New laws may affect small businesses
February 12, 2008
Small business owners from Utah met at the State Capitol Monday to discuss issues in the legislative agenda this year that would affect local, independent businesses.
Candace Daly, Utah state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), discussed bills this year that would affect health care in Utah and bills that would allow small businesses to more easily acquire health care plans for their employees. She and members of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development also addressed bills affecting illegal immigration, and new programs to increase hiring and staffing in the state.
"Whereas 99 percent of big companies can afford health care for their employees, less than half of small-business owners can afford to do so, and states can help or hurt when it comes to access and cost," said Daly in a prepared statement.
Several business owners voiced their concerns about current health care mandates and regulations in the state during the meeting, as well as some of the proposed changes in bills sponsored by Utah legislators this year.
"Insurance, at one time, was a fringe benefit," said Theresa Sheffield from Asset Management, Inc. "Since when did it become our responsibility [to provide health insurance for employees]?"
Jason Perry, executive director of the governor’s Office of Economic Development said the taskforce that was recently called to reform health care in Utah will address Sheffield’s concern, among others.
Recommended Stories For You
"During the next three years, we’ll figure out who should bear that burden," Perry said. "The state already mandates certain types of insurance."
HB 133, sponsored by Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, would create the new health care reform taskforce which would devise better health insurance plans for employers at a lower cost.
Daly also assured small business owners that the committee will do all it can to help the uninsured workers of Utah.
"The legislative committee will hear and do intense research to help the uninsured," she said.
One goal of legislators this session, Daly said, is to provide more transparency for patients and the insured to the know prices of medical procedures before they are treated.
"It will require coordination between the Department of Health [and health care providers for patients] to acquire data online to see how much things cost," Daley explained. "You can research and review and see what’s available out there."
Many business owners expressed their desire for more transparency from health care providers, since they said many doctors do not offer specific prices for treatment.
"We’re totally in the dark and we don’t know why," said John Mitchell of Arco Packaging, Inc.
Russell Lookadoo of The Alternative Board, expressed his disapproval of the way doctors approach pricing.
"What is the cost of health care?" Lookadoo asked. "Hopefully the transparency bills will provide that."
Daly said if physicians would list their prices, she believes they would see an increase in business.
"If I was a physician, I think I would jump on the bandwagon and start listing my prices," she said. "If people start posting prices, you might get more business than [other doctors], especially with [everyday] procedures."
Daly also discussed other bills related to increasing transparency in health care, HB 47 and HB 60, sponsored by Rhonda Menlove, R-Garland, and James A. Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.
HB 60 addresses whether or not the Legislature should allow insurers to offer plans that do not follow all of the state mandates. Daly said this would allow insurers to "tailor-make" a product for certain clients if not all mandates apply to a company.
For example, Daly said, if there is a state mandate that calls for an employer to cover all children ages 8 to 16, but if all of the employees in that company are "empty-nesters," the insurance company can tailor-make a plan that best serves the needs of that company, without forcing it to comply to every mandate, which would reduce the cost of a business’ premium.
"They’re looking for some flexibility. It’s a catch-22, but at least it’s an option out there," Daly said.
When asked in the NFIB poll whether or not insurers should offer plans that do not include all mandates, 53.7 percent of small business owners said "yes," and 27 percent said "no."
Recruiting more out-of-state workers to Utah
Perry and Daly also briefly addressed hiring and staffing outside the state and illegal immigration issues.
"We need workers, but the people coming in are not people we need," Mitchell said.
Perry talked about a new job recruiting program the governor’s Office of Economic Development recently created, called the Utah Recruitment Initiative, which attempts to attract and recruit more out-of-state workers to Utah.
"During the last holidays, we put ads in the paper and postcards on all the pillows [in the state], saying ‘you need to look at Utah for a place to work,’" Perry said.
He said after the campaign was launched two years ago, 200 resumes were sent in, and more than 200 resumes were mailed in last year.
The new system, Perry explained, allows employers to access and pass around all resumes to other employers after they receive them.
"We wanted to create a method where [a] resume would be passed around to everyone. [Companies] will have access to job postings and resumes, as well," Perry said. "It’s like Monster.com, but it’s a little more viable.
Clark Caras from the Office of Economic Development helped develop the system and said 100,000 e-mails were recently sent to University of Utah alumni around the country asking them if they would ever want return to Utah to work. Of those 100,000 e-mails, he said 13,000 responded "yes."
"There are 13,000 [alumni] out there waiting to come back to Utah," Caras said, who encouraged small businesses in Utah to access this site in order to find employees who are willing to be recruited from outside the state.
How the government should approach illegal immigration in small businesses
On the topic of illegal immigration, many business owners expressed their frustration with the federal government’s role in regulating illegal immigration in the workforce.
"I don’t like any of the bills up there," said Mark Lewon of illegal immigration, president of operations of Utah Metal Works, Inc. "Make the federal government do it. Make them do their job. It’s under the Constitution."
Scott Wood agreed with Lewon that the federal government needs to step up to do more about forged documents.
"It’s very easy to forge documents in this world," said Wood from Coldwell Banker Commercial. "It needs to come down a filter from the federal government."
One of the illegal immigration bills that would affect small businesses, sponsored by Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, is HB 237, or the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act. This bill would allow state or local law enforcement officers to perform some of the same functions as federal immigration officers. It was first read in the Senate on Feb. 5.
The NFIB poll asked small businesses if state or local governments should have the power to revoke the business license of an employer who has been found guilty of hiring illegal immigrants. 46.7 percent answered "yes," and 43.6 percent responded "no."
While Daly acknowledged the responses were "kind of a wash," many small business owners at the meeting said they felt it should not be a business owner’s responsibility to ensure that every employee they hire is a legal citizen, and they should not be penalized for hiring illegal immigrants unknowingly.
"If I’m doing everything I can, but I still probably have some illegal immigrants," said Wood, "I don’t want a legitimate business to lose its business license."
Sheffield of Asset Management agreed with Wood. She said, because she works for an independent business, she has access to the same software as the IRS in order to check the legitimacy of employees’ social security numbers, but said she has found it is not always accurate.
"Why should that [responsibility] be on us?" she asked. "When did we become the illegal immigration police?"
After the meeting, business owners toured the renovated Capitol and met with legislators to discuss their concerns.
For more information about bills affecting independent businesses in Utah, visit http://www.le.state.ut.us . The NFIB is "the nation’s leading small-business advocacy association with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals," a press release states. For more information about the NFIB, visit http://www.nfib.com.