Photo credit: Thomas Sullivan, NARI's new advocate, is known in Washington as Mr. Small Business because of his previous experience as chief counsel for advocacy in the Small Business Administration and because he represented the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
I have to admit to sleeping through most of my high-school history and civics classes. They just were not classes I was interested in. However, I have learned so much this past year about the way laws come into being, and I have a new respect for the politicians who represent us.
Every day constituents are breathing down their elected officials’ necks, telling them what they want. Our representatives need to listen to all of these voices and make a decision that is in the best interest of everyone. All too often decisions are based on being re-elected so the loudest voice and the deepest pockets are the voices that get heard instead of the voices of reason.
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry seeks to be that voice of reason in Washington, D.C. The organization wants to be recognized as the best source for remodeling information consistent with the professionalism and competence of the members we represent.
To help NARI achieve this goal, it has retained Thomas Sullivan of Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough LLP, Washington. Sullivan is known in Washington as Mr. Small Business because of his previous experience as chief counsel for advocacy in the Small Business Administration and because he represented the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The Need for an Advocate
Since its inception, NARI has been guarding its members’ rights through government affairs activities. Recently, the focus has been on grassroots activity via the local chapters and creating coalitions with like-minded associations, such as the American Lighting Association; American Society of Home Inspectors; Consumer Electronic Design & Installation Association; Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association; Interior Design Society; National Kitchen & Bath Association; Painting and Decorating Contractors of America and others.
NARI’s House of Delegates approved a new strategic plan in 2009, and government affairs assumed a much larger role in the association’s interests. By the end of 2009, the Merkley Amendment and U.S. EPA Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule compelled NARI to have representation in Washington.
Sullivan understands the remodeling industry and the issues facing every small business owner. In addition to lobbying, he runs the Small Business Coalition of Regulatory Relief, which serves as a resource for small business stakeholders who work to ensure their interests are represented in the regulatory process.
NARI’s approach to government affairs is forward-thinking and proactive. Rather than complaining, the association wants to work with its legislators and the administration to implement laws and regulations that work for its members, employees and customers. NARI wants to be seen differently than most groups who hire a lobbyist. The association wants to establish a reputation of helping those who make the laws and not just be seen as watching out for itself.
NARI’s Legislative Agenda
To further guide itself, the Government Affairs Committee created a set of legislative priorities. Especially now with Sullivan on board, there are many more issues the Government Affairs Committee is considering. Having a set of priorities gives the committee a litmus test to make a decision.
Currently, NARI’s legislative priorities include industry regulation, small business programs, consumer advocacy, healthy/energy-efficient homes and workforce development.
The LRRP rule is a concern that NARI will continue to monitor and address with EPA. NARI’s members are not satisfied with the resulting rule. The association would like to work with EPA to implement a rule that protects consumers while actually being a workable solution. As new regulations are promulgated, NARI wants to be part of the solution to ensure the implementation makes sense with the intent under which the regulations were created. NARI is examining inconsistencies between OSHA and EPA lead guidelines and will work for regulatory reform. In fact, the association is in the process of forming a working group comprised of members who practice lead-safe practices and trainers certified by the EPA.
Small Business Programs
NARI has had success in lobbying certain requirements that affect small business. For example, 1099 expanded reporting, which was part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, placed an undue burden on small business owners. NARI along with every other small business group successfully lobbied for the elimination of this requirement.
Another success story for the industry is the Merkley Amendment, an amendment added at the eleventh hour to the Senate’s version of the health-care bill. This amendment, which was ultimately dropped from the final Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of pressure from a variety of organizations, would have forced businesses in the construction industry to provide health insurance to employees if they have more than five employees. Meanwhile the minimum threshold for all other industries is more than 50 employees. NARI is monitoring other legislation to make sure this amendment doesn’t resurface somewhere else.
NARI members are consumer advocates who do what is best for their clients and the public good. NARI works to educate consumers about the remodeling process and how they can avoid unscrupulous contractors. LRRP is a good example of this. NARI’s position has consistently been that its members want to create a healthy environment for its clients. NARI will continue to advocate that position on any additional regulations that may arise.
NARI’s focus on green remodeling has helped its members assist their clients to take advantage of energy-efficient tax rebates. NARI advocates for programs that are inclusive to all industry certifications in green remodeling practices.
Last year, NARI closely monitored Home Star legislation when the Senate and House explored energy tax credits. NARI and a small group of industry associations sent a letter on July 19, 2010, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) with copies to other members of the Senate committees on Finance and Energy and Natural Resources. The letter expressed concern that Home Star’s potential rebates were not intended to be given directly to homeowners and that having only one accredited energy-efficient training organization greatly restricts the opportunity for highly trained individuals to qualify for the type of work required.
This year, NARI expects Home Star will come up in the context of the Clean Energy Standard that President Obama and some Senate leaders view as a priority. NARI will continue to educate senators about the importance of resolving the rebate and training accreditation issues in a way that helps the remodeling industry.
As small business entities, NARI members and their employees enjoy a close relationship. As such, NARI advocates for employment and labor practices that reflect the difference between small construction firms and large businesses. It also works to further policies that provide flexibility in the employer/employee relationship. NARI is working to form a close relationship with OSHA to further this agenda item and make sure that its members are aware of any new workplace safety initiatives coming out of that agency.
During the past year, NARI leaders have met with several Congressional staffers to introduce them to NARI members as remodeling-industry professionals and small business owners. For example, I met with Maria Doa, director of the EPA’s National Program Chemicals Division, to discuss concerns about the implementation of LRRP, lack of consumer education about the rule, lack of enforcement, and differences between the OSHA and EPA requirements regarding lead and RRP. Doa was open to receiving feedback about the discrepancies between OSHA and EPA requirements, which the NARI working group will push forward with suggested solutions once they have been identified. NARI continues to press its request for enforcement of the rule, most recently through a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. View the letter at xx.
NARI member Bruce Case, CLC, of Case Handyman and Remodeling Services LLC, accompanied Sullivan to a reception welcoming newly elected Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) to Washington. Ribble comes from a construction background, is president of his family’s roofing contracting business and served as president of the National Roofing Contractors Association in 2005. In fact, when asked whether he would be interested in meeting with a group of remodelers in Fox Valley, Wis., who were thrilled to have him in Congress, Ribble asked, “Are they NARI members?”
It is this kind of recognition-building among Congress that is important to the remodeling industry as a whole. As NARI works to raise the level of professionalism within the industry, it is important that various government agencies and Congressional staffers realize they have a place to turn for information-gathering purposes prior to making rules and regulations. NARI wants to be a trusted professional friend and competent source of information.
These are exciting and scary times to be a remodeler. It’s empowering to gather strength in numbers and be recognized and respected as a true powerhouse of economic growth on a national level. NARI now has a voice on the hill.