Government Watch

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Va. to tax accounts?

The NBFAA and its counterpart in Virginia jumped into action in late January when they learned about a plan being pushed in the Virginia General Assembly that would tax security companies for each monitored account they own (fire or security) anywhere from $1 to $2.50 per account per month.

Companies located in Virginia and as well as those companies located elsewhere that do business in Virginia would be subject the tax.

The revenue-raising idea comes from the Professional Firefighters Union. “The bill could raise tens of millions of dollars,” said John Chwat, lobbyist for the NBFAA. The NBFAA on Feb. 3 sent out a message to all of its members urging anyone who does business in the Commonwealth of Virginia to contact their legislators and members of the committees considering the bill.

A similar plan was passed in the Virginia Senate in 2008, but was killed in the House. As Security Systems News went to press in early February, industry advocates said even if they were successful in killing the bill this year, which they were cautiously optimistic would happen, the issue is far from dead.

“We do not believe it will pass this year, we are more concerned about next year,” said John Kochensparger, president of the VBFAA. Virginia Democrats have historically been more supportive of this kind of tax, he said. Currently the Senate is dominated by Democrats and the House by Republicans. Kochensparger said it’s likely that more Democrats will be elected to House in elections later this year. He speculated that that would mean more support for this measure in 2010. For more information on the bill and its status, visit

Security and the stimulus package

The NBFAA helped get language included in the House version of the stimulus package that should stimulate some security and fire business. There are two provisions in the stimulus package that may matter a lot to the industry: one provides $16 billion to public schools and another provides $4 billion to colleges and universities. For schools, the grants can be used to bring public schools into compliance with fire, health and safety codes. That means they can spend the money on the professional installation (which is the key wording NBFAA helped out with) of fire alarms, and “modernizations, renovations and repairs that ensure schools are prepared for emergencies, such as improving building infrastructure to accommodate security measures.”

As Security Systems News went to press, the industry was awaiting word of whether this language was to be included in the Senate version of the stimulus package. The bill was expected to be voted on by the middle of February.

In Washington state, bill seeks notification of surveillance

OLYMPIA, Wash.--State Sen. Mike Sells (D-Everett) in mid-January introduced and then removed a bill that would require public schools to notify staff and post notices around the school when video surveillance is taking place.

“The bill needs work,” Sells said. First, he needs to iron out some issues with the local education association to ensure they are on board with certain specifics of notification. Also, as the bill was originally written, it required schools to store video footage for six years. “A guy from California called me and asked me if I was trying to bankrupt the school system,” Sells said. “Storage is expensive, but I didn’t know that. I’m not a [physical security] technical wiz. We’ll probably pull that,” he said.

Sells said he believes the bill has merit, but does not plan to re-introduce it until the 2010 legislative session at the earliest.

Sells introduced the bill because of an incident at Cascade High School a couple years ago where the Everett School District “spied on a teacher and her students with the use of a hidden camera.” He emphasized that he’s “not trying to shut down surveillance, just make sure that there’s notification around surveillance.”

“We’ll get the parties [together to iron out details],” he said.