A 'Wonderful' Year In Congress p. 16


The Legislative Battles in the states and in the Congress likely will be fought on some familiar ground in 1997.

On the national level, while issues such as the Electronic Freedom oF Information Act, independent contractors and telecommunications regulation were settled last year - some more than others - the perennial favorites of postal reclassification and flag desecration likely will be back.

For the states, if they are to pass legislation to allow reporters access to Department of Motor Vehicles records, it must be done before the federal law denying access takes over in September.

In addition, reporters' shield laws and third-party electronic processing of state and local government data win be on the front burner in many jurisdictions.

"This past year has been wonderful for us," Newspaper Association of America president and CEO John Sturm remarked.

"The past Congress, looking back for a second, has been great because of the passage of the telecom bill, and getting that done favorably. We're working on the rule makings that have come out of that, but that's ongoing," he said.

"The independent contractor thing, the change in the law, we're really proud of," Sturm said of an addition to the Small Business Job Protection Act that clarifies the independent contractor tax status of newspaper distributors meeting certain clear standards.

"And the last thing being final passage of the Electronic FoI Act," he said, referring to an update of FoIA that extends its reach to government's electronic records.

"All of those were good for the newspaper industry try and were objectives finally reached after many years," he added.

On the NAA legislative horizon for 1997 are tax and intellectual property issues and the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, which Sturm believes will be looked at by Congress "someplace along the line."

"Of course, we think this is one that ought to go away completely," he added, pointing to the "multitude of diverse voices in virtually every market," both in print and electronically.

"I always believed the biggest obstacles to elimination of these [ownership] rules are political, not substantive," he said.

Tax issues likely will be important "because of what will be an upcoming attempt to really set out a balanced budget bill that everybody can work around," Sturm explained. "The government will look for revenue, as usual, and that has a tendency to raise things like advertising taxes.

"The other part of that is some of the attention that's being paid to liquor ads on television could raise the specter again of some sort of ban on some kinds of advertising that some people find objectionable, or nondeductibility of the expenses of that advertising.

"It starts with tobacco and it could spill over into alcohol as well. And once you get into alcohol, it's hard to distinguish between hard liquor, beer and wine, all of which have been newspaper advertisers in one way, shape or form," Sturm noted.

For intellectual property, there will be some focus on electronic copyright, though Sturm indicated he was "more worried about smaller things, like protection of our classified advertising."


Postal legislation introduced last year did not move forward, much to the delight of the newspaper industry, which had objected to a number of the proposals, including a plan to give bulk discounts to volume mailers.

"There are a lot of problems with that legislation, and it will be interesting to see how that works itself out in the future," Sturm commented.

While some changes are expected in the Senate and possibly the House committees addressing the postal issue, Sturm noted that "the other wild card in postal is the Postal Service itself."

There's been changes at the top, and there could be more.

"Clearly," he continued, "there's been more turmoil, shall we say, in the relationship of top management to the Postal Service Board of Governors than in any recent time, spurred by the fact that there were some concerns about how this whole [direct mail] advertising thing was done, was managed, was funded, etc. …


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