By Karen Suhaka
The gridlock in Congress, with only around 10 percent of a total 9,427 bills enacted into law this year and only 513 resolutions passed, might leave some self-storage professionals to think there wont be much change in legislature this year. However, at the state level, nearly 125,000 bills have been introduced to date in 2012, with 15 percent being signed into law. That means approximately 20,000 new laws have passed just this year, some of which could mean profound changes in the way self-storage facilities do business.
With so much potential change on the books, self-storage operators must find a way to keep informed of changes affecting them and determine if action needs to be taken, all without drowning in a sea of irrelevant or unlikely-to-be-passed laws. By becoming more informed of pending legislature, self-storage professionals can take an active role in forming the laws that govern their industry, protecting their businesses and advocating for their customers. While industry associations are often active at the state level, they may rely on input and mobilization from members to effect change in government.
A quick look across states reveals several proposed, passed or pending legislative changes of which self-storage operators and managers need to be aware. They include:
- Lien-law reform: Lien laws have recently been an area of high profile, with active legislation in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and South Dakota. These bills could reform current regulations, making it easier for self-storage operators to serve customers and protect their businesses.
- Sales taxes: In South Dakota, the legislature introduced a potentially devastating 4 percent sales tax on the self-storage industry.
- Price gouging: In Massachusetts, Senate Bill 1192 was recently introduced, prohibiting price gouging during a state of emergency, with self-storage units being specifically called out in the language.
- Property-insurance policies: In Pennsylvania, House Bill 20 would allow owners of a self-storage facility to sell limited property-insurance policies. Sale of these policies is a lucrative potential revenue stream owners in other states might want to replicate.
How can self-storage professionals keep up with active legislation and identify the bills that have the greatest chance of affecting their business? Thanks to the Internet, keeping up is easier than ever. Single-state operators should:
- Become familiar with where and how their state publishes bills online.
- Check sites regularly for changes to existing and newly proposed bills. With many sessions lasting from 30 to 90 days, paying attention to pre-filing and the first few weeks of session can help operators plan and prepare for the upcoming legislative year.
Multi-state operators should:
- Spend some time before sessions heat up so they know whats going on in their states.
- Set up tracking so they're alerted when situations change.
Both single- and multi-state operators should look into industry-association memberships. Even if you arent a member, association websites will often carry a summary of new and pending legislation. There are also several services, some free and some at a minimal cost, to help you search and track federal and state legislation. A quick Google search will turn up several options.
What can self-storage operators do if there is particularly helpful or damaging legislation under consideration? Becoming educated and involved is the best way to protect the rights and interests important to you. Believe it or not, visits, calls and personal e-mails from constituents really do have an impact on a legislators opinion. In fact, a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit that helps Congress members reach out to its citizenry, shows communication is the No. 1 thing that might change a Congress members opinion.
Attending a hearing, providing written testimony or participating in other grassroots efforts can significantly impact the outcome of bills. Industry associations often employ professional lobbyists to evaluate legislation and design strategies to positively impact legislation. The national Self Storage Association actively opposed the recent sales-tax bill in South Dakota, sending letters of opposition, notifying owners and operators of potential changes, and urging them to register their opinion. These efforts were critical in defeating this bill. Opportunity exists for self-storage owners in Pennsylvania to follow a similar model, get active and help move the property-insurance policies bill out of the House Insurance Committee.
As adoption numbers demonstrate, bills often are not signed into law. Identifying a bills chance of success can help individuals and associations to gauge whether an active response is likely to be necessary or a bill they support is set up to succeed. Key success factors for bills include:
- Sponsor numbers: Generally, the more sponsors a bill has, the more likely it will pass.
- Bipartisan bills: Bills representing interests from more than one party can indicate a broader level of support and success.
- Committee members: Are the sponsors of the bill also on the committees considering the bill? Committee member buy-in improves the success rate.
- Progress: Determine how far through the process the bill is. Legislature stalled in committee can be a red flag.
- Prior track records: New bills have a better chance of being passed than bills that have failed in previous years.
Monitoring and tracking state legislation makes good business sense and isnt difficult with online resources. Trade journals and forums can help identify relevant bills. A search of websites tracking legislative data will identify free and paid resources for proactive monitoring. If you see a bill that concerns you or your business, get involved! It could mean business success or survival.
Karen Suhaka is founder of LegiNation and creator of BillTrack50, a new set of online services to track legislative information and gain improved insight into the progress and details of topically relevant bills. By using data to make more informed decisions, organizations can partner with government to define language in bills, make strategic business decisions, support or oppose bills and spot developing political trends. BillTrack50 is available in free and subscription options. For more information, call 303.809.2046; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.billtrack50.com.