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SMALL BUSINESS | At Issue

On Legislators' Desks: a Slew of Bills Affecting the Workplace

July 07, 1999|VICKI TORRES

State and federal legislators are working on a number of bills that affect small business. Here's a roundup:

* Overtime: Assembly Bill 60, sponsored by state Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles) and backed by labor, would require employers to pay overtime when employees work more than eight hours in a day, instead of after 40 hours in a week.

Small-business lobbyists say returning to the eight-hour day will deprive business owners of the flexibility they need to run small operations.

AB 60 has been amended numerous times. Proposed changes would allow businesses that now have flextime to keep it for current employees and pay overtime after 10 hours. New employees would have to follow an eight-hour workday unless two-thirds of all employees vote for flextime in a secret ballot.

* Ergonomics: AB 1127 would require employers to set up ergonomic safety programs to prevent repetitive-motion injuries or else face hefty state fines. Although companies with fewer than 10 employees are exempt, small-business activists oppose the bill, saying the definition of "repetitive motion" is too broad and would encompass nearly every work situation.

At the federal level, Senate Bill 1537 seeks to stop the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from issuing any ergonomic rules until 2001. Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.), who heads the Senate Committee on Small Business, argues that no clear medical agreement exists on what causes ergonomic injuries. He wants to provide $890,000 for the National Academy of Sciences to review the medical data and draw conclusions before any OSHA rules go into effect.

* Deductibility of health insurance: Bond also is working to get his measure, SB 343, included as part of the tax package to be issued in mid-July. Bond is asking that the self-employed be able to increase their current 60% deduction of health-care premiums to 100%, retroactive to Jan. 1. Rep. James M. Talent (R-Mo.), who chairs the House Committee on Small Business, also proposes 100% deductibility as part of his "Small Employer Tax Relief Act of 1999," SETRA, HR 2087.

In California, state SB 42 would make state law concur with federal law. California does not allow tax deductions for health insurance premiums for the self-employed.

* Increased deductions for business expenses: As part of SETRA, Talent is proposing that the meal-expense deduction for small businesses and the self-employed be increased from 50% to 80% by 2008. The deduction for depreciable personal property purchased for business use would increase to $35,000 immediately, up from $19,000.

* Veterans small-business benefits: Under the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999, HR 1568, sponsored by Talent, would make veterans eligible for funds under the micro-loan, DELTA loan and State Development Company programs, and classify veterans as a "socially and economically disadvantaged business group." It would provide loan payment deferrals and business counseling for business owners who are reservists called to active duty, and create the National Veterans Business Development Corp., which would establish assistance centers for use by veterans and the public. The corporation is required to be self-sustaining in four years.

* Group insurance for small businesses: Talent's bill, the Small Business Access and Choice for Entrepreneurs Act, will expand association health plan regulations to allow groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Assn. and National Federation of Independent Business to offer health plans to their members.

* E-commerce: Bond has asked that $1 million be earmarked for analysis of the ability of small and home-based businesses to engage in e-commerce and federal contracting. The $1 million was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Commerce/State/Justice Appropriations Bill, which the full Senate will vote on soon.

* Exemptions for writers and creative artists: AB 83, by state Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), would exempt from city permits, licenses or business taxes, writers and other creative artists in the city of Los Angeles who work from home. It also would prohibit cities from using information from the IRS' 1099 tax form to track down businesses not paying city taxes.

The bill is part of a continuing effort by the Writers Guild of America to seek protections for its members.

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Having parallel small-business committees in the House and Senate has cleared the way for significant gains for small business at the federal level. But in California, no similar political vehicle exists. Although there is the Office of Small Business in the Trade and Commerce Agency, it is not well-known and exercises little clout. Gov. Gray Davis is considering holding a small-business conference to develop a legislative agenda, but the idea has not yet gelled. More work on both fronts is needed at the state level.

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Times staff writer Vicki Torres can be reached at (213) 237-6553 or at vicki.torres@latimes.com.

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