Electrical distributors must take a more active role in shaping the legislation that will affect their businesses.

- As your state legislators trudge back up Capitol Hill after the summer recess and the presidential campaign heats up, politics are again in the air. But floating in the first breath of the fall political season are some issues that should interest more than just Beltway policy wonks.

Legislation that could truly change the lives of electrical distributors, their customers, vendors and other small businesses will be front and center on the political stage in the coming weeks. Health insurance, the "death tax" and OSHA regulations on ergonomics are now under debate, and several pieces of legislation regarding these issues could very well either come to a vote or be signed into law in the coming months. Let's take a quick look at the pending legislation that could have the most impact on electrical distributors.

Estate tax reform. The dreaded "death tax" has been under assault for years, but both houses of Congress have passed bills that would cut the top 55% estate-tax rate in 2001 and then gradually phase out all other rates, with full repeal coming in 2010, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Washington, D.C. The House's version of this bill is "The Death Tax Elimination Act of 2000," H.R. 8. President Clinton is expected to veto this legislation.

Health care. Concerns over health-care issues have been on the front burner for quite some time in Washington, and legislation on this important issue may be closer to reality than ever. Both houses of Congress are now working on this issue. "The Patient's Bill of Rights Act," H.R. 2990, is intended to save small businesses 10% to 20% on health-care costs and expand health care insurance to millions of Americans now without coverage.

OSHA ergonomics. Pro-business forces in Washington have been battling with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) over a proposed standard that would require businesses to invest millions to address work-related musculoskeletal disorders. This June, the House of Representatives passed a provision in a current bill that would prohibit federal funding for this requirement; the Senate has followed with a very similar proposal, "The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001," S. 2553.

Inside sales reform. Another piece of legislation with potentially important implications for electrical distributors is the House legislation, "The Wage and Employment Growth Act of 1999," H.R. 3081, which would change the status of computer professionals and inside salespeople in distributorships from exempt to nonexempt employees. The corresponding legislation now in the Senate does not currently cover these changes.

Your legislators are supposed to vote based on the desires of their constituents. But unless you tell them where you stand on these issues, your voice won't be heard. If you are uncertain about how to contact your local legislators, several handy resources are available. You can click on www.house.gov, or just call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. If you need information on a specific bill, check out the Library of Congress' Web site at www.thomas.loc.gov. Type in the bill number or a few keywords regarding the bill's content, and this Web site's search engine will give you the status of the bill, the bill in its entirety and other important related information.

Several associations also provide solid information on government affairs. Take a look at NFIB's Web site at www.nfib.org., and the Web sites of the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), Alexandria, Va., at www.ieci.org; and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Bethesda, Md., at www.necanet.org. These trade groups are all active lobbyists intent on protecting the business interests of their members, and their Web sites do a great job of providing updates on the legislation under consideration that could have the most effect on their members.

You may have never been politically active in the past or contacted your state's representatives on pending legislation. But if you take the time to explore the issues now under debate in Congress that could impact small businesses, I think you will agree it would be a great time to start.