Traffic is about to get really bad – really quickly – again in D.C. Our elected officials are returning to work on a full agenda that took a sharp turn last week, focusing on if and how the United States will get involved with Syria.

The 113th Congress hasn’t necessarily been a hotbed of activity – with only 31 bills passed so far (and with hot topics including the size of precious-metal blanks that can be used in commemorative coin production for the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HR 1071) and six bills that name bridges, buildings, or sections of bills in honor of someone). The 113th Congress has been coined the laziest Congress – ever.

Their agenda for remainder of the year looks like this:

  • Pass the remaining appropriations bills (so that we have a budget for 2014).
  1. Congress is already discussing a stopgap bill that would continue funding at FY 2013 rates so they can focus on Syria and how that would affect the budget (even though conservatives want to see it a lower rate of $967 billion rather than $988 billion) – and to hold off a government shutdown.
  2. Currently, of the 12 agencies with appropriations bills, only four (Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs) have been passed solely by the House. That leaves a lot of work for the Senate and Joint Committees in order to meet the Sept. 30 deadline.
  • Vote on a resolution to determine U.S. involvement in and response to Syria
  1. How will this affect sequestration and the budget?
  2. Work has begun in the House and Senate on this initiative. The Senate is looking to vote on a “use-of-force” resolution (with many saying it may not pass); if voting today, the House would not have the support to pass the resolution.
  3. If Congress isn’t looking to work well with the President – and given the other items to be passed on the agenda – we could be facing quite a stand-off between Congress and the President this fall (and really up until the next elections).  06senate2-600
  • Tax Reform
  1. It’s looking like Tax Reform will take a backseat. While there may be a mark-up of the bill, it more than likely won’t come to the floor until 2014.
  • Immigration Reform
  1. There’s a significant amount of skepticism about whether anything will happen with Immigration Reform this fall – especially now with Syria at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in late June to tighten border security and create a process to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the House has vowed not to pass this and would more than likely break up the components of Immigration Reform and pass them separately.
  • Reauthorize the Workforce Redevelopment Act
  • Water Resources Development Act

For now, all eyes are on what will happen with the U.S. involvement in Syria – and then how that will affect the agenda and whether everyone can work together after that has been decided.

California Adopts 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Earlier this year, California adopted the 2010 version of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 ADAS), which includes standards on assistive listening devices. This extensive revision to the 2013 California Building Standards Code balances the state standards with those in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This effort reconciles over 2,500 items where California standards were different from the federal standards.

Assistive_Listening_Devices_1

Titles II and III of the ADA specifically address Assistive Listening Systems (ALS), which are amplification systems utilizing transmitters, receivers, and coupling devices, are required for all assembly areas, conference rooms and meeting rooms for people with hearing impairments.

Specifically, the federal standards affecting ALS in sections 219 and 706 require:

• The 1991 Standards, at section 4.1.3(19)(b), require assembly areas, where audible communication is integral to the use of the space, to provide an assistive listening system if they have an audio amplification system or an occupant load of 50 or more people and have fixed seating. The 2010 Standards at section 219 require assistive listening systems in spaces where communication is integral to the space and audio amplification is provided and in courtrooms.
• The 1991 Standards require receivers to be provided for at least four percent (4%) of the total number of fixed seats. The 2010 Standards, at section 219.3, revise the percentage of receivers required according to a table that correlates the required number of receivers to the seating capacity of the facility. Small facilities will continue to provide receivers for four percent (4%) of the seats. The required percentage declines as the size of the facility increases. The changes also require at least twenty-five percent (25%), but no fewer than two, of the receivers to be hearing-aid compatible. Assembly areas served by an induction loop assistive listening system will not have to provide hearing-aid compatible receivers.
• Same Management or Building. The 2010 Standards add a new exception that allows multiple assembly areas that are in the same building and under the same management, such as theaters in a multiplex cinema and lecture halls in a college building, to calculate the number of receivers required based on the total number of seats in all the assembly areas, instead of each assembly area separately, where the receivers are compatible with the assistive listening systems used in each of the assembly areas.
• Mono Jacks, Sound Pressure, Etc. Section 4.33.7 of the 1991 Standards does not contain specific technical requirements for assistive listening systems. The 2010 Standards at section 706 require assistive listening systems to have standard mono jacks and will require hearing-aid compatible receivers to have neck loops to interface with telecoils in hearing aids. The 2010 Standards also specify sound pressure level, signal-to-noise ratio, and peak clipping level. Currently available assistive listening systems typically meet these technical requirements.

Review the 2010 California Building Code (CBC) to the 2013 CBC to learn about the changes to accessibility standards affecting ALS in Chapter 11B.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcing the ADA standards. The DOJ may file lawsuits in federal court to enforce the ADA, and courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination. The DOJ may also obtain civil penalties under Title III of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.

Policy Requiring Video Conferencing?

There are two sides to every story. Within the association world, there is buzz about several bills that have been introduced that would reduce government employee travel to educational conferences and tradeshows. In response to the IRS conferences, the GSA travel from a couple of years ago, and general questioning of government spending when sequestration is still causing havoc, these bills seem pretty positive.

But wait … one of these bills – H.R. 2643, the “Stay in Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013”  – is actually a bill that, as a systems integrator, you should very much support.

This bill actually requires the use of video conferencing, and government employees would need to track the amount of time they spend utilizing this technology. All of a sudden, the need for not only the public sector, but now private industry, to finally embrace this technology on a regular basis would be required. The business opportunities could be abundant if the bill were to pass.
Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the “Stay in Place, Cut the Waste Act” in an effort to force government to become more efficient and less wasteful in their spending. It has received a significant amount of bi-partisan support.

Two other bills – H.R. 2533, the “Stop Playing on Citizens Cash Act,” and H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013” – both address the need to reduce government employee travel expenses, but the “Stay in Place” bill is actually beneficial for our industry.

Fitzpatrick specifically called out video conferencing as a “still a largely untapped means of saving taxpayer dollars,” and a great way to increase business opportunities for the video-conferencing industry. The “Stay in Place” bill directs OMB to develop a plan to use video conferencing to achieve a 50% reduction in agencies’ current travel budgets to take effect in fiscal year 2017.

While the association for associations is encouraging members to oppose these three bills, and most might actually agree, NSCA has to say that we support the “Stay in Place” bill. We witness first-hand the benefits of having government employees attend conferences and tradeshows. The education and interaction between constituents and government officials is critical – it offers insight into policy or leads on business opportunities, but now there is a push to make this become even more virtual through the use of technology.

This bill also indicates the significance of having representatives in D.C. advocating for your business and its employees, since they may not be able to come to you in the near future.

Stay tuned … if you haven’t already, video conferencing might be the next technology you add to your company’s resume.

The Delay of the Employer Mandate

Last week a pivotal moment in the history of Obamacare occurred – the employer mandate was postponed for one year. NSCA has heard from some if its members asking what they should do and what this means to them. Keep reading…

Only if you are a business with 50 or more employees does this ruling even affect you – it bought you more time.

  • The fines are pushed back to January 1, 2015, as opposed to January 1, 2014  Note: This only applies if you don’t offer healthcare coverage.
  • Easier reporting rules will be established in conjunction with the private sector.

It seems simple, but there are still a lot of questions and confusion.  The administration has said they, “need to give businesses more time to comply with the new rules,”  according to Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama. Honestly, there is still confusion that exists around this rule. In addition, some of the regulations that affected the January 1, 2014, deadline still have not been published.

Some important parts of Obamacare are still planned to roll-out October 1, and these changes will affect small businesses – those with 50 FTEs or less. It’s still your choice to offer healthcare coverage – options will be offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace (Exchanges) or through the Small-Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Come 2016, those businesses with 100 FTEs will be able to participate in the SHOP program as well. Additionally, starting January 1, 2014, the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit will be available for those companies participating in SHOP.

NSCA recommends you speak with your insurance agents or brokers to help you determine (assuming you are at 50 or less employees) what you want to do. Do you currently offer insurance and want to see your options through the exchanges or SHOP? Perhaps it will lower costs? Do you want to be an informative employer and provide employees with their options through the Exchanges? Visiting www.healthcare.gov provides a simple process to evaluate your options.

If you are at 50 or more employees, you have some time to weigh your options before getting hit with fines. There are still many questions to be answered on this delay of the employer mandate, but for the time being, NSCA recommends to keep educating yourself on the issues and concerns. If questions or concerns arise, share them with us at NSCA so we can further work with other business organizations and federal agencies and decision-makers to express your concerns.

Helpful resources include:
Healthcare Insurance Marketplace
Health Reform in Action
ACA Tax Provisions

OSHA “Walk-Around” Policy Stomped On

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) includes many regulations affecting employers, and in February of this year, one of these regulations took on a new definition to allow union representatives to participate in a non-union employer’s walk-through during a physical inspection.OSHA

The regulation states that during a physical inspection, the employer, and an employee representative may accompany the compliance officer. The old interpretation stated that the employee representative “shall be a representative of the employees” and the new interpretation states “authorized by the employees.”

Read here for more technical information on the regulation.

Employers of non-union employees will need to add this to the growing list of concerns of opportunities for unions to come into the workplace and encourage union participation, in addition to reminding you the importance of staying on top of regulations affecting your business – and your bottom line.

Minimum Wage or Maximum Hassle?

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the need to help the middle-class and reports are starting to surface that new minimum wage laws will be addressed this summer on Capitol Hill. Now is the time to take a more in-depth look at how these minimum wage laws might affect systems integrators.

As of now the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. 19 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above that; 10 states are below or have no minimum wage; and the rest remain at the federal wage. During the 2013 state legislative sessions, 33 states have introduced minimum wage legislation. As the economy is beginning to stabilize, is now the time to increase the rates?

Additionally, 5 bills have been introduced at the federal level, including one by Senator Harkin (D-IA) to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 (S. 460). This is where the details matter – the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 includes “indexing” of minimum wages so that after it reaches $10.10, it would increase to adjust to cost of living increases. This would place a huge burden on small businesses.

Experts have proven that raising the minimum wage has not truly affected unemployment rates (one of the biggest concerns for raising the minimum wage), but would argue that the minimum wage is currently at a good rate to differentiate between skilled and un-skilled labor. If you go too much above that rate, then you will see unemployment (especially now when more college graduates are taking minimum wage jobs, just to have a job).

Here are your basic pros and cons for raising the minimum wage:

Pros:
• Provides an incentive for un-skilled workers to get the training needed for higher paying jobs
• Decreases poverty levels, therefore decreasing government funding on low-income programs
• Puts more tax money back into the system with more people working
• Job security – in tough economic times, those with lower paying jobs are more than likely to keep their jobs so executives don’t have to hire and train new employees

Cons:
• Unemployment increases among all types of workers – skilled or un-skilled (therefore increasing the poverty level)
• Decreases job growth as small businesses may not be able to afford the new minimum wage, putting more burden on small staffs
• Increased pricing in goods and services (to cover labor costs)
• Small businesses will struggle to pay employees varying rates in order to compensate for increased wages

You could argue the pros and cons are quite subjective.  For example, only those motivated to get jobs will go get the training. Others have found it’s better to live off of unemployment than it is to go and actively look for a job – in some cases they might make more money on unemployment than taking a minimum wage job. Only if more people are working will more money be put back into the government and save the feds from funding low-income programs.

This opens a bigger issue: training. Perhaps this is a solution to getting more people in skilled jobs – provide more training programs through federal programs, and ones that aren’t controlled by the Unions. There are some efforts being discussed on Capitol Hill to address this issue as well, and industry support and programs, such as ESPA, could provide great opportunities to put more skilled labor in the workforce, giving more people money to spend or save, therefore helping the economy. More and more community colleges and technical training schools are becoming relevant once again as students are realizing the outrageous costs of getting a higher education to work in a minimum wage job.

The fact is that there are both pros and cons to the minimum wage – but more has to be done beyond just raising the minimum wage to incentivize growth in employment and the economy.

Be the Voice. Be the Change. Be the Solution.

It’s time for a different kind of blog on “Get the GAB.” We typically cover policies affecting systems integrators, but after this week’s events – it’s time to take a stance.

This week is evidence enough that it is time to put words into action and come up with a viable solution to assist in public safety. On Monday we witnessed the tragic twin bombings during the Boston Marathon; Wednesday, a fertilizer plant exploded in Waco, TX; and a variety of severe weather threats throughout the Midwest and southern states are expected to continue through the weekend. If that isn’t reason enough to understand why emergency communications systems are a critical component to any public venue or event – I’m not sure what is.

12 years ago, I witnessed the tragic events of 9/11 in Washington D.C. My office was one of the first to evacuate the U.S. Capitol complex. We left our offices not knowing where to go, what to expect or how long we’d be gone. After fleeing the building, we saw an airplane fly too close for comfort over the Capitol building – mass chaos broke out and everyone franticly ran for safety – it was a scene from a movie and one you never expect to be a part of.

Many people have continued to live their lives as if 9/11; the Oklahoma City Bombing; Waco; Colorado shooting; Joplin, MO; Sandy Hook; Super Storm Sandy, and now Boston never occurred – but others are still unable to fly or return to a movie. Even I had a moment of second-guessing my attendance at a hockey game this week – but we can’t live in fear, and we shouldn’t let others. We can’t get too comfortable, but this integrator community can help put the public at ease and ready to live each day to its fullest – with little to no fear.

All of these events have given me a reason to write this blog and ask for your help. We aren’t going to stop these types of acts from happening, but you, the NSCA member, you have the expertise and capabilities to take a leadership role in providing solutions that will help the community affected in protecting lives and assets. Let that be your philosophy to your customers.

Businesses in and around the Joplin, Kansas City area recognize the value in these systems after the devastating storms –  let’s get the rest of the country feeling this way. Help people know what to expect, where to go and why, who to communicate with and when. This isn’t simply about fire alarms – this is about integrating A/V, security, IT, and other life-safety technologies and applications to provide public safety and assurance.

If you’re not familiar with mass notification and emergency communications systems (MNEC/ECS), get to know them, and get to know them well because the public needs you to be aware and to care. We should always be diligent, but when the public attends an event or gets caught in a storm, they should be equipped with a sense of security that the technology will allow them to evacuate and find shelter quickly and safely – even in the midst of distress.

We don’t need policy to drive this initiative. The Department of Defense was given a directive to incorporate these systems into their facilities and they did. We are capable right now to put these systems into place – we just need more buy in from government and code officials.

It is clear that now MNEC systems must be mandatory in other public venues, regardless of commercial, private, healthcare, educational, or outdoors

Organizations like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have created codes to set a standard for public safety, but unless 1) government officials know about these codes, 2) the state requires these updated codes, and 3) officials have funding to implement the code changes, only the most aware and responsible facility owners and managers will implement these initiatives, and provide MNEC systems in their private facilities.

Take the reins and become the leader on MNEC systems and applications – understand the MNEC marketplace and pay attention to individuals who are currently offering these solutions. This is taking the technology you know and love to a new level while simultaneously offering a positive public service.

As people are being interviewed on their way out of a building, or event after an emergency, they can say they knew what to do, where to go – all because technology aided us in what to do. You can pat yourself on the back knowing that you saved a life because you provided a solution that every facility manager, event planner, security director, and government official needs to know.

Regardless of if it’s an act of violence, severe weather, a spontaneous fire or a chemical disaster; you have the opportunity to be the voice, the change, the solution. Take the steps toward being the leader attend NSCA’s MNEC Symposium, in conjunction with PSA’s PSA-TEC event, May 9, in Westminster, Colorado – you won’t regret it.