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2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference

For the first time ever, mason contractors, brick and block manufacturers, and stone quarriers gathered in Washington, D.C., to promote industry-friendly reform and legislation. Held April 24-26, the Masonry Industry Legislative Conference — consisting of the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA), Brick Industry Association, Building Stone Institute and National Concrete Masonry Association — allowed members of the masonry industry to get involved in their business's legislative future and help promote the best building system in the world.

   
2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
Jessica Johnson Bennett, MCAA Director of Government Affairs
"The conference provided an excellent opportunity for members of the masonry industry to personally meet with their members of Congress in order to educate them about issues specific to our industry," said Jessica Johnson Bennett, MCAA director of government affairs. "During the conference, MCAA members were able to show that MCAA is a strong grassroots organization that is leading the fight to protect the interests of its members and protect the long-term viability of the masonry industry as a whole."

Michael Adelizzi, MCAA executive director, added, "One of MCAA's long-range strategic visions is to unite the industry to work cooperatively. Nothing can impact our industry more than a unified industry working to impact regulation and legislation coming out of Washington, D.C. We were proud to have been a driving force in making this conference happen."

Speakers
Throughout this groundbreaking event, attendees got the chance to interact with members of Congress and several different federal agencies, including the White House Domestic Policy Council, Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Here are a few excerpts from some of the speaker sessions.



2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
 
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Blackburn kicked off the Opening Session Breakfast on Tuesday, April 25, discussing many of the key legislation that members were interested in hearing more about.

Blackburn discussed that, by relieving the stresses on small business owners, these same small businesses can help generate the job growth that is essential for the U.S. economy. "If we want to reduce the deficit, we need to reduce taxes and let you do what you do best: create jobs that spur financial growth," Blackburn said.

She also feels strongly that the estate tax is an unnecessary burden on small business owners and their families. Blackburn stated that proponents of the estate tax claim that the funding provided by the tax is detrimental to the federal government's budget, to which she responded, "Government does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem."

Concerning immigration reform, Blackburn said, "I know you all want to see a comprehensive immigration bill, and we are mindful of that." She also stated that she firmly believes the only way to address all concerns would be to secure the border, improve employee verification, and then introduce a temporary worker visa program.

2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference

Wahington Monument Tour


   
2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
Referring to gasoline prices, immigration reform, energy issues and more, Burr began by saying, "Over the short term, we've got some difficulties that we will need to deal with."

Burr said he understood the importance of a strong immigration reform bill that protects the nation, while also not interrupting small business.

"If amnesty is part of the plan, you will never get it through," he said. But, he also believes that illegal immigrants who have been with an employer should receive preferential treatment.

He went on further to say that after the border has been secured and immigration reform has been completed, that the U.S. government may not be the best suited organization to handle the categorizing and security checks for the millions of illegal residents currently in the country.

"We need to turn this over to the private sector, rather than the government," he said, suggesting that a business, such as a credit card company, is already set up to turn-around 14 million background checks quickly, unlike the slow moving federal government.

In closing, he remarked, "you can't drive down the street, see a construction site, and not be aware of the situation. However, it is very crucial for everyone that we construct sound legislation, that we do it right, and that it goes through."


"One crucial issue for every small business is health costs," Vitter said. "As it stands, small business is at a disadvantage." He said he felt that there is an urgent need to make health insurance affordable for small businesses, employees and their families. He also wanted participants to keep in mind that Association Health Plans "aren't the only answer, but it's a big piece of the puzzle."

Coming from Louisiana, one of the states hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, Vitter also discussed that it was "distressing and frustrating" how the government put out large contracts that were unattainable for the local small businesses. "Subcontract after subcontract, by the time small business gets in the act, they're only getting a small piece of the contract," he said.

He went on to discuss legislation that he recently introduced that requires the project manager on federal projects, such as hurricane reconstruction projects, to hire local small business directly, without layer after layer of subcontracts.



2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
 
Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

Having his own home in Mississippi annihilated by Katrina, Lott also focused some of his discussion on the rebuilding of these coastal areas.

"We're not necessarily going to build things back to the way they were, but ask some serious questions," Lott said. In a nod toward masonry building systems, he stated, "It's not necessarily how high you build it, but how you build it."

In turning toward the immigration reform issue, Lott said he favored a temporary worker system that requires workers to return home every year for a certain amount of time. "I feel strongly about it," he said. "They're here illegally and they came here illegally." He suggested that there needs to be a controlled way to deal with those illegal residents who are here, and those who are allowed to stay must earn the right to do so.

In closing, he said, "We're not perfect. We're going to deal with the situation as best as we can."

2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)

MCAA Foundation of Freedom Award
During Tuesday's meetings, MCAA members and executive staff presented the MCAA Foundation of Freedom Award to Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. This award recognizes members of Congress for their support of issues that are significant to the masonry industry.

"One of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to meet with the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Mike Enzi," Bennett said. "This was of great significance due to the fact that Enzi's committee has jurisdiction over issues directly affecting the masonry industry.

"MCAA chose to present Senator Enzi with the Foundation of Freedom Award because of his tireless efforts to reform OSHA and the regulatory process within the agency," she continued. "Currently the process is cumbersome and often inspectors are not adequately trained. Enzi has introduced three different pieces of legislation that would address some of the inadequacies and deficiencies of OSHA. In addition, he is and has been a friend of the masonry industry, and very receptive and friendly to any legislative requests we may have."

During the brief meeting, Enzi told those gathered how strongly he felt that "the people doing the work often know the safest way to do the job."

White House Briefings
On the final day of the conference, attendees visited with administration officials about industry concerns at the Old Executive Office Building, located next to the White House.


   
2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
Jesse Sharp
Sharp began by saying that the president is aware of how important training is and the need to bring more people into the skilled trades. "We are acutely aware of the shortage of highly skilled workers, especially after Katrina in the Gulf coast area," he said.

He also told attendees that the president is highly in favor of a temporary worker program as one facet to "a more practical way to secure our borders and have the workforce that we need."


Grone discussed the expectations for future Department of Defense (DOD) buildings and contracts.


2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
 
Phil Grone
"We're looking for quality, well-constructed facilities that are built on time," Grone said. "The right materials, for the right project, at the right time. There's no 'one size fits all' product."

He also discussed the inclusion of masonry walls systems in future DOD blast testing.

"Looking at the whole life-cycle has not been something that we've looked at in the past, but it's certainly something we need to do in the future," Grone said. "We need to change and evolve, and we are looking forward to working with [the masonry industry]."


   
2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference
Keith Eastin
Following up on Grone's comments, Eastin discussed the Army's plans for installations of barracks, offices, storage and other buildings, with nine million sq. ft. of new buildings planned for 2006, 21 million sq. ft. in 2007, and 49 million sq. ft. planned in the years following, worth an estimated $16 billion in new contracts.

"There's going to be a lot of brick and block masonry going on," Eastin explained. "We don't like to pay for a building twice, and we don't want to go modular. We want slab construction with masonry walls, but we want them built fast."

In closing, he said, "I don't think the Army is going to get where it wants to go without referring to the building industry, specifically you fine people."

2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference

Conclusion
The 2006 Masonry Industry Legislative Conference offered the perfect opportunity for the masonry industry to join together and discuss, one on one, the issues that affect the masonry industry with members of Congress and the administration.

But it doesn't stop here. We look forward to an even larger event next year, and we hope that you participate as well. See you next year!



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