Amendment Would Bar Fines for First-Time Paperwork Violations

The U.S. Senate yesterday cleared the way for a final vote later this week to increase the minimum wage. Whether the bill passes "clean" or with amendments remains to be seen; one amendment would bar federal agencies from imposing civil fines against small businesses for first-time violations of rules that require collection of information, such as OSHA's recordkeeping standard. Sen. David Vitter, D-La., sponsored the amendment with support from Sen. George Voinovich, D-Ohio, and Vitter described it as a needed break for his constituents, some of whom were hit hard by hurricanes in 2005.

The amendment says an agency could still impose a fine if its head determines the violation presents a danger to public health or safety, has the potential to cause serious harm to the public interest, involves tax collection, or the violation remains uncorrected six months after the small business received notification of the violation in writing from the agency. Even if the violation endangers public health or safety, however, the amendment says no fine is possible if that violation is fixed within 24 hours after notification.

Speaking on the Senate floor Jan. 24, Vitter called his amendment "very simple, very straightforward, very basic, but also very important. It is to reduce, in a meaningful way, the excessive paperwork burden facing small businesses.... Nobody here--myself included--is arguing that we don't need a legitimate layer of regulation to protect and promote health and safety, the environment, worker safety, et cetera," Vitter added. "That is not what we are talking about. What we are talking about today is an amendment I offer on the minimum wage bill which includes provisions I introduced separately as the Small Business Paperwork Relief Act of 2007.... This is not only a reasonable thing to do, it is long overdue considering the enormous compliance costs I alluded to before--$7,600 per worker for a small business of 20 employees or less--just to take care of federal requirements."

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