The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association in 2008 worked tirelessly toward favorable action on industry priorities. NLBMDA lobbyists kept constant contact with legislators and staff on Capitol Hill and with coalition allies around Washington to advance the priority issues established by our Government Affairs Committee. Here is a summary of NLBMDA accomplishments.
NLBMDA worked with the NAHB and a coalition of related industry groups to support a comprehensive housing recovery bill that will provide relief to businesses down the supply chain and restore our economy. NLBMDA also joined the Suppliers for Housing Group, chaired by ProBuild, and gave strategic advice and assistance in its grassroots activities.
A key-vote letter was hand-delivered to the Senate June 24, urging support for debate and action on the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Act of 2008 (H.R. 3221). Thanks in part to these efforts, the final bill included three of the four priority items NLBMDA identified and lobbied for, including a new home-buyer tax credit that many feel is critical to restore buyer confidence and revive the industry. The bill was signed into law July 30.
NLBMDA called on congressional leaders to complete work on a bipartisan financial rescue plan before they adjourned in October to address the credit crunch that threatened the stability of the economy. Market liquidity and access to credit are essential to reviving the housing market and strengthening small businesses. The financial rescue plan, passed in October, included several tax provisions of importance and interest to the LBM industry. Most notably, the NLBMDA-supported energy efficiency tax credit has been extended for 2009. Contractors receive a $1,000 credit for new homes that achieve a 30% reduction in energy consumption, and a $2,000 credit for homes that cut energy consumption by 50%.
A highly successful Legislative Conference in April generated more co-sponsors and awareness of the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 989). Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, gave his support and pledge to seek a committee hearing on this NLBMDA-initiated measure. NLBMDA is the only trade association that actively advanced a legal reform measure in 2008. A grassroots campaign in August generated contacts to nine more targeted members of Congress. There are currently 64 co-sponsors of ISFA.
Hearings were held in the fall to solicit feedback on new reform proposals. The Small Business Health Options Program Act (S. 2795/H.R. 5918), which creates tax incentives and new pooling options for small businesses, has 14 co-sponsors in the Senate and two in the House.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, introduced the Small Business Cooperative for Health Care Options to Improve Coverage for Employees Act of 2008 (H.R. 6582), a new high-risk pooling option to help lower costs for small businesses and provide tax breaks for employers. The act has five co-sponsors in the House, and the National Federation of Independent Business, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other small business groups have endorsed it. NLBMDA continues to participate in the Small Business Health Plan Coalition to give feedback and support for reforms.
NLBMDA successfully lobbied for changes in illegal logging legislation to balance actions to combat illegal logging with protection for dealers that sell lawfully imported wood products.
The revised legislation was signed into law in June as part of the Farm Bill. Because the declaration of any wood or plant-derived product captures more than 90% of all imports into the United States, the agencies have agreed to delay enforcement of the new documentation requirements until April 1, 2009. Representatives of trade associations, environmental groups, and congressional staff have formed a working group to draft an implementation document that clearly spells out the requirements of importers and retailers to fully comply. NLBMDA is participating in this effort and will provide updates as the process evolves. In the meantime, dealers should consult with their suppliers to make sure they are aware of their obligations under the law.
New import documentation requirements for Canadian softwood lumber took effect Sept. 18. Importers now have to report to U.S. Customs the export price, estimated export charge, and an importer declaration of compliance with the Softwood Lumber Agreement on each shipment into the United States. NLBMDA continues to work with U.S. consumer allies to protect the ability of dealers to obtain softwood lumber.
While Congress failed to address the 2011 return of the estate tax in full, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Finance Committee chairman, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, committee ranking member, held hearings in early 2008 to examine possible alternatives to the estate tax system that would protect small and family-held businesses. NLBMDA continues to participate in the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition to keep pressure on Congress to act on this critical issue.
Although immigration legislation stalled in Congress this session, NLBMDA joined a coalition effort asking Congress to block the Homeland Security Department from issuing Social Security No-Match rules until pending court action is resolved. The proposed rule would expose business owners to high costs and liability exposure.
NLBMDA filed comments noting concerns with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's proposed driver training rule that would mandate training in accredited programs, potentially making it more difficult and costly for dealers to recruit and hire CDL-licensed drivers.
NLBMDA has also provided members with tools to comply with the new Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Red Flag rules, which went into effect Nov. 1. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 added several provisions to the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and directs various banking regulators and the Federal Trade Commission to issue joint regulations and guidelines regarding the detection, prevention, and mitigation of identity theft. The FTC regulations apply to nonfinancial institutions that may extend credit within the meaning of the new rules, including dealers.
NLBMDA reconvened a task force to renew the OSHA Alliance partnership and give updated compliance assistance resources to its members.
On Sept. 18, NLBMDA submitted comments on proposed changes to OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment standards that would clarify that each instance when an employee who's subject to the standards or training requirement does not get it, it may be considered a separate OSHA violation. Usually, when an employer commits multiple violations of a single standard or regulation, OSHA either groups the violations and proposes a single penalty, or cites and proposes a penalty for each discrete violation. Although grouping is more common, OSHA is proposing separate per-instance penalties for violating standards and training requirements in cases where the resulting heightened aggregate penalty is appropriate to deter "flagrant violators" and increase the impact of OSHA's limited resources.
While OSHA states in the proposed rule that this action is merely a clarification, NLBMDA criticized the proposal as too vague and said specific criteria would need to be developed for determining when the policy of separate violations will be applied, and what mitigating circumstances, or existing defenses may apply when more that one instance of non-compliance may occur.
NLBMDA joined a successful effort in January to remove LEED-only language from a Department of Housing and Urban Development community development program reauthorization. It continues to monitor federal legislation that would mandate adherence to a specific program and limit dealers' ability to participate in this growing market segment. NLBMDA is a member of the North American Council on Green Building and participates in the comment process at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to urge revisions to its LEED rating systems to provide credits for all credible certified wood programs, not just Forest Stewartship Council-certified wood.
NLBMDA submitted comments on both the USGBC LEED 2009 drafts revisions and the proposed Forest Certification Standard benchmarks supporting the move away from only one sanctioned certified wood program. NLBMDA also sought USGBC's support for an eco-label that would reduce the chain-of-custody burden on dealers that is restricting the supply of certified wood to the market.