SUMMER SLUMP: Limo Legislation On Hold Pending Fall Elections

LCT Staff
Posted on July 21, 2010

WAIT FOR THE POLI-QUAKE? Greater chances that Republicans could take one or both houses of Congress this fall means not much is moving in Washington, D.C. on key measures related to chauffeured transportation.

HOUSTON — The NATIONAL LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION will have to hurry up and wait on its agenda before Congress this year as the anticipated outcome of the mid-term Congressional elections Nov. 2 could change the legislative power equation on Capitol Hill.

That means possible new leaders and committee relationships will come to the fore affecting the flow of legislation large and small, including the NLA’s priorities: Passage of an amendment to the RIDE Act, distracted driving/texting legislation, and labor and wage rule modifications.

The NLA’s board of directors received an update on governmental matters on July 13 during its quarterly board meeting in Houston. [The next quarterly face-to-face meeting will be held Tuesday, Sept. 28 at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park Hotel just before the LCT Leadership Summit].

“A lot of things in Washington, D.C. are in a major holding pattern,” said NLA President Diane Forgy. “It’s kind of sad because they are not accomplishing anything, let alone what’s on our agenda. Everyone is waiting for the November elections to come and go to see who survives. They may get down to business in the last week or two of year. So we’re waiting to see how the climate may shift, and from there plan accordingly.”

Louie Perry, vice president of Cornerstone Government Affairs, the lobbying firm retained by the NLA, told the board Congress has little time left this calendar year to address even big picture items, such as appropriations bills, a major highway bill, and expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Congress is planning long recesses for summer and for the elections, leaving only about five weeks total to move legislation, Perry said.

Labor/wage rules

Meanwhile, the single biggest issue the NLA is trying to educate its members on is the employment classifications from the Department of Labor as applied to independent contractors and overtime wages.

“That’s been more of an education process,” Forgy said. “We’ve put together some more memos on and what the agency says is its position and how it will go after potential violators.”

Forgy advised operators trying to closely distinguish between employees and independent contractors that the more a worker appears to have an employee relationship, the less likely that employee can be classified as an I.C.. “They must be as independent as possible,” Forgy said. “If they 100% work for you and nobody else, that might be interpreted as an employee relationship.”

NLA membership declines by a fourth

As of July 9, the NLA reported a mid-year membership figure of 1,763, compared to 1,917 in July 2009 and 2,233 members in July 2008. [NLA membership reached an all-time peak of 2,356 on Sept. 30, 2008].

Since July 2008, the association has lost 21% of its members, and 25% since the membership peak. That loss tracks with estimates showing a one-fifth to one-third decline in the number of operators nationwide, and similar declines in attendance at International LCT Shows in 2009 and 2010.

Forgy attributed the lost membership to a variety of reasons, most notably the severe recession and national employment drop-off since December 2007. “We still have 2009 members who did not renew, so some may renew mid-year,” Forgy said. “We can make some gains on that number before the end of the year.

“In many cases, some businesses have gone out, in some cases there has been consolidation, and in some there was an economic decision [not to renew] from operator and vendor members,” Forgy said.

NLA PAC Fund targets donations

In 2010, the NLA Board has been trying to increase funding for the NLA Political Action Committee (PAC) so the industry can help those members of Congress who champion chauffeured transportation. Given the nature of the political system, candidates who are not well funded tend to lose elections.

So far, the NLA PAC is getting regular monthly contributions from 25 members, said Dawson Rutter, the NLA board director who heads the group’s Political Action Committee. The NLA’s goal is to boost PAC fundraising to the level of other transportation-related industry associations and get members to better understand how a PAC works and can help the industry’s fortunes, Rutter said.

The NLA Political Action Committee recently co-hosted an event for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to show its appreciation for his industry support. It donated $1,000 as part of the fundraiser held June 23 in Washington, D.C., also hosted by the Taxi Limousine Paratransit Association. The TLPA has worked with the NLA in advocating certain transportation issues.

Vitter is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee who supports responsible distracted driving legislation that would ban manual texting and hand held cell phones while driving but would not ban wireless devices or the dispatch units used by the taxi industry. He also supports an amendment to the RIDE Act that would prevent airports and ports that receive federal funding from singling out limousine operators for specific fees.

The NLA PAC has about $10,000 on hand and will make donations in coming months to Congressional representatives and/or candidates viewed as supportive of industry needs, Perry said.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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