Capitol steps: Dealers move on Washington: NLBMDA members connect with their elected officials

WASHINGTON, D.C. —On April 1, the day the U.S. Senate formally acknowledged the housing crisis, a large contingent of lumberyard owners arrived here to visit their elected officials. It was a propitious time for a lobbying trip, but the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) wanted more than just tax credits for new home buyers. Their wish list was long and varied, and not everyone stuck to the script, as constituents are prone to speak their minds when sitting before their representatives. That is exactly what happened at meetings that spanned two days and a number of congressional offices.

A delegation of dealers from Tennessee and North Carolina paid a call to Rep. Heath Shuler, a former quarterback for the Washington Redskins, who became a real estate developer in Knoxville, Tenn., before he ran for Congress. His business dealings led him to meet Carl Tin dell, owner of Tin dell’s Lumber and Building Materials. When Shuler moved to North Carolina and built a house, Tin dell’s supplied the materials.

“Every bit of the lumber in my house I bought from Carl,” Shuler said, as the two men traded gossip about people back home. Getting down to business, they discussed green building mandates and the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act, which Shuler said he would read over and consider signing on as a co-sponsor. “I’ll let you know by the end of the day,” he said.

The Innocent Sellers Fairness Act , an attempt to protect retailers from abusive product liability lawsuits, was at the top of the NLBMDA’s agenda.

This was the third year for H.R. 989, which already has 62 co-sponsors but requires 18 more. The bill also needs a Democratic senator who will introduce it along with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

Dealers also lobbied for access to afford able health care plans for their employees. A bill that would allow small business to band together for this purpose, through their trade associations, has passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.

Tindell was accompanied on his rounds by Christopher Yenrick, general manager of Smith Phillips Building Supply in Winston-Salem, N.C. Yenrick had an appointment with Virginia Foxx, a Republican congress woman from his home state. Foxx has sided with the NLBMDA’s position on key bills 80 percent of the time. But she seemed cautious on housing recovery legislation, which the Senate rejected last month but then abruptly reversed course on. The Senate voted 94 to 1 on April 1 to work with the House on a bipartisan bill that could expand tax breaks for money losing home builders and help refinance distressed subprime mortgages.

Foxx sounded dubious. “Have you ever seen government do something better than the private sector?” she asked, hurrying out the door to cast a procedural vote on the House floor.

The dealers themselves seemed conflicted over the housing recovery proposals, particularly those that would loosen bankruptcy laws. But there was little disagreement over green building mandates. The issue frequently took center stage as lumberyard owners lobbied for a “neutral” rating system.

“We don’t want to be tied to one particular standard,” said Dean Kelly, president of Jay-K Independent Lumber, during a visit to Rep. Michael Arcuri (DNY). Through out the day, the New Hartford, N.Y., pro dealer found himself explaining that LEED is not the only green building certification sys tem out there. The other members of his group—Seth Arluck of New Hampton Lumber, Bob Peterman of Peterman Lumber, and Brian Rivenburgh of Strober Building Supply/Pro Build—added more information about the limited availability of FSC-certified wood.

The legislative conference, held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C., kicked off on March 31 with a green building forum sponsored by the LBMI, the national association’s educational organization. Speakers from the Green Building Initiative, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Energy Star for Homes and LEED for Homes talked about their different programs and standards.

Doug Fenwick of Osmose came to the NLBMDA event just for the green building forum, he said. Although Fenwick is familiar with the green industry—Osmose has already had its wood preservative technology, MicroPro, certified by Scientific Certification Systems as an Environmentally Preferable Product—he liked the idea of seeing all four standard bearers on the same panel. The four-hour presentation left him wanting to know more, Fenwick said. “I’d like to see them in an open forum,” he added.

At a Tuesday night dinner and auction, the NLBMDA gave its Grassroots Dealer of the Year to Chuck Bankston of Bankston Lumber in Barnesville, Ga. Walter Fox worth of Fox worth-Galbraith Lumber was presented with the Leadership in Advocacy award. Through out the year, Fox-worth serves on both regional and national LBM boards. While he was in Washington, Fox worth paid visits to the offices of eight members of Congress in one day, accompanied by lumber dealers from Colorado and Texas.