Legislative forum identifies jobs as greatest need for UC region
About 80 guests attended a recent legislative forum hosted by the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce that featured state legislators and Jim Brown, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Sunday, Dec 13, 2009
“With 17,000 unemployed workers across the 14 counties of the region, we need laws that will solve that problem,” said Dr. Steve Copeland, chairman of the Chamber Transportation and Advocacy Committee.
Brown moderated a panel of legislators that included Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-15th District, and Reps. Charlie Curtiss, D-43rd District, Henry Fincher, D-42nd District, and Terri Lynn Weaver, R-40th District.
Legislators spoke about key issues affecting businesses in the Upper Cumberland region and across the state, and were eager to listen to what their constituents had to say.
“The state is $400 million behind on budget projections,” said Curtiss, “with only $530 million in the ‘rainy day’ fund. The pre-K program is on the line, as well as a number of other programs. Hearing from you all will help us know what to do.”
One of the primary issues that has legislator’s phones “ringing off the hook,” according to Weaver, is a reclassification of the designation of construction contractors that requires sole proprietors and partners with no employees that are paid directly by the property owner to purchase and maintain worker’s compensation insurance on themselves, as well as employees. The bill was enacted in 2008 and will become effective Dec. 31, 2009.
“We are working to get the bill repealed,” said Weaver, whose husband is a builder. “The bill would cost his business approximately $9,000 per year.”
The law was enacted as a result of a lawsuit brought by a contractor who opted out of worker’s compensation benefits and was then injured on the job.
“The bill went too far,” according to Curtiss. “Everyone agrees that we needed to make changes that will help masons and other independent contractors without benefits who are not covered if they are laid off or hurt. Once it is resolved, I believe it will result in lower premiums.”
Thousands of people would lose their jobs if the bill becomes effective as it currently is written, according to Brown. The NFIB will probably propose raising the penalties for failing to insure workers, including imposing significantly higher fees and loss of license.
The state legislature will return to session after Jan. 1, which is too late to change the bill before the effective date. However, according to Brown and Fincher, the Department of Labor has agreed to a 60-day compliance period that will give the legislature time to resolve the issue.
Unemployment Insurance Fund
When Congress reconvenes, it will again consider problems in the Unemployment Insurance funds, according to Curtiss. Though steps were taken earlier to prop up the fund, the balance has again decreased to $211 million due to the increasing levels of unemployed workers.
Small Business Relief Act
Brown told the group that the NFIB is supporting H.R. 1836, the Small Business Relief Act, which would provide a six-month payroll tax holiday for businesses. He encouraged everyone to contact their congressmen and ask them to vote yes for the bill.
It is critical that small business owners keep lawmakers advised of how legislation is affecting their businesses, according to Brown.
“Every significant piece of legislation helps some and hurts others,” said Curtiss. “The chambers of commerce and NFIB are key to helping us, as your congress, keep up with bills and know how to help you.”
“Our offices have aggressive workers. If there are problems that arise from legislation that is being considered, call and let us know,” said Burks.