State of the Industry: Looking ahead to 2014

Expanding access to FBI database, school security loom large for 2014
 - 
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

IRVING, Texas—The past year on Capitol Hill will be remembered for legislative inaction and partisan rifts so deep they culminated in a 16-day government shutdown. Time will tell if the inertia and division will persist in 2014, but the fact that it’s an election year promises to make things a little hectic for the security industry, John Chwat, director of government relations for ESA, told Security Systems News. 

So what’s on the agenda in the face of the midterm turbulence? Chwat says the ESA will focus on four main priorities in 2014. 

FBI Database Access

It’s no secret that, from a legal standpoint, alarm companies enjoy the fact that a properly written contract produced by a qualified attorney generally ensures they end up on the right side of a court decision. Those in the industry are increasingly becoming aware that it’s in their best interest to avail themselves of an alarm attorney who knows the ins and outs of limiting liability and writing enforceable exculpatory clauses.

It’s precisely the industry’s wariness of being exposed to litigation that underpins the ESA’s top priority in 2014, which is to get the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Judiciary Committee to pass a bill that would permit security companies in every state to access the FBI federal database. This, Chwat said, helps companies get a criminal background check on prospective employees, thereby limiting the legal risk they might absorb when, unbeknownst to them, they hire a convicted felon. 

Passage of the bill, Chwat says, will “allow us to begin negotiation with the Justice Department to develop regulations to permit us access.”

Right now, companies in about half the states do not have access to these federal records. The bill’s provisions were previously intertwined with the far more polarizing issue of gun control legislation, which gained traction after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in Dec. 2012. The industry’s concerns are “distinct” from the gun control measures, Chwat says, and it is his hope that the bill will be passed once the industry’s specific requests for open access are unencumbered by the political baggage of gun control.

At the ground level, the bill could have a substantial impact for companies in states that currently don’t have access to the database, Chwat says. “Then we can say members have vetted and done due diligence on all employees,” he said. 

School Security

Protecting schools is a topic that’s intensified at both the state and federal levels since the Newtown shootings in Dec. 2012. ESA is engaged with SIA in a joint effort to “secure federal support for school districts, through either a grant program or through funding directly,” Chwat said, to help them acquire certain types of security systems for elementary and secondary schools, including “monitoring, panic bars, door hardware, electronic security systems and CCTV.”

Chwat conceded that limited funds might impede the progress of the initiative, but added that school security is going to remain a charged topic in 2014, and the joint effort with SIA could bear fruit. “We think we’ll be able to achieve something there,” he said. 

Surveillance and Elder Abuse

In 2014, Congress is set to vote on a 1,000-page bill, called the Older Americans Act Reauthorization bill. One major provision of that bill, Chwat said, pertains to elder abuse—an issue on which ESA has been on the forefront, and which Chwat himself has sought to amend. The amended provision would give relatives of nursing home patients the option to have CCTV systems installed in rooms. 

“Surveillance is used in preventing child abuse and crime, so preventing elder abuse and nursing home abuse has become a hot topic,” Chwat said. 

There’s a fair amount of momentum developing with the issue. In 2013, Oklahoma and Virginia passed laws similar to what ESA is proposing on a national level, Chwat said. Texas, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York all have pending legislation on the matter as well, he added.  

Fire Legislation

A pair of more “esoteric” bills concerning sprinkler installation is slated to be introduced in the coming year, Chwat said. Both pieces of tax-based legislation that could impact installers, the bills have garnered the attention of the ESA. 

The first bill would provide tax expensing for the installation of sprinklers, while the second would offer a tax credit of up to $50,000 for the installation of sprinkler systems in historic landmarks. Chwat said the ESA has been in close interaction with the House tax writing committee, endorsing the organization’s longstanding belief that some semblance of balance between detection and suppression installation should be maintained. “We’ve made our positions known to the tax writing committee that we’re not in favor of these bills unless they have a balanced approach,” Chwat said.