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Business Owners Give Reps. Biss, May An Earful

After voicing complaints, small business group offers suggestions to Reps. Biss and May at round table discussion.

What started as a gripe session by members of the small business community ended with the participants making concrete legislative suggestions Friday at a Small Business Round Table at the

Approximately 20 small businesses owners met with State and State to talk about what government can do to help their operations. 

The event was organized by the a Northfield based group that advocates for small business, provides its owners networking opportunities and negotiates volume discounts for its members. 

Bob Silverstein of Evanston and Jerry Becker of Deerfield immediately wanted to know about proposed legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour. 

“I have a business with 200 employees,” said Becker, describing his chain of gas stations and convenience markets. “If the minimum wage increases to $10, I would have to shut down.” 

Eric Barton of Highland Park wanted to see tort reform and small business operators have the same rights to unemployment insurance as anyone else making a contribution. 

“Risk takers have no parachute,” said Barton referring to the fact that small business owners pay for unemployment insurance like any large corporation but are unable to draw on the premiums should the business fail.

Nearly everyone attending fears another state income tax increase and insisted only spending cuts be used to further reduce the state’s budget deficit. 

“You can take it as a given there is no one in the state who sees any likelihood of another tax increase,” said Biss, calming the tax hike worries. “Any additional deficit reduction will be done by cutting spending.” 

After Biss settled the room, May, who earlier assured the group the minimum wage would not go up, recognized the participant concerns. May then asked for specific suggestions she and Biss can use to craft legislation aimed at helping small business. 

“If someone files a class action lawsuit and they lose, let the law firm [filing the suit] reimburse the defendant for legal fees,” said Silverstein. “It can cost me $50,000 to defend a lawsuit and if I win I want it back.” 

Elliot Richardson of Highland Park, the founder of the Small Business Advisory Council, suggested the state adopt federal court rules with class action law suits that already impose sanctions on overreaching attorneys in class action litigation. 

Biss continued the dialogue suggesting a middle ground that tempers potential sanctions against a defendant who loses a closely contested suit. May asked the group about putting limitations on awards. 

“We need limitation on damages so some man making a lot of money does not have his life valued at more than a woman or a child,” said May. “Every human life is important.” 

Erica Minchella, an attorney from Skokie who represents small business owners, wants to see banking regulations limit the ability of  banks to call a performing loan due merely because a lender wants to improve its capital requirements. 

“Make them [lenders] give a 90-day notice of non renewal or the loan automatically renews,” said Minchella, describing how four clients, all over 60 years old, were forced out of business and into unemployment. 

“All these banks [four of them] were taken over by the FDIC and wanted to raise their capital requirements,” added Minchella. “There was no other reason.” 

Paul Holzman of Evanston asked May and Biss to extend the benefits consumers receive from the recently passed federal credit card protection law to the holders of business accounts. 

As a guard against identity theft, Barton suggested the legislators eliminate the use of a social security number as an identifier when taking tests for business licensing.

“When [the state] started doing [testing], identity theft was not a problem--Now it is,” said Barton. “[Your social secutrity number] is there for everyone to see when you sit down to take a test.” 

Biss, who was sworn in as a member of the general assembly last month, was pleased with the input he received Friday. He likened it to hearing the concerns of people when he went door to door during his campaign. 

“We have to see if there is a way [small business owners] will not have to undergo the same challenges again."

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