On the Hill with the lumber industry

A blow-by-blow account of a moderately successful lobbying effort

From left: Roslyn Fogarty, J.D. Saunders, Sean Fogarty

We knew we weren't going to meet personally with California Congresswoman Janice Hahn. But that's OK. We were knocking on doors in the corridors of power. We were spreading the word of common sense legislation that supports builders and dealers, marching with an industry that churns out 15% of the nation's gross domestic product.

We -- that is NLBMDA chairman J.D. Saunders of Economy Lumber in Campbell, California; Sean Fogarty of Newark, California-based Osborne Lumber; his wife Roslyn; and a tag-along editor -- were armed with handouts, backgrounds and bullet points.

The meeting started rocky.

"Our conference rooms are taken," explained Jocelyn Rivera-Olivas, legislative assistant to Congresswoman Hahn. "We'll have to meet in the hallway. Is that OK?"

Bummer. A lesser businessman might have cringed visibly at the setback. Not Saunders. He acted as if there was no room in Washington, D.C. -- not even the Oval Office -- where he would rather meet; and no Washington figure -- not Obama -- who he would rather meet with. One point for us.

Saunders launched into the wisdom of the Innocent Sellers Act. "Do you know anyone in your family who has a small business," he asked.

"My uncle has rental business."

Bingo! Saunders pushed ahead, skillfully presenting the essential fairness of the Innocent Sellers Act. He conjured an imaginary customer of the uncle's business. The customer rents a table for a party, perhaps has a drink or two, dances on said table -- i.e., uses it improperly or recklessly -- falls off the table, and sues the innocent uncle.

Rivera-Olivas nodded interestedly. It's a slam dunk. Another point for us.

We move on to reform of the EPA's lead paint rule, onerous for the building trade. The message: if there's no pregnant women or children in the house, why should the industry be subject to expensive training and certification programs. After all, an opt-out for those exact type of households was part of the original plan. And the removal of the opt-out clause was never adequately explained.

But the specter of lead paint poisoning hovers around this issue. "Not sure about his one," says Rivera-Olivas.

Saunders recognizes resistance. "We're against lead paint as much as anybody, but the law is unworkable without an accurate and widely available test kit."

Rivera shows her poker face. No points.

The group moves on to the Marketplace Fairness Act -- local businesses feel the burden of sales taxes while internet sellers don't. The message: It's not about a new tax, it's about fairness.

No discernible reaction from the aid. Half a point.

The subject is steered back quickly to Innocent Sellers. It is learned that Hahn works on the transportation committee with the bill's sponsor. Encouraged, Fogarty shares a real-world example of a customer who bought dimensional lumber and tried to use it as a pole. Of course, it broke. The customer then attacked the lumberyard with unrighteous blame and costly litigation. More nods.

Rivera promised to bring the issues to the people's representative of the 44th district, and the meeting was over.

Success? Too early to tell.

The West Coast dealers, and all the dealers in attendance at the NLBMDA Spring Meeting and Legislative Conference are to be commended for their efforts. When this industry is not pressing its message, somebody else is pressing theirs.

Even if it is in the hallway.


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