Law briefs Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

Money votes

Though the Electoral College officially decides the 2000 presidential race Dec. 18, we already know who won the money race in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania congressional districts.

According to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, in Washington, D.C., the fund-raising champs in local races in each case also won their Nov. 7 elections.

  • District 14 (Pittsburgh): William J. Coyne (D), incumbent; unopposed, $126,572

  • District 18 (Pittsburgh): Mike Doyle (D), incumbent, $315,697; Craig C. Stephens (R), $6,009

  • District 4 (northwest of Pittsburgh): Melissa Hart (R), $1,371,461; Terry Van Horne (D), $549,322

  • District 20 (south of Pittsburgh): Frank R. Mascara (D), incumbent, $458,886; Ronald J. Davis (R), $0

  • District 12 (east of Pittsburgh): John P. Murtha (D), incumbent, $766,451; Bill Choby (R), $6,990

  • District 21 (north of Pittsburgh): Phil English (R), incumbent, $992,284; Marc Flitter (D), $236,018

A hand, not a hand-out

When a Pennsylvania construction company modified a dump truck for a one-armed driver, the company not only gained a more self-sufficient employee, it freed for other duties a second employee who previously had to ride along, and got a state reimbursement for the cost of the modification.

Site, building and transportation modifications, adaptive machinery and equipment, and specialized employer training for the disabled are eligible for up to $50,000 in grant funding from the three-year-old Independence Capital Access Network.

First, apply beforehand at the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which administers the program. After completing the project, submit expense receipts to the OVR. The agency reimburses in four to five weeks.

The disabled worker for whom accommodation was made must remain on the job for at least one year. An OVR specialist will check after about six months to confirm. How to reach: Stephanie Parker, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, (717) 787-5123

Appeal for calm

If you own commercial property in Allegheny County, you should have received Sabre Systems and Service's preliminary property tax valuation by now.

Sabre Systems was paid $23.9 million by Allegheny County to reappraise property values after a judge invalidated the existing tax system, then lifted an assessment freeze imposed by county commissioners.

The new assessments are supposed to be revenue-neutral -- for every extra $1 paid by one property owner, another owner should pay $1 less. Of course, that's cold comfort for the taxpayer with the higher bill. Local tax districts could raise their rates, though state law limits their reassessment windfall to less than 5 percent.

Keep these things in mind as you stew over your notice:

  • Sabre's appraisal estimates your property's value, not your property tax assessment. The latter is set by county commissioners, your municipality and/or school boards.

  • Go to www.reevaluation.net and enter the "e-code" on your Preliminary Notice of Market Valuation. Verify that Sabre's photo really shows your building, and that other data about your property is correct. Note any discrepancies.

  • If you want to challenge your valuation -- and everybody wants to -- contact Sabre. The information is on your notice. You'll be called to its Point Breeze office at 400 N. Lexington St. Business income and expenses, and sale prices of similar businesses, are key to estimating commercial property values. Find evidence to prove Sabre made a mistake in your case.

  • Your official valuation will be mailed around Jan. 1. Still not satisfied? Submit an appeal application to the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment. The appeals and review process is scheduled to end by Feb. 28, 2001. Get an appeal application from www.county.allegheny.pa.us, from the county, your municipality or a local library. Again, bring evidence.

  • Still unhappy? File an appeal with the Prothonotary's Office at the City-County Building within 30 days of the date on the letter deciding your county appeal. But unless you've got a very strong case -- or a really outrageous assessment -- you might bring along a signed check.

Midnight for regulators

A recent George Mason University study claims that -- like Cinderella racing home from the ball -- federal agencies rush to finalize pet regulatory projects in the final months of outgoing presidential administrations.

Jay Cochran, a research fellow at GMU's Mercatus Center, reviewed page counts of the daily Federal Register from 1948 to the present. He reports that average Register volumes swelled 17 percent in post-election November-to-January quarters, compared with the same months in nonelection years.

Opponents first noted those "midnight regulations" during the transition from Jimmy Carter's administration to Ronald Reagan's in 1980-81. Cochran says the phenomenon crossed party lines all the way back to the Truman presidency. Critics say counting Register pages is an inaccurate measure of meaningful regulatory work. Agencies say their processes -- often set to congressional and court-ordered schedules -- are largely independent of executive branch intervention. They dismiss Cochran's study as a public relations stunt by anti-regulation activists.

Good news for cell phone users?

The Federal Communications Commission may allow licensees of government radio frequencies to sublease them for commercial use in wireless and other services.

The FCC proposal seeks to encourage a "secondary market" in radio spectrum frequencies, to relieve demand pressures on the burgeoning wireless communications markets. "This demand threatens to outstrip supply and to impede the future growth of wireless services," the FCC announced Nov. 9.

If adopted, the proposal would be good news for wireless service providers and for consumers who use cell phones and other wireless telecommunications technologies.

Veterans need apply

The U.S. Small Business Administration is accepting public comment until Dec. 11 on a plan to set a 3-percent government-contracting goal for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The plan would implement parts of the Veteran Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act signed by President Clinton in August 1999.

The SBA wants additional government contract procurement assistance for veterans, including a requirement that federal agency chiefs move toward the 3 percent goal in their departments' prime contract and subcontract awards.

As part of the act, the SBA earlier this year established an Office of Veterans Business Development. The office seeks outreach to veterans, establishment of an information network and expanded access to technical assistance programs for service-disabled veteran-owned small companies.

OSHA's final ergonomics rule

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its controversial final "ergonomics program standard" in November.

No business will be spared, though companies with 10 or fewer employees won't have to keep records. More than 100 million workers at 6.1 million workplaces will be covered, with the exception of those in maritime, agriculture, construction and railways.

The rule becomes effective Jan. 16, 2001.

OSHA estimates the cost to business at $4.5 billion a year. Business groups argue it's likely to cost several multiples of that. Small business gets a few concessions in the final standard, OSHA says. In addition to the small business reporting exemption, the agency offers a "Basic Screening Tool" which companies can use to determine whether ergonomic issues require compliance action.

Employers with just one ergonomic-related injury in a job, or just two such injuries companywide in the previous 18 months, can apply "Quick Fix" solutions within 90 days. OSHA believes this will appeal particularly to smaller firms.

The final rule gives companies four years to install permanent ergonomic controls (See related article in this month's Of Counsel Quarterly.) William Hoffman is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.