "The Supplier Support Program will use a trickle-down method of funneling money through Detroit automakers to their direct suppliers, increasing the power of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler to decide which of their suppliers survive."
Automotive suppliers employeethousands of people in dozens of communities across the country.
For more details Download the 2009 Auto Supplier Support Program fact sheet.
State Health Care Mandates
With state legislatures in session, additional mandated health insurance benefits are sure to come up, but chambers are working hard to fight escalating health insurance cost.
Additional mandated benefits revise the state insurance code to raise the minimum standard of benefits and coverage level that medical insurance must include. When they legislate coverage for acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, or plastic surgery, additional mandated benefits can seem frivolous and driven by narrow interest groups. When they mandate coverage for children's hearing aides or colon cancer screenings, they can seem vitally important and politically difficult to oppose.
Regardless of what ailment or treatments they seek to cover, mandated benefits drive up the cost of insurance, penalizing companies that cover their employees in the process.
Here is a glimpse at some of the proposed additional coverage mandates floating around state houses this year:
- Des Moines Register - Mental health parity bill stalled in Iowa legislature
- The Salt Lake Tribune - Legislators shunned proposed health coverage mandates
- Louisville Courier-Journal - Autism care bill goes to full Senate vote
Were additional coverage mandates introduced in your state legislature this year? Did they pass? Leave a comment and let us know.
For more information on coverage mandates check out the Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI). CAHI is a non-profit organization that tracks state health insurance mandates and estimates the cost impact of those mandates.
White House Announces Small Biz Plan
Yesterday the White House released details of their plan to help American small businesses. At its core, the plan is designed getting credit flowing by reducing the risks for local banks to make loans.
Under Obama's plan, the Treasury will buy up $15 billion in private sector securities backed by Small Business Administration loans. The plan would also guarantee SBA program 7(a) loans up to 90%.
Americans Want a Secret Ballot
According to a Rasmussen Report issued today, national polling data shows that 61% of Americans believe it is "fair to require a vote by secret ballot if workers want to form a union." 52% of Americans feel it is unfair to form a union by card authorization without a secret ballot. The poll also asked questions about giving the government power to settle contract negotiations through mandatory arbitration and the perceived difficulty for workers to unionize.
This is great data from a reliable, respected national polling organization that bolsters the case for preserving a secret ballots for union elections. As you communicate with members, and more importantly with elected officials, this is polling data you can cite.