Small Business Are Not Bluffing about Burdensome Regulations in Iowa
By Janis Reyes, Assistant Chief Counsel
“Unlike anywhere else. On purpose.” This is the city motto of Council Bluffs, the first stop of Advocacy’s Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables in Iowa. Small businesses, their representatives, and Senate and Congressional staffers convened to discuss the unique regulatory challenges faced by small businesses in this region and potential solutions that Advocacy could bring back to Washington D.C.
Council Bluffs has always been a transportation and distribution center for Iowa’s agricultural products such as corn, beef and pork; from the days when it was named Mile Marker Zero of the First Transcontinental Railroad to modern times as it lies on the junction of two interstate highways. Ty Rosburg, who owns a business that transports livestock, commented that the Department of Transportation never considered the agricultural industry when it changed its regulations and limited the numbers of hours that truck operators can drive. His business transports live animals such as pigs and cattle across state lines, and recommends extra flexibility for the agricultural industry. For example, if a truck driver is close to its destination but over the limit for hours worked, the driver risks losing his license or risking the lives of these animals onboard. Rosburg also expressed concern about the compliance cost of another DOT regulation that requires electronic logging devices on trucks. His drivers also had issues with their privacy rights and safety with these devices, and were worried that their trucks could get hacked and controlled by outsiders.
Dan Koenig, President and CEO of the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, was concerned about the lack of qualified staff and workers and the “thousands of unfilled jobs in our marketplace” in areas like trucking, agriculture, hospitality, retail. He noted that there is a labor shortage all of over the country, but even more so in a state like Iowa that does not have enough people. He noted that the average age in trucking is 62 and there are many truckers retiring. Rosburg recommended better apprenticeship and shorter length programs for youth in the trucking industry. He also noted that the agricultural industry also has a labor shortage in workers to help to farm and even to unload the trucks.
Brad Hartkopf, from the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, commented that there is also a lack of available skilled workers even though there are thousands of available jobs in the manufacturing sector in Iowa. He noted that his organization is a state affiliate of National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), who was a member of the Administration’s Apprenticeship Expansion Task Force which was tasked to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships in sectors like manufacturing. Both Koenig and Hartkopf also recommended that the Administration approve more legal visas to bring in more foreign workers for these open positions.
Colleen Brabec, the owner of a medical equipment company that supplies wheelchairs and hospital beds, cited problems with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ 2013 regulations which cut the reimbursement rates in half for Council Bluffs and nearby rural areas. Brabec stated that this change has resulted in her Medicare business dropping from 25 percent to 2 percent. She also noted that her company has problems being reimbursed for custom wheelchairs which can cost $10,000 to $20,000; these claims are often tied up in denials and appeals for years. She recommended that Advocacy support several bills that create new medical codes for specialty wheelchairs.
Council Bluffs is unlike anywhere else. Advocacy was pleased to hear these unique stories and regulatory challenges faced by these small businesses in Iowa, and will work hard on finding solutions when we get back to Washington D.C.
Advocacy was in Iowa for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables July 17-19.
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Janis Reyes is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes labor and immigration. Reyes can be reached at Janis.firstname.lastname@example.org.