Yesterday, the Oregon Legislature gavelled out the 2011 session. It was a whirlwind five months that saw many ups and downs. Here is a quick rundown of some of the successes and disappointments MSA-Oregon experienced.
Health Insurance Exchange:
The creation of a strong pro-small business health insurance exchange in Oregon was top priority for MSA-Oregon this legislative session. Small business owners testified at hearings, called and e-mailed your legislators, wrote letters to the editor and op-eds, and on June 17th the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange was signed into law. The process now heads into a planning process where a Governor-appointed board will create the structure of the exchange that will become a central marketplace for individuals, families and small businesses to have access to affordable, quality health care. While small business owners may not have received everything we wanted in this legislation, MSA-Oregon does see this as a positive step forward on helping small businesses reduce their health insurance burden. MSA-Oregon will continue to watch this process and find opportunities to add the small business voice to the debate when needed. Click here for more information on the exchange, and to receive updates on the business planning process.
While the creation of the exchange can be seen as a minor success, we unfortunately weren’t able to advance the other major priority for MSA-Oregon this legislative session. Starting in February with a full State Bank concept, we compromised down to a strong jobs bill that would have freed up credit for small business in HB2519. All involved were happy with and supported this final version of the bill; but in the end, time and a lack of leadership led to the death of the bill this session. That said, this campaign doesn’t stop here – MSA-Oregon will continue to push this concept, and we will hopefully be part of a coalition that brings it back next legislative session.
The hard work and dedication of all of our small business owners and supporters this session helped this legislation move, and made sure that the true small business voice was heard in the halls of the capitol.
Last week marked National Small Business Week, and the Main Street Alliance took the opportunity to tell corporate lobbyists that they don’t represent small businesses in key the issue debates happening here in Oregon and nationally.
The week kicked off with a blog post from MSA-Oregon coalition director, Dan Lombardi, highlighting one of the fights small business owners are engaged in down in Salem at the State Capitol. Oregon is working on creating a health insurance exchange that will help reduce the burden on small business owners who provide health insurance, or give opportunities to those who can’t afford it. In the post, published on Blue Oregon, Dan called out insurance industry lobbyist who are working to weaken the exchange (you can read the full post here):
“At every step in the process this session, legislators have ignored concerns [of small business owners], and have capitulated to the insurance industry lobby to develop an exchange that continues to allow big health insurance companies to drive up premiums year after year.”
Later in the week, 11 small business owners from Portland, Salem, and Bend attended a small business roundtable with Governor John Kitzhaber and his staff to discuss pending legislation, and how it will impact small business owners and our communities. Business owners shared stories about the rising costs of health insurance, the lack of small business capital, and the need for meaningful reforms to energy tax credits. The concerns were well recieived by the Governor’s office. At the end of the meeting, the small business owners in attendance delivered MSA-Oregon’s 2011 legislative agenda and asked the Governor to stand with small business this session, not corporate lobbyists.
To wrap up National Small Business Week activities, MSA-Oregon co-chairs Jim Houser and Mark Kellenbeck submitted Op-Eds on state level issues to the Oregonian, and one on national issues to the Hill. Both had similar themes, and asked the key question of the week:
“Small businesses have spoken for and been ignored for far too long, and it’s time we fight back and change that. We are asking Gov. Kitzhaber and the Legislature to listen to the true economic drivers of Oregon’s economy — small businesses. We do the majority of hiring in this state, and because of that, our voice should be heard louder than any corporate lobbyist in the state Capitol. To this point in the session, we have been ignored. With National Small Business Week, the question must be asked: Who stands with small business, and who stands against? We hope our elected officials do the right thing for Oregon and stand with small business.”
Full text of the Op-Eds can be found here:
- May 21, 2011 – The Oregonian Op-Ed – “Corporations don’t speak for small business”
- May 20, 2011 – The Hill – “Who speaks for small business? Not big corporate interests”
(This blog entry is cross posted at Blue Oregon.)
Many may not be aware of this, but this week marks National Small Business Week, a yearly event hosted by the United States Small Business Administration. According to the event’s website, its goal is to ‘recognize the special impact made by outstanding entrepreneurs and small business owners’. This sounds all well and good, until start to study the site, and see that this year’s event is sponsored by companies that don’t fit your typical small business model: Wal-Mart, VISA, AT&T, Raytheon, Google, Microsoft, and so on. The truth is, not one of these businesses can be categorized as a ‘small business.’ In fact, some can even be credited with shuttering up Main Street businesses throughout the country. This all begs the question; who really stands with small business? Does the US Small Business Administration? Do our state elected officials?
We always hear politicians, on both sides of the aisle, say they are looking out for small business owners, but at the end of the day, corporate lobbyists muscle out the small business voice, making sure legislation benefits their CEO’s and shareholders, and often leaving small businesses out to dry.
I don’t think any of us would be shocked to learn that corporate lobbyist hold a certain amount of power and sway in Salem, and a perfect example of this is evident in the creation of a state health insurance exchange. The health insurance exchange is a bill that will cut waste, lower costs, and improve our health care delivery system through creating one unified market exchange – a market that is open and transparent with only consumers on the exchange board, not insurance brokers and agents who may come with hidden agendas. At the end of the day, itt will create a more accountable form of health insurance here in Oregon.
Small business owners throughout the state have been fighting for a strong insurance exchange that will help them find better and more affordable health insurance for themselves and their employees.
Recently, small business owner Jim Houser testified in front of the House Health Care Committee, saying:
“Currently, my company pays over $100,000 per year in health care premiums for our 9 full-time employees and their families. Unless we can get control of rising premium costs we will have to reduce or eliminate coverage, which will harm our ability to compete with the larger companies for the best employees.”
At every step in the process this session, legislators have ignored concerns similar to Jim’s, and have capitulated to the insurance industry lobby to develop an exchange that continues to allow big health insurance companies to drive up premiums year after year.
Situations like these are the very reason that the Main Street Alliance of Oregon has been and continues to fight against the influence of corporate lobbyist in Salem and DC by giving small business owners a voice at the table when it comes to legislation that impacts them and their businesses. This National Small Business Week, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon is taking the opportunity to tell corporations and corporate lobbyists that they don’t speak for small business.
Small businesses have been ignored for far too long, and that’s why the Main Street Alliance of Oregon is asking Governor Kitzhaber and State Legislature to listen to the true economic drivers of Oregon’s economy — small businesses. These businesses do the majority of hiring in this state, and because of that, their voice should be heard louder than any corporate lobbyist in Salem. Up to this point in the session, they have been ignored. This National Small Business Week, the question must be asked again: who stands with small business, and who stands against them? Will the state’s elected officials do the right thing for Oregon, and stand with small business?
The 2011 Oregon Legislative Session has hit the halfway mark, and the Main Street Alliance of Oregon has been in Salem standing up for small businesses throughout Oregon with a clear set of priorities: Fighting for a health insurance system that works for business, credit and lending policies that help businesses expand, and energy and efficiency programs that put Oregonians back to work.
Here’s a quick rundown of MSA-Oregon priority legislation, and the current status of each -
Health Insurance Exchange (SB 99):
Small businesses received bad news last week when the Senate Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health Policy Committee failed to approve amendments that would strengthen the current bill – allowing it to be just a fancy website that offers the same bad for business products you have access to now. In fact, only Senator Chip Shields (D- NE Portland) voted to let the exchange negotiate on costs, which is key to helping lower insurance costs for small business owners.
The bill now goes directly to the floor of the Senate. If it passes the Senate, it goes to the House Health Care Committee, where there is potential for bipartisan support for putting negotiation back in the bill. This means there is still work you as small business owners can do to make sure Oregon’s Health Insurance Exchange is as strong as possible. To accomplish this, MSA-Oregon members are be urged to contact the members of the House Health Care Committee, and their local Senator and Representative and tell them to support an exchange that works for small business.
(MSA-Oregon’s recommendations for a strong small business friendly Health Insurance Exchange can be found HERE.)
“Virtual” State Bank (SB 889 and HB 3452)
On March 18th, the Senate General Government, Consumer and Small Business Protection Committee voted to amend SB 889 to make it stronger and push it closer to a floor vote in the Senate. However, the bill is still sitting in that committee, and MSA-Oregon’s work is far from done. Small businesses are being asked to contact members of the Senate committee, as well as their local Senator and Representative, urging them to support this legislation.
Energy and Efficiency Programs (HB 3535 and BETC reform)
Sadly, one of MSA-Oregon’s priorities this session died in committee last week. HB 3535, which would have created programs for energy efficiency and job creation had some costs to it that could not be overcome in this tight budget cycle – barring it from moving forward. MSA-Oregon will continue to track the Business Energy Tax Credit reforms, and make sure small business owners are informed on how these changes will impact them moving forward.
Like any legislative session, there are ups and down; wins and losses. The most important thing is that small business owners are at the table for all of these debates. Stay tuned for more updates as the 2011 legislative session continues towards its end of June Sine Die.
Last Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011, marked the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. One year later, small business owners like Jim Houser, MSA-Oregon co-chair, and co-owner of the Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, are seeing the benefits of the new law. Jim welcomed Congressman Blumenauer, and Health and Human Services Regional Director Susan Johnson to his shop last Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011, to celebrate the signing of the law, and commit to move forward of health care reform.
Watch video from the event here:
(Video courtesy of Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Office)