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AOI alert on two bills before Congress

August 10, 2010

AOI Speaks up for Oregon Business on Critical Federal Issues
By  J.L. Wilson
Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business lobby

New federal law would make OSHA more punitive; Senate defeats anti-business campaign finance law

Before federal lawmakers headed off to their August recess, they considered two pieces of legislation critical to the business community. AOI, speaking on behalf of Oregon businesses, weighed in on legislation aimed at “strengthening” federal OSHA and another piece of legislation that would hamstring the ability of Oregon companies to take part in federal elections.

HR 5663, also known as the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010, included dramatic changes to OSHA’s enforcement procedures, penalties, abatement and whistleblower provisions. The proposed changes were extremely costly to implement, difficult to administer, created more conflict in the workplace, and encouraged lawsuits. For example, HR 5663 imposed new and vague standards for criminal liability, including felony criminal sanctions against “any company officer or director” for “knowing” violations of OSHA. The bill; however, provided no definition of “knowing,” nor did it provide any limitation or guidance on which “officers or directors” could face criminal charges.

Under the bill, OSHA inspectors could require employers to make immediate and costly changes to the workplace without OSHA showing an imminent safety threat or providing employers with a hearing or judicial review of the inspector’s allegations. This could include actually shutting down the workplace.

There was not a single provision in the bill that would actually help an employer improve their workplace safety program. It would have created a harmful, counterproductive policy that would have caused further estrangement and distrust between the business community and OSHA.

You can see AOI’s correspondence with Oregon’s Congressional delegation here. HR 5663 passed out of committee and is waiting for a vote in the full U.S. House.

On a second critical issue, the U.S. Senate last week finally defeated one-sided legislation that would have curbed the participation of business in federal elections while providing no such limitations to unions. The legislation, also known as the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175), placed unprecedented restrictions on the free speech rights of Oregon businesses and their representative associations. The preferential treatment of unions in this legislation would have completely done away with Congress’s longstanding practice of treating businesses and unions in roughly a similar fashion.

For example, HR 5175 would have prohibited political speech by companies with government contracts. However, the provisions of the DISCLOSE Act affecting government contractors did not apply equally to unions in collective bargaining agreements with the government, unions who receive dues from government payroll deductions or grant recipients.

In addition, HR 5175 would have forced U.S. companies to determine the nationality of every shareholder to determine if more than 20% of the company’s shareholders are foreign nationals. Under the penalty of perjury, a company would have had to undergo this certification process and would have had to forfeit its political free speech rights if there was more than 20% foreign ownership. In the meantime, the unions were free to spend unlimited amounts on political speech without regard to any certification process and without regard to whether those dues were derived by non-citizens.

AOI strongly opposed this measure, and a successful filibuster in the U.S. Senate finally killed the measure for the time being. You can read AOI’s correspondence on HR 5175 here.

  
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Discuss this article

Jeremy August 13, 2010

While I don’t agree with this legislation, especially its vague and broad attempts to define criminal liablity, we have to do something to make OSHA more effective. OSHA can terrorize small businesses, but larger ones have the financial resources to be less cautious. What we have is a system that essentially lets larger businesses purchase permits to ignore safety regulations. Invest money in time in making a facility safer, or maybe someday have to pay a fine. It seems a a lot of larger corporations are taking the latter option.

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