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Constructive legislation: special session keeps ACIC busy.

When Bob Tyler, president of Nabholz Construction Corp. at Conway, formed the Arkansas Construction Industry Council in 1989, his goal was to unite the state's construction organizations.

Now, whenever issues affecting the industry come up, "we're not going off in 10 or 12 directions -- we're going in one," Tyler says. "It probably has done what we originally hoped it would."

Two bills affecting the construction industry were passed in last month's special legislative session.

There was unfinished business from 1991. During last year's regular session of the Legislature, an attempted repeal of a 1987 bid preference law -- requiring out-of-state contractors to bid at least 3 percent lower than Arkansas contractors before being awarded contracts on state projects -- was defeated. The Arkansas chapter of Associated General Contractors of America Inc., which is dominated by highway contractors, successfully stopped the repeal effort.

In this year's special session, a compromise was reached. AGC worked with ACIC and other associations to repeal the law -- with the exception of highway contractors.

ACIC argued the repeal was needed so other contractors would not be hurt by retaliatory laws when seeking out-of-state work.

The second piece of legislation ACIC worked on was an amendment to a bill passed in 1991. The measure is described as "bureaucratically impossible" by Lewis May, president of May Construction Co. of Little Rock and ACIC's secretary-treasurer.

In essence, it required general contractors to keep up with tax and other legal obligations incurred by subcontractors. The amendment simplifies the act.

"On those kinds of issues, you call the troops together," May says.

Not every ACIC position is popular with all the associations involved.

And some of the coalition's activities receive more attention than others. For instance, ACIC and other groups recently filed an objection with the state Department of Labor for combining Washington County with Sebastian and Crawford counties in a prevailing wage determination. Washington County has virtually no union activity. Sebastian and Crawford counties are strong union counties by Arkansas standards.

If 50 percent or more of the wages being paid in an area are the same, that is the controlling rate. For the most part, that happens only in union situations. If an average wage is extremely high, it doesn't allow for management control in varying rates according to experience and productivity.

The prevailing wage determination raised by $1.8 million the taxpayers' cost of building the Bud Walton Arena on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, according to ACIC officials.

"I'm up there fighting it as a taxpayer," May says.

The Labor Department is to make a decision by the end of March.

When ACIC isn't battling legislation and administrative rulings, its focus is on education and public awareness. May says that too often guidance counselors point students who cannot read or excel in math toward the construction industry. But the industry needs skilled laborers, he says.

ACIC still does not have a paid lobbyist or a paid staff.

But even in years when there is no regular legislative session, it still has plenty of work to do.
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Title Annotation:Raising Steel: Focus on Construction, Part 1; Arkansas Construction Industry Council
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 16, 1992
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