When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration introduced new rules regarding ergonomic conditions in the workplace, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business wasnt about to take the lengthy regulations, well, lying down.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Kit Bond described the proposal as a devastatingly broad and intrusive regulation which lacks sufficient science to make it useful to employers of all sizes.
In his comments submitted for the record on the proposal, Bond says, This regulation is so fundamentally flawed that OSHA must withdraw this proposal ... Despite extensive input from small businesses throughout the panel convened under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, OSHA is pursuing a regulation that will create confusion, extreme burdens, disruptions, distortions and liability without any predictable success.
Unfortunately, the agency has chosen an adversarial approach to the most complicated and difficult regulation ever pursued in the name of worker safety, he adds.
To fight the regulation, Sen. Bond recently introduced Senate Bill 1070 (called the SENSE Act), which would halt the regulations until a study could be completed by the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether enough scientific evidence exists to support the new standards.
If the new regulations arent stopped, Sen. Bond contends, they will cost businesses across the country plenty as they attempt to comply. While OSHA estimates a total cost to all businesses at roughly $4.2 billion, the American Health Care Association estimates the cost of compliance for nursing home facilities alone will be at least $5.6 billion. And the Employment Policy Foundation, Sen. Bond says, estimates the cost could reach $80 billion for the entire economy.
Says Bond of the proposed rules: Instead of providing employers with useful, scientifically sound and practical guidance, OSHA has chosen to impose a vague, open-ended regulatory trap that will only increase the amount of revenue and legal actions generated by citations and penalties.
Help for the oil price-impaired
President Clinton has offered relief to small businesses feeling the crunch of skyrocketing oil prices.
Such businesses now have access through the U.S. Small Business Administration to government-backed loans to relieve the price pressure. President Clinton says his directive targets, for instance, heating oil dealers, who could use the funds to extend flexible payment terms to their customers, or trucking companies.
The president has asked Congress to appropriate $1 million for the fund, which would provide enough backing for $86 million in loans. The loans would be made under existing 7(a) programs.
SBAs existing mix of loan products under the business loan guaranty program is flexible enough to deal with this situation, says SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez in a prepared statement. In fact, we have several short-term revolving loan programs, such as SBA Express and CAPLines, which are especially suitable for helping these small businesses get through this temporary crisis. How to reach: The SBA Answer Desk, (800) U-ASK-SBA, or www.sba.gov
Help on the North Shore
If youre just starting or trying to grow a business, the Small Business Administration, in partnership with the North Side Civic Development Council, has opened a Business Information Center to help you.
The center, established to serve businesses in all of Western Pennsylvanias 27 counties, is designed to provide one-stop assistance and advice for business owners, including a wide range of computer hardware and software, as well as a library of resources. And theyre all free.
Says Al Jones, district director of the SBAs Pittsburgh district office: We are proud to partner with the North Side Civic Development Council to bring this valuable resource to our region. How to reach: For information about the new center, contact Donald Nemchick at (412) 395-6560, ext. 117.
And they, too, shall pay
For-profit health clubs in the region are flexing their collective cheek bones after an Allegheny County court judge determined once again that nonprofit health clubs such as YMCAs should pay property taxes just like for-profit centers.
Judge James McLean of the Common Pleas Court in Allegheny County recently ruled that the Sewickley YMCA Fitness Center is indistinguishable from a private club in its practices as well as its physical amenities. Consequently, the center must pay state and local property taxes.
The YMCA reportedly argued that revenue from such businesses generates funding to pay for charitable programs offered by the organization.
That [the YMCA] advances laudable humanitarian purposes as an organization is not determinative, said Judge McLean. ... The question of tax exemption must inevitably focus on the actual use to which this particular property is put ...
The Sewickley YMCA is by no means the first to test the taxing bodies and lose. The Downtown YMCA filed an application for tax exemption and lost before a county property board.
Wrote Judge McLean in his ruling on the Sewickly YMCA: It advances no charitable purpose, concentrating rather on providing high-end fitness services to a paying, affluent clientele.
The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association wasted little time in responding to what it considers a victory for its members. This is the clearest language Ive seen so far on this question, and I think Ys, colleges and hospitals should sit up and take notice, says Helen Durkin, director of public policy for the IHRSA. If you act just like a business, expect to pay taxes just like a business.
Sorry, we cant tell you its private
Okay, well tell you the United States Chamber of Commerces National Chamber Foundation is making privacy a very public matter as it launches a drive to educate government policymakers and business leaders on the issue of Internet privacy.
The Chamber Foundation began with a series of conferences launched at a House Republican retreat this past May in Leesburg, Va. At issue is a broad range of consumer privacy issues, including access to personal information, the use of e-marketing incentives to obtain consumer data and the options individuals have to control the use of their personal information.
Clearly, the issue of privacy and security of personal information on and off the Internet is of growing concern to consumers and businesses, says Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of both the U.S. Chamber and the Chamber Foundation. As the Internet becomes more pervasive in our society, elected officials must fully understand the complexities that technology poses for policymakers, who are interested in protecting individuals without hindering businesses ability to grow. For more information about the Chamber Foundations efforts, contact (202) 463-5682.
You can find just about everything else on the Internet, so why shouldnt you expect to find lawyers and legal help as well?
The place to start, according to the folks at West Group, which provides legal information, is its own Web site, Lawoffice.com.The site claims a directory of more than a million lawyers and other legal professionals available for hire. And thats just the beginning.
It also provides information on how to find, interview and hire a lawyer, 10 questions to ask a lawyer before hiring one, a database of more than 400 legal topics and answers to common legal questions. It also provides links to other legal resources and publications.
And heres the best part: those services are free.
Lets make a phone deal
Consumers and businesses may yet be able to negotiate deals with long-distance phone companies for service rates, if the Federal Communications Commission gets its way.
The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has pushed the issue a giant step forward after upholding an FCC order to abolish the filing of all interstate long-distance phone tariffs with the FCC. This comes after a four-year effort which the FCC still hopes will ultimately increase competition in the long-distance market when the ruling is expected to be instituted in several months.
The recent Federal Court decision means a major step forward, increasing consumers ability to negotiate with their providers for long-distance rates, says Shawn Graham, telecommunications group manager at independent utility cost consultants National Utility Service Inc.
Theres one caveat, of course, says Graham: This change also holds the prospect of creating even greater customer confusion in a market long known for contradictory claims concerning cost.
Still, well take the confusion over cost any day.
Law briefs is compiled by Daniel Bates.