The cloudy Chicago skies provided an appropriate setting for the annual state council officers meeting that preceded the National Automatic Merchandising Association national expo in October. The state councils continue to face legislative challenges, such as discriminatory taxation, and the state officers received plenty of ideas during the meeting.
John Cullerton, a veteran Illinois legislator currently serving as a state senator, offered his insights on how best to deal with state legislatures. He encouraged his listeners to remain active, insisting that state legislators do listen to constituents.
Cullerton passed out literature on how a bill is passed and offered best practices on meeting with elected officials.
Cullerton, a Democrat, urged the state council officers not to be cynical. He said that in Illinois, vote “buying” is less pervasive than it once was. “People don’t receive a campaign contribution and then go vote,” he said. Instead, special interests tend to wait until they see how a lawmaker votes before deciding to whom to contribute.
Asked how they can best spend their political capital, Cullerton said it makes the most sense to concentrate on legislative leaders since they wield the most influence. “Giving the money to the legislative leader is probably the most effective,” he said.
The issue of tax parity came up throughout the meeting. Cullerton said the best time to seek a change in a state tax law is when the legislature is considering changes that affect a broad group of constituents.
Cullerton also suggested vending operators work in cooperation with foodservice associations since restaurants also face tax issues.
Seeking relief through the courts is another option. “If you have the ability to go to court and prevail rather than beat your head against the wall in the legislature, it’s better to go to court,” Cullerton said.
Several state officers noted the importance of members getting to know legislators individually.
State associations oftentimes hire professional lobbyists, a practice Cullerton strongly supports. He said before hiring a lobbyist, it is important to make sure their organization doesn’t represent a competing constituent.
NAMA strategic plan examines forces behind a changing industry
Dean Gilland, vice president of sales and service at NAMA, updated the state officers on NAMA’s strategic planning process. In 2006, NAMA hired Harris Interactive to develop a multi-phased approach to understand the forces driving the industry to change, and to create a strategic plan to provide guidance and prioritization for NAMA and the industry.
The first part of this process was the consumer survey that Harris Interactive conducted in 2006; the results were presented at the 2006 national expo in Orlando, Fla.
This year, Harris Interactive and NAMA began a strategic planning process. This included an “Expo Summit” in May, focusing on how to reinvigorated the NAMA expos.
Another summit was held in August where NAMA sought feedback from 19 individuals identified as “thought leaders.”
The third step was a 3-day summit held in Dallas, Texas, where Harris Interactive identified the following key issues: technology, industry experience/profitability, consumer needs/channels, coffee service, expos, and “green” (environmental issues).
Gilland said the strategic planning process is beneficial and he urged state councils and individual companies to develop their own strategic plans.
Motor carrier exemption increases overtime mandate for many vending trucks
Heather Bailey, a lawyer with Connelly Sheehan Harris, NAMA’s legal counsel, presented an overview of the Motor Carrier Exemption. The federal law states that drivers who operate trucks weighing 10,001 pounds and more are exempt from overtime pay requirements. She noted that a new law changed the definition of a “commercial motor vehicle” to include only those larger vehicles, in contrast to the prior definition that included vehicles of any type or size.