Taking the needs of our industry to Capitol Hill

I’ve just returned from “The Hill”, that’s Capitol Hill - where about 60 members of the NBFAA (National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association), including three prominent manufacturers in this industry, gathered to lobby for passage of series of bills that they’re working hard to get on the dockets and or passed or repealed in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.
If you’ve never lobbied on the hill, I’d highly recommend it. It is the epitome of the Democratic process -- a process quite unique in this world. In one of the sprawling building complexes, having as many basement levels as it has above the street (nothing can be taller than the Capitol) sit all the state representatives offices. In another complex, thus never the two should meet, sit all the senate offices. And in the halls of both buildings come the lines of Americans, organized or not, in pursuit of the ear of their congress person. Some folks have their issues on their sleeves, and I mean that literally. The come sporting tee shirts, arm bands, buttons and name tags with their mission boldly displayed. Some come alone, but most come in well organized groups, like we were, with scheduled meeting with as many congress members as they can see, to share their collective thoughts.

In 15-minute back-to-back intervals, all day long, the congress members, yes them personally, and their aides met with and listened us and to the voices and requests of their constituents. In only one meeting, out of all the dozens of meeting we had, did I feel that the aid was not prepared and would have no influence in the matters discussed. Otherwise, the discussions were frank and informative; everyone made their positions clear stating their concerns, needs, desires and goals. And differences were made by our meeting.

What were the issues at hand?

First was H.R. 1939, the Electronic Life Safety and Security Systems Federal Background Check. The “Reader’s Digest” version of this bill will be to allow the industry, thru the NBFAA, access to FBI’s background records -- for any employee hired by a security company -- thus allowing you to reach across state boundaries that now limit the amount of information that you can garner on any one of your employees. One of the house representatives quizzically asked: Do you mean that a security professional installing and managing a security system in a federal building today might not have been fully screened nationally? Do you mean they could have a record and you would not know about it? You could see his sense of safety was visibly shaken when we had to answer, “Yes, this is so, not only could they be in a federal building but in a school, at a damn, nuclear power plant or...”

He was assured that most companies make every effort to carefully screen their employees, to bond them when needed and ensure the safest and highest quality of character. But today we do not have access to this national information which has great value to both in the industry and the consumer at large.

Another bill lobbied on was H.R. 1680. This is the Long Term Care Life Safety Act, and it would provide incentive programs for the Department of Human Services to promote the retrofit installation of fire alarms detection systems and fire prevention technologies in nursing facilities, hospices and long-term facilities. Admittedly most of these facilities already have sprinkler systems installed, but they don’t necessarily have fire detection and alarm systems. One of the arguments for this bill is that the persons in these facilities are so often the most fragile of our community. They need immediate notification in risk situations, as well as extra time and efficient evacuation methods in the case of such emergencies.

Also advocated was the S.292, a bill originally entered Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. This would repeal section 511 of the tax reconciliation act of 2005 (P.L. 109-222). Essentially the bill would repeal the three percent withholding tax on certain payments made to vendors by government entities. It’s hard for me to think that anyone in the industry would oppose this.

The fourth and most controversial of the bills was to oppose S. 560 – the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 which would “amend the national labor relations act (NRLA) to establish an easier system to enable employees to join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts and other purposes.”

This I believe is the bill that also includes the private and public voting in union matters which has received a lot of media attention and has spurred national television and radio ads. What was most interesting was the ambiguity about what was and what was not covered or meant in this bill. It sparked debate amongst the congressional delegates as well as our own members including individuals working in HR who shared their concerns that the bill allowed employees to legally group together to effect policies and procedures that would normally be under their company’s authority.

If you have found yourself moved negatively or positively by anything you read in the text above, I would ask you to respond to the NBFAA and participate in molding your own industry. And if you don’t like it and you don’t do anything about it, well, then I certainly hope you don’t plan to complain about it later. Further, I am sure that the NBFAA has other bills that they are currently considering, and I am also sure that they would consider matters that are of interest to you.

I have but scratched the surface of the matters discussed. NBFAA can give you much more depth on any or all of the issues they represent…and correct any misinformation I might have created in my short overviews.

This is our industry and we are responsible for it. Standards are being set, matters are being legislated, and members of our industry that are active and outspoken are making things happen. You don’t have to literally go to the hill to effect change, but you do have to participate to have your voice heard in what happens to you or us. So please stand up and be counted.