1999 Scorecard Vote
Oversight for numerous environmental programs depends on reliable reporting and record-keeping information as required by law. The Small Business Paperwork Reduction Act Amendments of 1999 (H.R. 391), sponsored by Representative David McIntosh (R-IN), would undermine these requirements. The bill would waive civil penalties for all first-time violations of reporting and record-keeping requirements, regardless of the importance of the missing or incorrect information or the magnitude of the violation itself. A "small business" is not necessarily small. The Small Business Administration defines "small business" on an industry-by-industry basis, but their definitions generally include businesses with up to 500 employees, and in some industries with as many as 1,500 employees.
Among the programs affected are those that track hazardous materials, report on hazardous emissions and drinking water contamination, and require meat packers to prevent bacterial contamination.
Supporters claim the bill would reduce unnecessary paperwork and protect small businesses that make innocent mistakes. Currently, however, agencies already have the discretion to waive fines for first-time violators who claim to make good-faith efforts to comply. Recent laws--including the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, amendments to the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the Regulatory Flexibility Act--have reduced the paperwork required of small businesses.
While conservationists support the elimination of unnecessary paperwork, they believe existing environmental and public health protections should not be jeopardized. By effectively mandating the waiving of fines for willful first-time violators, H.R. 391 could create an incentive for businesses to break the law, while putting businesses that comply with the law at a competitive disadvantage.
During House consideration of H.R. 391, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) offered an amendment that would have required federal agencies to reduce or waive civil penalties for first-time violations in appropriate circumstances. The Kucinich amendment would have replaced the bill's blanket waiver of civil penalties for first-time violations while leaving agencies with the discretion to pursue fines against intentional bad actors. It would also have removed provisions in H.R. 391 that preempt enforcement of state laws.
On February 11, 1999, the House narrowly defeated the Kucinich amendment 210–214. YES is the pro-environment vote. On February 11, 1999, the House passed H.R. 391 by a vote of 274–151. NO is the pro-environment vote.