States rights (and wrongs)

Regardless of who’s in charge, here are things to watch out for in 2009
Monday, December 1, 2008

Regardless of your political affiliation, or your opinion of the November elections, any number of industry leaders agree that it behooves the average security company to pay attention to legislative happenings and stay involved with local and state representatives.
To ignore or cynically dismiss government entities, they say, is to miss out on opportunities to head off bad legislation at the pass or help groom good legislation so that it is fair and reasonable to all parties.

“To me, it’s pretty straight-forward,” said Mike Meridith, president of Omaha-based Security Equipment and chair of the Government Relations committee for the NBFAA. “Just read your local paper ... We also have offices in KC and Des Moines, so I just get online and read the local paper, just looking for legislative items.

“If you see something, you can notify the local chapter and make sure they’re aware of it ... The sooner you can find out about issues, whether it be licensing issues or laws, the sooner you can be involved, the better. The worst is to find something that’s about to pass and not be able to do anything about it.”

Don Erickson, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, identified for Security Systems News five types of legislation industry members should be on the lookout for in their state legislatures:

1. Bills that limit the use of a certain technology. For example, Erickson pointed to a bill in California, recently vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, that would have limited the use of RFID for identification purposes. Another, in Pennsylvania, would have prohibited state agencies from using biometrics if they would have “compromised the privacy of any citizen.”

2. Bills that would expand the use of state funds for security projects. These, Erickson predicts, will become more scarce and harder to pass, and so need industry members’ support all the more.

3. Bills that would provide tax incentives for security investments. See above.

4. Bills that would change a state’s procurement strategy, bringing it into line with the federal GSA schedule. SIA recently celebrated the passage of a federal law that allows state agencies to buy off the GSA schedule in the way federal agencies do. Now, the states have to pass laws to take advantage of that.

Not on the GSA schedule? Maybe you are and you don’t know it. “If you have a GSA contract [the new law] benefits you, but it benefits you even if you’re a participating dealer with a manufacturer who’s listed. So the local dealer doesn’t get cut out of the process.”

5. Bills that proscribe mandatory security measures in certain situations. For example, there is a bill before the Florida legislature that would require CCTV systems for all businesses open between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., where a felony has occurred. Sounds great, right? Well, that’s why the industry needs to pay attention, said a number of sources.

Each of these types of bills has the potential to either harm or help the security industry depending on whether they’re written thoughtfully and if the security industry is involved with the bill-making process.

The Florida bill, Florida House Bill 325, was introduced in response to a couple of terrible crimes—one against a police officer, another against a woman and her daughter doing some Christmas shopping—both of which were captured on video by security cameras. It was introduced for a second time in 2008 by Rep. Ari Porth, a state prosecutor, and though it didn’t make it out of the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Committee, it did make it farther in 2008 than in 2007, and legislative watchers feel it may eventually pass.

The bill is quite specific about what kind of surveillance system would be required, and that worries some in the industry. For example, the bill dictates that all stores would have to have four designated “camera surveillance areas,” at least two of which would have to be watched by “a high-resolution day/night camera” with “wide-dynamic range, backlight compensation, and image correction.” The camera facing the parking lot would have to be “an infrared-illuminated day/night camera with a 3.3 to 12mm varifocal iris lens.” Everything would go back to “a digital recorder with a minimum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels,” and the recorder would have to be “capable of recording at 60 frames per second with MPEG-1 compression.”

Bob Worthy, president of Secur Technologies and chair of the Legislative Committee for the Alarm Association of Florida, said the specificity of the law not only has the potential to become dated and restrictive very quickly, but it keeps integrators from doing what they do best—designing a system that solves a specific client’s needs.

Further, “with this one, there’s just too many questions,” he said. “They’re going to ask people to spend a lot of money, and it won’t work for its intended purpose unless the wording is exactly right.”

But that doesn’t mean Worthy is simply sitting back, complaining. The AAF pays a lobbyist to put forward their opinions in the State House, “and he’s very good,” said Worthy. He’s confident the AAF can again work with the Legislature to “try to make sense out of it before it wastes their time ... We’ve got a good reputation up there, and when we sit down to talk, they listen.”

However, many states don’t have an industry association that’s as strong, and “I think there’s going to be a lot more legislation where they overreact and micromanage how the system should be installed,” said SIA’s Erickson, so industry members should watch which bills are being submitted. Most states have online search functions where you can see which bills, for example, have been submitted containing the word “security,” and you can track their status.

Sometimes, said Kathleen Carroll, HID’s director of government relations and the head of SIA’s RFID working group, bills can linger in the Legislature before making it through. For instance, SB 29, which would have forced California schools to acquire parental consent before requesting that students carry RFID-enabled ID cards, has been making its way through the process for “at least four years now,” she said, and just finally passed in 2008.

On Sept. 29, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, but signed into law another bill Carroll said is the type of legislation she supports. Rather than ban the use of RFID technology in government identification, as some states (Washington, Pennsylvania) have proposed, SB 31 made it illegal to “skim” RFID information from RFID-based identity cards.

Washington ended up passing a similar law to California’s, Carroll said, but she noted that the sponsor of the original bill calling for the ban on RFID-enhanced ID said he was “trying to protect the citizens of the state of Washington.”

“Then [Washington] entered into a memo of agreement with DHS,” she said, “to issue the enhanced driver’s license,” which doubles as a passport card. When that card was issued, “the demand was overwhelming,” Carroll said.

So, instead of protecting his citizens, the legislator would have been denying them something they quite obviously wanted, she said.

With this kind of information in hand, the security industry can educate lawmakers and make sure their citizens’ best interests really are in mind.