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Raising the Cost of Doing Business Continues

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

You would think that with the economy in the tank and businesses struggling to keep their doors open, lawmakers would be doing everything possible to make it easier to stay in business.

At least that was the message everyone thought they sent to lawmakers last November when a number of lawmakers were given the boot. Well, guess again. Lawmakers at the state capitol are finding new ways to make it difficult to survive in this economy. Among the bills being considered are those that would add more employer mandates while others would expand the kind of services that would be included in the prepaid health care coverage that employers are required to provide employees.

There is even a measure in that would raise the minimum wage from its current level to $6.50 with annual adjustments for the effects of inflation. There are bills to expand the Hawaii family leave law beyond the current limits and beyond the federal mandate.

One of the more delicate issues that would impose yet another mandate on employers is contained in a bill that would make it discriminatory for an employer to restrict or limit the right of a woman to breast-feed in a place of public accommodation. The bill would also require the employer to provide the breast-feeding employee up to one-half hour per working day for the sole purpose of breast-feeding within the first year after the birth of a child. The bill would also have provided an income tax credit to the employer for providing a facility where a mother could breast-feed.

By the time the bill reached the Finance Committee, the measure was pulled back so that it made it permissive for the employer to provide adequate time during the work day to breast-feed. While that provision specified that the employer may allow a breast-feeding mother time during the workday, the bill also amended the discriminatory practices section of the employment practices law to provide that is a discriminatory practice for any employer to penalize a lactating woman who breast-feeds in the workplace.

So it was ironic that when an attorney from the state civil rights commission was asked how he would advise an employer if the issue ever came up, he replied that the employer probably should allow the employee to breast-feed. The attorney admitted that despite the permissive language of the wage and hour law, he would advise the employer to allow the mother to breast-feed in the workplace as to deny her that right would invite a lawsuit under the employment practices law.

It became obvious as the questions volleyed back and forth that lawmakers were very sensitive to the fact that the adoption of this bill would impose yet another mandate on employers. But advocates of the measure pointed out the hidden benefits of breast-feeding, that there would be less absenteeism, that children would grow up healthier, and that there would be greater productivity since mothers would not be worrying about their young children.

Even the tax credit part of the proposal came under fire by lawmakers, noting that the credit would probably only benefit larger businesses which would have the resources for setting aside a special room or place for a mother to breast-feed. Others pointed out that there was very little relationship between establishing such a facility in the workplace and the tax burden on that business.

Apparently, the tax credit was nothing more than a sop to business owners in return for the mandate that lawmakers want to slap on businesses. This is the very point that is becoming increasingly more apparent in the legislature. Most lawmakers have never had to cope with the rules and regulations imposed on businesses let alone the taxes that make it so difficult to stay in business.

Is there something wrong with this picture? Well, obviously lawmakers need to get out of their ivory towers and find out just what makes this economy run. Piling more and more garbage on businesses will only insure that there will be no business in Hawaii and no jobs for Hawaii’s people.

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