Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act: Still pending after all these years

First proposed in 2003, Congress has yet to pass the measure, even though it has broad support
 - 
Monday, March 25, 2013

QUINCY, Mass.—The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation recently launched an online letter campaign in support of the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, which is expected to come before Congress again in 2013, 10 years after it was first proposed.

The campaign should help, but whether the long-awaited legislation passes this session depends on a variety of factors, including debate by members of this gridlocked Congress on how to revise the tax code, according to spokesmen for the National Fire Protection Association, based here.

A coalition of groups, including firefighters, fire sprinkler manufacturers and fire and life safety groups have been lobbying Congress to pass FSIA since 100 people were killed in The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., in 2003. The legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code so that property owners could write off the cost of installing fire sprinkler systems over time, recouping expenses.

Gregory Cade, director of government affairs for the NFPA, told Security Systems News that FSIA has been introduced in every congressional session since that time and he fully expects the legislation will be introduced in this new Congress too. “It’s not a matter of getting it introduced,” he said. “It has been dealing with the issues that pop up and are raised by various members of the Congress and trying to address them.”

He believes the initiative by the fallen firefighters’ group will definitely help. “Congress loves public safety and they love hearing from the public safety people in support of things,” Cade said.

However, he said, many lawmakers already support FSIA. “Congress is fundamentally in favor of it,” he said. “It’s just trying to figure out the economics of it.”

One problem, he said, is that because FSIA would result in a tax reduction for property owners who install sprinkler systems, that revenue has be accounted for in the national budget.

“The big hurdle is trying to structure it in a way that makes it as revenue-neutral as possible,” Cade said.

Also, he said, because FSIA would amend the tax code, it’s likely to get caught up in the contentious debate on how to do that.

“The way the current climate of Congress is right now is when you’re looking at tax loopholes, some of the people want to do it piecemeal and some of the people want a comprehensive package,” Cade said.

Jim Dalton, National Fire Sprinkler Association Capitol Hill liaison, is hopeful about FSIA. “We’d like to think we’ve got a good shot this time,” he told SSN. “We’ll see.”

He added, “One of our sponsors is on [the] Senate [Committee on] Finance and our House sponsor is on the House Ways and Means [Committee] and that’s where the tax stuff gets done. Hopefully they can get it on the committees’ radar screens and out of committee. I don’t think it would ever have any problems on the floor if we could get it there. You’ve just got to get it out of the committees.”