CHICAGO -- Ned Monroe, the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s recently appointed senior vice-president of government affairs, updated members on NAMA’s efforts to protect their interests on the legislative front at a presentation during the 2009 National Expo.
“We’re taking an offensive as opposed to a defensive strategy at the local, state and federal levels,” he said. “We are proactively engaging with elected officials. The timing is critical, and we urge you to become involved in your local councils if you aren’t already, because the industry is facing the ‘perfect storm.’”
Monroe observed that there has been a partisan divide in Washington for 10 years, and that produced gridlock. “Nothing happened at the federal level; it all happened in the states,” he recalled. “There’s pent-up demand for regulation and taxation, and it’s all being let loose now.”
For example, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) has sponsored a long list of health-related bills, and chairs several committees that are now poised to take action. “He wakes up saying: ‘Whom can I regulate?” commented Monroe. “The same is true of Senator Harkin of Iowa, who’s been wanting to regulate food and nutrition – and he now has the votes to move ahead under full steam.”
Also contributing to the “perfect storm” are budget shortfalls impacting government at all levels and forcing lawmakers to think up new sources of tax revenue. Their efforts have already impacted operators in many states, and will increasingly ripple through the industry, the government affairs expert warned.
NOT SO SWEET
The biggest threat looming over entire vending trade is a proposed federal tax of 3¢ per 12-fl.oz. portion on sweetened beverages, ostensibly to fund healthcare reform. Other legislative challenges operators face include the new energy consumption standards for vending machines recently established by the Department of Energy, and regulations being considered at the federal level that would require the customer interface be no more than 48” above the floor, as opposed to the current 52” maximum.
Mandatory calorie disclosure has been a trend sweeping through the restaurant industry in many localities and states, and will likely be required in vending within the next three years, Monroe warned. He pointed out that machines like Kraft’s “Digitouch” touchscreen snack vender can play an important role in helping the industry comply with displaying nutritional information to patrons.
Regulation of snacks and drinks sold in schools and bans on plastic containers are among other legislative proposals that continue to gain traction. “The next movement will be government regulation of the amount of sodium in products. It’s all very, very serious,” Monroe cautioned. “Anyone who thinks government will walk away from what people eat and how it impacts health doesn’t understand the way public health officials conceive their obligations.”
Monroe added that San Francisco has implemented a mandatory paid sick-leave policy, and New York City is considering a similar policy for full-time, part-time and temporary employees. “We are trying to solve problems and stay ahead of issues by leveraging relationships at the political level and working to build coalitions. And we’re looking for you to be engaged,” emphasized the government affairs leader.
To keep operators abreast of legislative issues facing the industry, NAMA’s efforts and what they can do to lend support, the association has launched a website, namavoice.com. “You can use the site to participate in politics, track regulations and register to communicate with your elected officials,” he explained. “We have customizable letters you can send to your representatives to voice your opposition or support on various issues. You can plug in your own specifics including your company name and how many machines and routes you operate.
“Together, we will face the coming threat of taxes and calorie disclosure rules coming our way, and we will have an impact,” he concluded.