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Tennessee and Alabama Lawmakers Look to Expand Rights of Taxpayers

Chaaron Pearson on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

Alabama and Tennessee lawmakers have introduced legislation to enhance taxpayer rights.  Tennessee Senator Randy McNally (R) and Representative Steve McDaniel (R) introduced identical pieces of legislation as SB 637/HB 462.  As introduced, these bills add certain rights regarding challenges and refunds to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and revises procedures regarding disputed taxes.  Both bills have been referred to committee.

Alabama Senator Ben Brooks (R) introduced SB 232 which creates the Alabama Tax Appeals Commission (ATAC) in addition to numerous changes to the state’s taxpayer bill of rights.  SB is being backed by the Council on State Taxation (COST) and the Alabama Business Associations’ Tax Coalition (BATC).  Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the House this week.  In a recent COST survey, Alabama ranked near the bottom, a D grade, for state tax administration systems. 

COST is backing both the Tennessee and Alabama measures as positive measures for the business community.  COST’s letter in favor of the Alabama legislation can be found here

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Chambers offer solutions to state budget crises

Chaaron Pearson on Friday, March 25, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

As states across the country battle to solve their budget deficits, a couple of states are receiving advice from their chambers.  Kentucky and Ohio are two states where chambers have taken the lead to offer recommendations to their governors and state legislatures.

Kentucky

In February 2010, the Kentucky Chamber released a Leaky Bucket white paper regarding the Kentucky State budget.  The Kentucky Chamber is concerned that the state’s budget is leaking tax dollars and thus taking millions away from Kentucky’s schools.

The first leak that they identify is corrections.  The chamber says that skyrocketing inmate costs hurt school funding.  The second leak is Medicaid.  The chamber found Medicaid costs are currently growing at twice the rate of the state budget.  The third leak is public employee health benefits.  The chamber suggests that reasonable changes in the public employee health benefits system could save $200 million.

The Kentucky is concerned that the state is spending more money on what happens to people when they fall out of the education system, an increased chance of jail or being on Medicaid instead of working to grow the workforce and strengthen the economy by focusing tax payer dollars on the education system.

Read more: Leaky Bucket report
Also mentioned in previous blog post: Kentucky passes landmark criminal justice reform

Ohio

Eight of the major metro chambers of commerce in Ohio (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown/Warren) joined with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce to offer a series of budget recommendations, titled Redesigning Ohio, to Governor Kasich.   

Redesigning Ohio is not intended to be a proposed solution to the state’s budget deficit, but if implemented, these recommendations would save the state $1.4 billion and would help restructure Ohio’s budgeting inefficiencies so that they would not end up in another fiscal crisis in the future.

Redesigning Ohio’s recommendations target specific areas of the state government that are well suited to private sector solutions.  The areas selected for reform are: budgeting for outcomes, charter agencies, entrepreneurial management, government regulations, tax expenditures, civil service, pension benefits, health care, criminal justice and local governments.  The Ohio chambers see the current budget crisis as an opportunity to take bold actions that will result in a more sustainable future.

Read more: Redesigning Ohio – Full Proposal; Executive Summary
Also mentioned in previous blog post: Changing of the Guard - Ohio

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Guns in the workplace 2011

Chaaron Pearson on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

Guns in the workplace law refers to an NRA supported bill that would guarantee employees the right to keep firearms in their vehicle on their employers property as long as the gun is concealed and the car is locked.

Proponents say that licensed gun owners should have access to protection on the drive to and from work.  Many chambers of commerce have opposed the measure on the grounds that employer's rights as property owners should allow them to restrict anyone from carrying firearms on the premises.

Guns in the workplace laws are always a contentious issue within the business community and it seems to reappear every year.  Below are four states that are currently facing new guns in the workplace legislation.

Indiana

In 2010, Indiana signed a “guns at work” bill into law prohibiting employers from banning guns from their parking lots.  Employees are now allowed to keep legally permitted firearms out of sight in their locked vehicles while they are working.

Gun rights advocates are pushing hard with new legislation during the 2011 session of the Indiana legislature.  The latest gun-related legislation in Indiana, SB 411, dubbed the “Parking Lot 2.0 bill by the NRA, would move further, not just to allow guns concealed in locked vehicles, but to allow lawsuits if employers ask job applicants or employees about gun ownership or if they require employees to disclose that they store firearms in their car.

The Indiana Chamber and their members are fighting hard against the bill.  George Raymond, vice president of human resources and labor relations at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce says that “employers are struggling to abide by a vaguely written law.  We’re opposed to the bill, just as we were to last year’s bill.”

Read more: Herald Bulletin – NRA wants Indiana lawmakers to ban employers from gun-related questions

Texas

A similar bill, SB 321, has passed the Texas senate and has a similar bill pending in the house will prohibit employers from disciplining or firing an employee for having a firearm locked in his or her vehicle on company property.  On March 16, the bill moved to the Texas house for consideration.  Business organizations, including the Texas Association of Business, have opposed this legislation warning that the bill could lead to more workplace violence.

Read more: Bloomberg Businessweek – Senate Oks letting Texans keep guns in car at work

Tennessee

The Tennessee Senate passed legislation that allows individuals with handgun permits to carry their weapons where they work.  The measure has now moved on to the House for a final vote.  This legislation will not impact places that currently ban weapons.

Read more: My Fox Memphis: Current Bans Override Guns at Work Bill

North Dakota

North Dakota’s House approved a bill similar to the bill being considered in Texas, allowing employees to keep guns locked in their vehicles while at work.  Andy Peterson, president of the North Dakota Chamber says “this bill infringes on the rights of business owners to deny access to their property as they deem appropriate.”  A Senate committee is now reviewing the legislation.

Read more: Grand Forks Herald – Proposed N.D. law allows guns in vehicles at work     

Previous ACCE guns in the workplace articles:

            Indiana Guns in the Workplace – 2010

            Guns in the Workplace in Alabama - 2009

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Redistricting 2011: Where to count Maryland’s prisoners

Chaaron Pearson on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

Craig Mathies Sr., the first black county commissioner of Somerset County, Maryland, knocked on only 15 doors during his campaign.  He didn’t have to mount a large campaign because a many of his constituents are inmates at the Eastern Correctional Institution Complex, Maryland’s largest state prison.  Those inmates can’t vote, which means Mr. Mathies’ district has only 1,400 voters while other districts have 3,000.

Mr. Mathies’ district numbers will soon change.  Last year Maryland passed a law that requires that, for the purposes of redistricting, prisoners must be counted at their last permanent address – not the place where they are incarcerated.  However, figuring out a permanent address for each prisoner isn’t always easy.  What if the prisoner was previously homeless?  What if they have no permanent address on record?  Delaware and New York, who have similar redistricting laws, will also have to come up with answers to these questions.

Karl Aro, executive director of the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, thinks the proposed methods of determining permanent addresses proposed by Maryland and New York are likely to be challenged constitutionally. 

To read more: Stateline – Where to count prisoners poses redistricting dilemma    

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Waiting for "Superman"

Chaaron Pearson on Monday, March 14, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

Last Thursday, the US Chamber hosted a conference call with former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of DC public schools, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and was featured in the documentary, Waiting for “Superman”.  They participated on the call to urge the business community to get involved with education reform.

Waiting for “Superman” analyzes the failures of the American public school system by following several students through the education system.  The documentary finally made its way to the top of my Netflix queue a few weeks ago and I would encourage anyone who has an interest in education reform to make the effort to see this film.  Director Davis Guggenheim puts faces on education statistics and reminds us that the future of our country is determined in the classroom.

Call to Action from the US Chamber:

As discussed in the US Chamber call, the American business community has a great opportunity to make a difference and lead the charge in calling for real education reform. It's crucial that businessmen and women from across the country initiate these discussions. We encourage you to take advantage of the "Reel" Resources for Education Reform kit to initiate the interest in education reform among businesses in your community, which will also be available online soon.

The National Chamber Foundation has obtained a license on behalf of your organization that allows you to publicly screen Waiting for “Superman” provided that certain conditions are met.  In order to comply with the license agreement, your organization must meet the following requirements:  

  • You MAY NOT screen the film at commercial theatrical venues, libraries, and educational facilities.
  • Screenings in public venues are subject to a 150-person limit.
  • You MAY NOT charge fees, resell, or make copies of the Waiting for “Superman” DVD.
  • Permissible screening venues include local community or civic centers, public recreation centers, chamber facilities, office complex meeting rooms, or private residences.  Note: screenings in private residences are not subject to legal requirements.
  • Once the venue has been determined, you are required to sign and send in a detachable form, which you will receive in the “Reel” Resources for Education Reform kits, to ensure compliance with the license agreement.
  • All screenings must occur before August 31, 2011.
  • Your organization is solely responsible for complying with these requirements.  If you have questions about screening, please email Blair Fowler at bfowler@uschamber.com.
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Guest Post: Greg Roth - Kentucky passes landmark criminal justice reform

Chaaron Pearson on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

On March 3, the Kentucky legislature passed historic legislation which will dramatically reform the state's criminal justice system. Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law H.B. 463 after it moved quickly through the General Assembly, passing the Senate unanimously and the House by a vote of 96-1. The reforms are expected to save the state $422 million over ten years. 

For the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, staunch supporters of the bill, the passage is the culmination of a two-year effort to measure the state's budgetary woes and advocate for better policies. As detailed in remarks by CEO David Adkisson, the state chamber began studying the state budget in 2008 and found that corrections was one of the top areas ripe for reform. The state currently spends over $20,000 per inmate and had one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the nation over the past decade. According to Adkisson, the business community pays 40% of state taxes in Kentucky, making sentencing and corrections an issue of economic competitiveness.

The findings of the chamber's study were released in the 2010 Leaky Bucket Report. As a result, the chamber began engaging legislators across the state in discussions about how to make the penal code more cost-effective.

According to Lexington' s NBC affiliate:

“The bill modernizes Kentucky drug laws by reducing prison time for low-risk, non-violent drug offenders who possess small amounts of illegal drugs. It then reinvests the savings from the reduced prison costs into drug treatment opportunities for offenders who need help. The law also strengthens probation and parole laws by basing key decisions on the risk posed by offenders and improving supervision, and links offenders to appropriate community resources.”

The bill itself was the result of analysis and recommendations from a robust task force that included legislators from both parties, the Chief Justice, the secretary of the Justice Cabinet, a former prosecutor, a public advocate, and a  county official.  The task force was aided by technical assistance from the research-driven Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

ACCE and Pew have been working together in a handful of states to educate business leaders on the necessity of and opportunity for sentencing and corrections reform that will improve public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs. Kentucky stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when the business community lends its voice to this important issue.

-Greg Roth

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Guest Post: Rod Henry - Meth and Policy

Chaaron Pearson on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

Rod Henry, CCE, President and CEO of the Terre Haute (IN) Chamber of Commerce, graciously agreed to guest-post about his community's battle to rid itself of methamphetamine.  Rod - thank you so much for taking your time to educate us!           

               What began nearly 7 years ago continues today.  The battle against the most addictive drug ever to hit the streets, methamphetamine!  The essential ingredient in the “cooking” of meth is pseudoephedrine (PSE).  NO PSE, NO METH!  Plain and simple!

                The Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce recognized the impact meth was having upon the community and partnered with the Vigo County Sheriff, Jon Marvel, in developing the first tracking ordinance for PSE sales in the state of Indiana.  This was a step taken after a great deal of thought and conversation because of how our actions could negatively impact our members.  We quickly realized, however, the number of members selling PSE was relatively small and the negative impact upon their business was far outweighed by the impact upon the community.

                Nevertheless, the Chamber of Commerce reached out to our impacted members providing them an opportunity to attend briefings to become better educated on the issue we were facing and to understand the best solution known at the time, tracking sales.  Nearly every member attended one of the briefings and expressed the usual arguments … government intervention, reducing profit  opportunities, etc.  However, once they gained additional knowledge about the devastating effects of meth upon children, our citizens, the community, and taxpayers, they agreed to support the tracking ordinance or to get out of the sales of PSE products altogether.

                Fast forward to 2010.  The ugly face of methamphetamine is again an issue.  Tracking worked for a few months at best.  We find out that meth “cookers” and sellers have incorporated new ways to gain access to PSE.  Everything from having a fist-full of fake ID’s, to increasing the number of people being recruited to buy PSE pills through a process known as “smurfing” … individuals hired to go make their allowable purchase of PSE, to college students being approached to purchase a $12 box of PSE and sell it for $50 to $75 to the “cooker.” 

                Previously, Terre Haute had the distinction of being #1 in meth labs in Indiana.  Not something you want to promote or put on the home page of your website!  Today, we no longer have that albatross around our neck relatively speaking, however meth continues to be a major issue not only for Terre Haute but also for a large portion of rural Indiana, as predicted several years back.  This is when we were again asked for assistance as local and state public safety officials were seeking ways to decapitate meth labs by cutting off the opportunity for “cookers” to gain access to the only essential ingredient, PSE.  Public Safety Officials suggested rescheduling PSE, which was done in 2006 in Oregon and in July 2010 in Mississippi.  This would mean it would take prescription to obtain the product.  Please note, I say “re-schedule” because a prescription was required for PSE until 1976.

                Oregon has been the pioneer in requiring a prescription, setting the example with phenomenal results since their rule was promulgated in 2006.  They have gone from a high of 473 labs in 2003 to a reported 13 labs in 2010, over a 96% reduction.  Mississippi has seen a 70% drop in labs in the first seven months.

                The arguments in favor of requiring a prescription seemed to be undisputable.  Who could be against this?  We are talking about newborn children being addicted, children being contaminated, education issues, workforce development, economic development, increased cost placed upon local and state units of government, county jail health care budget quadrupling during the same time period meth arrests swelled the number of inmates.  How quickly we would find out.

                As the chamber contemplated what level of involvement we wanted to expend on this effort we needed to gain a better understanding of the total impact meth was having upon the community in 2010.  Property tax controls were causing local units of government to tighten their belts, scaling back on unessential services as well as services that are critical.  Unfortunately, you cannot budget for the number of meth labs that may pop up in your community.  Every time law enforcement begins to investigate an alleged meth lab, the tax impact meter begins to twirl.  In Oklahoma, a study conducted by the Bureau of Narcotics estimates the impact of one meth lab to exceed $350,000! 

                Meth is like an octopus with its tentacles reaching out in every direction in the community, with each step equating into the expenditure of tax dollars.  Take a step back and think about it for just a moment … a process my leadership was asked to do when briefed on the increasing number of labs in Terre Haute/Vigo County and the state of Indiana.

                First, as mentioned earlier, you have Public Safety involvement including law enforcement to investigate, raid and close the lab; fire/rescue in case of an explosion, toxic fumes, on site medical attention.  Guess who pays for it?  Taxpayers, individual and corporate!

                Health Care needs of the dependent’s, neighbors, public safety officials, and the alleged cooker/user whose health care needs are compliments of the taxpayer once they become a resident of the jail.  The others, it depends upon whether they have insurance or not.  In one case locally, a hospital expended $4.2 million for meth related cases of which $2.1 million was considered charitable or bad debt.  Who ends up paying the bill?  You and I through increased health insurance premiums.

                Incarceration in Jail or Prison.  Vigo County’s jail is overcrowded.  80% of the inmates are directly or indirectly the result of meth.  They might be “booked” for cooking or dealing meth.  They may be in jail because of robbery, murder, or other violent or property crimes due to the influence of meth.  The annual budget for health care for inmates has quadrupled since the increase in meth arrests.  The bottom line … meth  is the contributing factor and guess who pays the bill?  Taxpayers, individual and business!

                Social service and education.  Children are contaminated by the fumes from meth labs, some sleeping in the room adjacent to a functioning lab.  Imagine the danger the kids are in because of the irresponsible actions of parents or guardians.  Imagine the health care needs of these young boys and girls and the possibility they have suffered brain damage due to the toxic fumes.  Connect that now to the special education classes that become necessary to provide even the semblance of having a somewhat productive life.  ADHD.  MIMH.  MOMH.  LD. ED/EH. ADD.  The list goes on.

                Now, think for a moment the newborn child, addicted to meth.  They become wards of the court almost immediately.  Foster care.  Their opportunity for having a normal childhood leading to a productive life is greatly minimized if even possible.  Now you think about welfare, unemployment.  Guess who pays the bill for the extra services to assist children?  Yep, you and I as taxpayers!

                Criminal activity grows as meth grows in a community.  Earlier I discussed the root cause for those in the county jail was meth.  Meth cookers and users need to find money to feed their habit.  When they can’t find it easily, they resort to criminal activity.  Home invasions.  Prostituting children for meth.  Using PSE for currency.  It is happening now from sea to shining sea

                Reducing meth labs does have a direct correlation to the reduction in overall criminal activity.  In Oregon crime dipped to the lowest level in 4 decades (FBI stats) in spite of having the largest percentage increase in unemployment.  Violent crime fell 2.1% from 2008 to 2009, lowest crime rate since 1969.  Property crime dropped 10.2% in the same time period, falling below the national average for the first time since comparable data was collected (1960).  Oregon experienced its lowest property crime rate since 1966!  And some say it is a coincidence, we are not comparing apples to apples.  The bottom line, again, crime costs someone.  That someone is the taxpayer, individual and corporate.

               Let’s not forget what the chamber of commerce is all about.  Economic development.  Workforce development.  We are aware of companies who have terminated good employees because they have flunked the drug test.  Meth is one of the leading reasons.  Imagine the costs of retraining a new hire to reach the same level of productivity.  One company has reported $35,000 for one position.

              The issues surrounding meth are not apparent until you have it in your front and back yard.  It is a problem that is attracted more towards rural areas of the state, thus the reason that if you live, work, play and pray within the “beltway,” you probably do not see the significance for such drastic measures.  This is a problem you can’t embrace fully unless you have experienced it first-hand.  I can guarantee you, however, each and every taxpayer in the state, individual and corporate, pays the price which is why the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce has embraced this initiative.      

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Association Healthcare Plans, Post-Healthcare Reform

Chaaron Pearson on Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

As portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010 come into effect, associations that offer healthcare plans must navigate the new regulations, keep costs under control and educate employees.

As the federal government looks at the details of healthcare reform, associations are left with the following questions: 

  1. How will the reforms affect my association?
  2. Is it best to retain “grandfathered” status for our health plan?
  3. What will be the immediate and long-term costs? 

ASAE gathered a team of experts to offer their advice on the healthcare legislation in a recent article of ASSOCIATIONS NOW.  The article looks at how to prepare for the impacts of the new legislation, pros and cons of grandfathering health plans, communicating with employees and offers additional resources.

Read more: ASSOCIATIONS NOW, March 2011

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Union showdown spreading to other states

Chaaron Pearson on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

As we watch Wisconsin’s public employee protests unfold, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are also bracing for protests aimed at legislation targeting public employee unions.

Read more – Stateline.org: Union Showdown Spreads

Michigan teachers in West Bloomfield didn’t show up for work on Feb. 15 in the midst of contract negotiations.

Read more – MichiganCapitolConfidential.com: The West Bloomfield Teacher ‘Sick Out’

Ohio’s state house doors have been locked as thousands of union protesters gather to hear a bill regarding public employee bargaining rights.

Read more – DaytonDailyNews.com: Ohio Statehouse locked amid union protest

Indiana’s democratic lawmakers imitate Wisconsin and flee the state delaying the legislative process.   

Read more – IndyStar.com: Indiana Democrats trigger Statehouse showdown over anti-union legislation

Thirty years ago, the public sided with Reagan during a labor dispute.  How will the public react to Wisconsin?

Public Opinion History from Pew Research Center for the People & Press: In Showdown with Air Traffic Controllers, the Public Sided with Reagan

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Main Street Fairness Act

Chaaron Pearson on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 12:00:00 am 

The subheader for H.R.5660 – Main Street Fairness Act is “To promote simplification and fairness in the administration and collection of sales and use taxes, and for other purposes.”

This legislation would require online retailers to collect sales tax for all purchases.  This changes the current law, which requires sales tax be charged on purchases when the retailer has a physical presence in the state.

Many states already require consumers to report online purchases when they file their taxes and remit the sales tax if the retailer does not collect it, but many, if not most consumers either do not know they are required to make these payments or fail to mention their online purchases on their state tax forms.  Collectively, states are losing from $21.5 billion to $33.7 billion in sales tax revenue every year.

The Main Street Fairness act claims that charging sales tax for online purchases will bring fairness back to small local business that are required to collect sales tax and thus charge consumers more at checkout.  It will also remove the burden on taxpayers to report their online purchases and revenue to state and local budgets.  Argument for Main Street Fairness Act: International Council for Shopping Centers or StandWithMainStreet.com

Groups opposing the act claim that instead of helping small local businesses, the Main Street Fairness act would become a burden to small businesses that sell online and other online entrepreneurs.  Articles presenting the side against and the consequences of the Main Street Fairness act: Bloomberg.com, TechJournalSouth.com, and WSJ.com

I reached out to the Council on State Taxation (COST) to see if they had an official position on the Main Street Fairness Act.  Here is COST’s official policy statement on the issue: Simplification of the Sales and Use Tax System.  Fred Nicely, Tax Counsel for COST, says that "COST supports the MSFA so long as it has the required simplifications in our policy statement.  At issue with the MSFA is how compensation and central administration of the telecommunication transaction taxes is addressed in the MSFA.  The version introduced in the House last year “punted” on those issues for the interested parties to work out the details.  We do not feel the compensation provided by the SSUTA Governing Board is adequate and we are still waiting to see what happens on the telecommunications issue."

Full Text of Bill: Main Street Fairness Act

Has your chamber taken a position on the Main Street Fairness Act?  Are your members pushing for you to take a position?

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