The annual sojourn of industry leaders to Capitol Hill this year will include direct talks with key federal agencies that regulate chauffeured transportation.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders and lobbyists of the NATIONAL LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION and key industry associations nationwide will meet with Congressional staff members and federal bureaucrats Wednesday, April 28 as part of the NLA’s annual Day On The Hill legislative effort.
The event takes a wider approach this year, with industry leaders dividing their time between Capitol Hill and key federal agencies that administer and enforce rules governing chauffeured transportation. About 40 NLA board members, industry association presidents, and lobbyists are expected to attend the event, which will be preceded by a quarterly NLA board of directors meeting and related briefings on Tuesday, April 27.
“We will spend as much time sitting down with the agencies since they have issues that affect so many operators in the NLA,” NLA President Diane Forgy said. “It will give us a broader understanding of what to prepare for in the future. It’s good to have that communication.”
NLA Day On The Hill typically involves sub-dividing the NLA members and association presidents into lobbying teams that then visit the offices of various Congressional representatives influential in advocating on behalf of chauffeured transportation interests. The NLA tries to target those members who serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee, and the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, all of which routinely deal with transportation related legislation.
Since the last Day On the Hill on June 9, 2009, the political climate has grown more unpredictable, with health care battles and passage in an election year either disrupting or crowding out other measures for now.
Forgy and NLA chief lobbyist Louie Perry, vice president of Cornerstone Government Affairs, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm retained by the NLA, recently outlined and updated for LCT some of the key issues NLA members will be talking about:
RIDE ACT Amendment
The Real Interstate Drivers’ Equity Act needs an amendment that clarifies the original 2002 act so that states and political subdivisions such as airport authorities cannot charge fees that single out vehicles providing prearranged interstate ground transportation service. It also would prevent any transportation terminal from charging a special fee, other than what is charged to the general public, to for-hire vehicles for access or use of terminal facilities. Perry said the amendment could not be attached to the Federal Aviation Authorization bill this year since Congress decided not to include amendments not directly tied to aviation. So amendment sponsors will try to attach it to the Highway Funding Authorization bill when it comes up for renewal the next time. The bill is renewed about every five years, but is already three years overdue, Perry said.
“Congress has not had will power to reauthorize it because there is not enough projected tax revenue from gas taxes to pay for level of spending Congress wants,” Perry said. “So they are kicking the can down the road. It will expire at the end of this year or beginning of next year.”
The NLA wants to communicate to key Congressional members that distracted driving legislative bans be limited to manual texting and manual cell phoning, Perry said. The NLA supports rules already in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that bans manual use of electronic devices while driving commercial vehicles. There are, however, other proposed measures that would extend the ban to hands-free devices which chauffeurs depend on for efficient and safe communication behind the wheel.
“We want to make sure distracted driving changes don’t go any further than manual bans,” Perry said. “We do not want legislation to impact Bluetooth and wireless dispatch systems. Some (Congressional) members want to go farther than that. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission already has gone farther, so we want to make sure things stay on the reasonable side of the line and not the unreasonable side of the line.”
Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. have introduced legislation that reaffirms the FMCSA rules against manual electronic devices-only as the federal standard not subject to local changes.
Independent Contractor Pay Policies
Officials from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division will meet with NLA representatives to talk about the expected increase in wage audits of private businesses that work with independent contractors. The Obama Administration has earmarked more funds for such audits.
“We are one of many industries that use independent contractors, but we are clearly potential targets,” Forgy said. “There is still a significant percentage of the industry that uses ICs. This is more of an educational session so we can be prepared for what will happen, understand how to comply/adjust business models, or convert ICs to employees.”
Perry explained that one of President Obama’s long range goals is to try to convert IC workers to W-2 employees to appease labor union special interests. “What Obama wants is for those ICs to be W-2s so that operators will be required to pay workers comp, health benefits, and FICA taxes,” Perry said. “It’s a revenue raiser and an equalizer for labor unions because they feel ICs compete against higher union wage and benefits.”
Congress ignored recent legislative proposals to require more W-2 employees because of opposition from business interests and the highly controversial nature of such measures, Perry said. But Obama now wants to offset that with stepped up audits and enforcement of existing labor laws related to independent contract employees, Perry said.
Given Department of Labor intentions, the NLA must keep operators informed of the current laws and encourage them to be in compliance in case of wage audits.
An exemption in federal law that withholds Department of Transportation safety jurisdiction within a 75-mile radius of an operator’s home base for INTERSTATE transportation was removed as part of the Highway Reauthorization Bill passed a few years ago. D.O.T. decided in late 2009 it would enforce the safety rules more broadly, Perry said. This rule is effective May 3 and motor carriers must be in compliance with this rule no later than June 1.
Now all operators with commercial vehicles that carry nine to 15 passengers across state lines within a 75-mile radius of home base will be subject to the federal safety rules. NLA representatives will meet with D.O.T. officials to make sure they have all the information needed to inform operators of details of the exemption expiration.
Health Care Bill
Recent passage of the Obama Administration’s sweeping health care bill will shake up health care policies and boost costs to business in coming years. However, some tax credits available to small- to medium-size employers go into effect immediately, Perry said.
Although most operators and the NLA oppose the Obama health care plan in the form that it passed, NLA representatives plan to meet with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services to get full details of available tax credits and how operators could take advantage of them.
The health care act clearly exempts businesses with 50 or fewer employees, but also reclassifies some part-time employees as full-time in order to qualify them for mandatory employer provided health care, Perry said. “We’re not sure yet what the hour threshold is,” he said.
“We’re having the HHS come over and brief them on mandates and explain what benefits can accrue immediately,” Perry said. “I don’t think anyone in our industry supports the health care bill. We are not embracing the health care law nor do we think it’s the prescription we need. But it helps to know about benefits and receive them on front end, so that at least we achieve some benefit from new burden.”
Forgy said many of the corporations that are chauffeured transportation clients will be burdened by the health care changes and costs. “We need to understand this because our clients will go through this too,” Forgy said. “Hopefully, the economy will get stronger and [everyone can] deal with the mandates.”
Other industry-related briefings will be held for Day On The Hill attendees by officials from the Department of Treasury and the Small Business Administration, who will talk about credit programs available to small business.
Any operators still interested in participating in NLA Day On The Hill should make reservations by tomorrow (Thursday, April 22) at (800) 652-7007 or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine