Elections 2002: What's on Tap for 2003?

The switch to Republican control in the Senate resulting from the mid-term elections will not only affect legislative priorities and calendars for bills in the Senate but will have a significant impact on overall Congress priorities.

Several actions are likely to be of interest to the business community in general and to the converting industry in particular during the next Congress.

Homeland and Chemical Security
This past year homeland security bills, including the USA PATRIOT Act and legislation authorizing a Departement of Homeland Security, dominated much of the legislative calendar. Interest in expanding the Foreign Information Security Act may result in “PATRIOT II” in the next Congress.

In a closely divided Congress, however, with continued concerns about security, we could see other measures designed to combat terrorism next year, some of which could impose new and troublesome obligations on industry. Last year, for example, Senator Corzine (D-NJ) introduced S.1602, the “Chemical Security Act.” Reported out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, S.1602 would have granted EPA new authority, including authority to mandate the use of “substitutes” in the production process based on “inherently safer technologies.” This could result in a whole new regulatory regime of significant proportion.

Provisions of many homeland security bills raise privacy concerns that tend to be shared by some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative members of Congress. This is illustrated by the fact that defeated Congressman Bob Barr will become a consultant to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on privacy. The scope of intrusion by the government into privacy, and potential burdens on industry, will be the subject of additional debate in the next Congress.

And, key provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act are due to expire in 2003, making extension imperative. This probably will be linked to revisions to Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the financial privacy law, to offer more protection to consumers, potentially requiring “opt-in” before data is shared with third parties.

The White House would like quick action on the President's energy package, held up last year, in large part due to controversy over drilling in the ANWAR region of Alaska. Some key Republicans shared the environmental concerns raised by many Democrats, so bipartisan action will be needed.

Tort Reform
For more than 20 years, the business community has pursued federal tort reform legislation. Little serious discussion of tort reform occurred in the last Congress, although legislation similar to bills considered in the 106th Congress was introduced. One of the sticking points in tort reform legislation has been opposition from some conservative legislators to the principle of federal preemption. Preemption — adoption of national, uniform standards for liability — is a key objective of product liability reform.

Tax Reform
While the President has said he would like to repeal the estate tax, simplify the tax code, expand certain tax credits, and make the tax cuts adopted early on in his term permanent, post-election discussions suggest incremental reform is likely. The recent shake-up in the Administration's economic team suggests a more aggressive effort to achieve these economic reforms will be made.

Patients Bill of Rights
Competing Senate and House bills, including a House bill favored by President Bush, were introduced during the last Congress, but efforts to agree on a compromise proposal collapsed before the August Congressional recess. The White House is expected to push for its version. Costs of healthcare measures are a growing issue for businesses, employees, and consumers.

These are only a few of the items likely to interest the converting industry. As both parties strategize about the 2004 elections, the evolving debate on these issues will prove instructive about how both parties will define their agendas to the business community and to the public.

Sheila A. Millar, a partner with Keller and Heckman LLP, counsels both corporate and association clients. Contact her at 202/434-4143; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; PackagingLaw.com

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