ABC message: Legislative clock is ticking away

Posted on Written by Gary Beckett

In an election year, conventional reasoning teaches that our elected officials in Washington will be so busy campaigning they will have little time to focus on legislative issues.

Trouble is, this is anything but a conventional year. And it’s a time when industry leaders have been shouting for congressional action to block various measures deemed harmful to boating.

Looking at the economy, a perfect storm of conditions has the nation poised on the edge of serious decline.

For the boating business, times could get worse. But if they do, it’ll be something few of those working in the industry today have ever seen. Many already are using the word “depression” to describe conditions in the recreational boating market that some say are worse than at any time since the late 1970s.

It’s under these conditions that more than 275 people attended the annual American Boating Congress in Washington, D.C., April 27-29, sponsored by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The annual trek is designed to keep industry executives on top of legislative issues. It also functions as a major lobbying effort, as participants flock to Capitol Hill for one-on-one meetings with their legislative representatives.

NMMA president Thom Dammrich called the event one of the most successful ABC gatherings ever.

“We had a good attendance … the audience was engaged,” said Dammrich. “We had the strongest group of speakers and the strongest participation by members of Congress that we’ve ever had.”

Two members of the Bush Cabinet were on hand, including Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, who discussed how recreational boating can assist in keeping the nation secure.

In addition, four legislators made presentations.

“We had 15-20 members of Congress who attended our reception and more than 300 Hill visits by attendees,” Dammrich added. “We educated a lot of people in those two days.”

More importantly, co-sponsors were added to both the Senate and House versions of the all-important Clean Boating Act of 2008, which would restore a 35-year-old Environmental Protection Agency, permitting exemption for discharging non-pollutant engine cooling, bilge and gray water, as well as water runoff from the deck. That’s a major accomplishment considering the potential negative impact the EPA permitting requirement could have on the recreational marine industry, once the current exemption expires Sept. 30. “If we don’t get this resolved, it will be a disaster for recreational boaters,” Dammrich said. (See permitting story, page 38).

Elsewhere, members also were updated on the industry’s support of the Business Activity Simplification Act. House and Senate versions of those bills are under consideration. Both take aim at so-called “economic nexus” standards, where states tax non-resident businesses based on the amount of sales they generate in their states.

“This has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line,” Dammrich said.

Attendees also were updated on the status of the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act Amendments of 2007, which would make technical corrections to the 1998 law protecting hull designs, and the Keep Our Waterfronts Working Act, a House bill offering matching grants to help states preserve waterfront access.

These, like other measures, are under consideration. But the clock is ticking down faster than some people think.

“I think the election year and the level of partisan politics that we’re seeing is a real cause for concern,” Dammrich said, especially since many of the measures the industry supports will block legislative actions deemed harmful to the industry. “It’s always easier to stop something than to get something done,” he added. “We have a tough road ahead of us.”

And, given Congress’ holiday and summer vacation schedules, as well as the fact that campaigning will dominate the fall, Dammrich said less than 30 days remain to pass these measures.

“Time is running out,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue.

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