BMJ Stone
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iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
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August 16, 2005 9:45 AM CDT

MCAA's 2005 Legislative Conference


When G. Alan Griffin took office as the Mason Contractors Association of America's (MCAA) President, one of his goals was to reinstate the Legislative Conference. After months of planning - as well as quite a few phone calls and merciless legwork by Marian (MJ) Marshall, MCAA's Director of Government Affairs - the MCAA was able to not only achieve Griffin's goal, but also set a far-reaching example of what can be accomplished by a united masonry coalition in the U.S. political arena.

June 26-28, the executive staff and board members of MCAA and the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA), members of the Masonry Industry Executive Council, and mason contractors from across the nation gathered in Washington, D.C., to make a resounding statement with representatives on Capitol Hill and members of the White House executive staff.

Legislative Conference participants met with over a dozen key players in the national fight for fair Social Security reform, solutions to immigration and workforce issues, health care initiatives, Association Health Plans (AHPs) and other issues that have a direct impact on mason contractors.

Mike DuHaime, Political Director, Republican National Committee
In turn, representatives met with over 50 key constituents in the masonry industry looking to get their voices heard, pertinent issues addressed and lasting relationships established.

While these concepts sound like a lot to accomplish in a day and a half, participants and representatives achieved all of this and more. Despite party lines, those who came with reservations in their hearts, aching feet and 95-degree temperatures, the masonry industry pulled together and let their strong, collective voice be heard throughout the nation's capital.

And, although a picture tells a thousand words, the images and text that follow are only a mere introduction into all that was realized. For those in the industry who did not participate, the only way to truly grasp the full experience is to simply take part next year.

During the MCAA Legislative Conference, representatives from OSHA, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Republican National Committee, as well as congressmen and senators from Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Virginia met with participants. The following are some excerpts from a few of these meetings.

Kim Lazor, OSHA Chief of Staff
During the MCAA Legislative Conference, representatives from OSHA, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Republican National Committee, as well as congressmen and senators from Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Virginia met with participants. The following are some excerpts from a few of these meetings.

Kim Lazor, OSHA Chief of Staff
With statistics for injuries and fatalities going down, OSHA is pleased with the numbers, but they have a long way to go. "We're making good progress and still doing the right thing, but we can't let up," Kim Lazor urged participants. "My goal is to continue to see these injury and fatality numbers drop."

With a background in OSHA cooperative programs and seeing them as beneficial for both the agency and mason contractors, she stressed a continuation of Voluntary Protection Programs (VPPs), alliances and other lines of open communication between the groups. She later stated, "We are hoping that if we work cooperatively there will be less problems, and this will provide a relief from inspections."

On the silica front, she stated, "I know that silica is near and dear to your hearts, and I can appreciate that." She explained that OSHA will continue to analyze public comments, and they hope to finish the peer review on the silica risk analysis by January.

Brad Campbell, Deputy Asst. Secretary for Employee Benefits
During the Q&A period, Lazor took the time to put a few rumors to rest. She stated that, while OSHA tracks the number of citations given, the national office does not dictate a quota for regional offices to meet. She also explained that OSHA is not self-funded and that all of the fines collected go to the Treasury Department.

"We're not as mean and nasty as you think we are. We understand your issues," she said in closing. "We are trying to be realistic and help you out."

Brad Campbell, Deputy Asst. Secretary for Employee Benefits, U.S. Dept. of Labor
Brad Campbell showed some humor by saying that Association Health Plans (AHPs) reminded him of a Laurel and Hardy quote: "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

However, Campbell said that AHPs are interesting and hopeful because they work within the current system. And with the passage of AHPs, "suddenly you now have a lot of options" for health care. He stated that AHPs will allow for one common plan across state lines, making non-union benefits more competitive with those offered by unions. He also declared that they are "very optimistic about [the passage of] AHPs this year."

Senator John Cornyn of Texas
Senator John Cornyn of Texas
"It's not really tort reform, but scandal reform," Cornyn said to the chuckling audience as he explained how negligent litigation is causing devastating economic losses. Also, the high price of malpractice insurance has had a negative effect on the quality of health care. He stated, "We need to rein in the lawsuit lottery that occurs across the nation."

On immigration concerns, Cornyn explained that there was a theory that any politician who touches Social Security reform kills their career. "I think that Social Security reform is a piece of cake compared to immigration reform" he joked.

On a more serious note, Cornyn explained how the U.S. needs to deal with its national security threat of "terrorists exploiting our lax borders," while balancing it with industry employment issues. "We need to deal with that in a realistic way." He understands that businesses like mason contractors create jobs and said that they want to remove the impediments so that businesses can do just that. He also stressed how imperative it is to provide a workforce for those businesses that need it.

Cornyn closed by saying, "There's a lot of work to do, and we look forward to working with you in taking care of the nation's business."

Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL), Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business
Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL), Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business
Congressman Don Manzullo met briefly with participants in his office. While he discussed ending the death tax to protect mason contractors and other small business owners, he focused more on asking questions of those in the room.

Manzullo gathered various bits of information on our industry, getting to know the work that mason contractors complete on a daily basis, and understanding what matters to the industry.

Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX)
"It is time for the United States government to go on a diet," Congressman Pete Sessions said before Monday night's audience. He added that the U.S. House of Representatives will finish all spending bills before their break, with everything except for Homeland Security and the Department of Defense coming in under budget.

He discussed his pro-business philosophies and how business owners like mason contractors need to pass on the ideas of free enterprise, including a hard day's work and earning your way in the world. "You're the kind of men and women that America is all about."

Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) (center) was given an MCAA Foundation of Freedom Award.
He also stressed that members needed to go further. "It is imperative that you and trade associations like yours send a message," he said. "You need to let [representatives] know about the problems in your industry. If you fail to meet your member of Congress, you are letting someone else dictate what matters."

Senator Jim Talent of Missouri
Senator Jim Talent has been working for seven years on passing AHP legislation. Jokingly, he said, "Frankly, I've married this bill." Later he explained, "We'll get AHPs out of committee, but the question is what it will look like."

Talent also discussed the death tax, saying, "I think we may have a permanent, very substantial, solution to eliminate the death tax for people like you." He stated that the deal is to increase the amount up to $5 million per person, $10 million for couples. The advantage, he said, is that there isn't a total loss of revenue from the death tax.

After speaking about helping to create a frugal budget, the growth of the economy, and securing American jobs, he closed by saying, "This is going to be the most pro-business Senate you've ever seen."

Senator Jim Talent talks with participants.
MCAA Foundation of Freedom Awards
During Monday's meetings, two representatives - Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) and Pete Sessions - were awarded the distinguished MCAA Foundation of Freedom Award.

"The Foundation of Freedom Award is the MCAA leadership award that recognizes members of Congress for their support of issues that are significant to our industry, their sacrifices made in serving the country, and their dedication to preserving our basic freedoms and liberties," explained Marshall. "We decided to give an award so members of Congress would understand just how important our issues are to us and that we appreciate their efforts on our behalf.

"The awards were given to Sessions and Norwood because they have voted with us so consistently, and worked very hard for us on the silica issue, tax reform and OSHA reform, among other things."

White House Briefings

Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA), was given the MCAA Foundation of Freedom Award.
The cou de gras of Marshall's efforts for this year's Legislative Conference was a private meeting with two of the senior executive White House staff. For the majority of the participants, this was the most anticipated session of the Conference. Obviously there were reasons specific to each member, but overall, as Marshall put it, "it is not something people get to do very often."

Allison Ho, Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
Allison Ho touched on immigration and workforce issues. She wanted to stress that the Administration understood that it was a touchy subject, but wanted to reassure citizens that American workers came first.

"We didn't get into this shape overnight, so it's going to take time and commitment to reach a solution," she explained. "There is no question that this is an immense task that will go on for years."

While she conceded that taking on immigration issues was a "huge undertaking," she said that the Administration was "hopeful and optimistic" to get positive initiatives started in the next year.

Barry S. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Chief of Staff (Karl Rove)

Allison Ho, Special Asst. to the President for Domestic Policy
Barry Jackson began by congratulating MCAA members for being consistent backers of the President and his agenda. He also spoke highly of Marshall and her work in Washington for the Association.

He then rolled up his sleeves and discussed the Administration's plans for Social Security reform. Jackson stated that Voluntary Personal Accounts (VPAs) are key to the long-term success of this reform.

"It's a nice, easy fix to kick the rich," he joked, but stated that making higher income citizens pay more to support the Social Security system just isn't a sound, moral or fiscal solution for the long-term.

He reassured audience members that the President's plan for Social Security reform was moving ahead. "You've probably seen this initiative declared dead a dozen times, but it's not," he stated. "We're patient people, and we're going to see this through."

At the end of his speech, he reminded participants that people around the world are trying to build governments similar to ours, and told the audience, "thank you for participating in the process."

Barry S. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove
There is a lot to be said for the Legislative Conference - both this year's, as well as those to be held in the future - but the words of Mackie Bounds, Owner of Brazos Masonry, Inc., and MCAA Treasurer, probably say it the best.

"I believe the Legislative Conference sent a very loud message to the members who took the time to come here," said Bounds. "As we spoke with the different congressmen and senators, all of them had the same message: You all have made a difference.

"I believe the more involvement that we can get from our membership, the more we'll continue to make big differences. We just have to learn to speak our hearts and get our message across."

About the Author

Jennie Farnsworth is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor. She is a former editor of Masonry magazine.


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