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The 1990 NSPA Legislative Strategy conferences.

The 1990 NSPA Legislative Strategy Conferences

By any unit of measurement the results of the first NSPA Legislative Strategy Conference recently held simultaneously in Reno, NV, Memphis, TN, and Alexandria, VA, far exceeded the most optimistic forecasts of its sponsors. The approximately 90 state society representatives (approximately 30 attendees in each location) who were the "prime-movers" of their state legislative committees, gave the conference exceedingly high marks. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest) the attendees rated the conference at each location as better than 8.5.

Presented as a service to affiliated state organizations by the NSPA State Regulation and Oversight Committee, the objective of the one-day specialized conference was to discuss the development of strategies to achieve regulatory, legislative and legal goals consistent with the NSPA National Legislative Policy and Model Accountancy Law.

The conference attendees were quick to recognize that the keystone to NSPA's National Legislative Policy is the creation of a class of legislatively designated licensed accountants whose scope of practice includes all accounting functions except the audit function and its accompanying attest (or certification) characteristic. The policy adopted by the Society's National Council of Delegates at the 1964 NSPA Convention in New York City provided as follows:

"Where it is in the interest of the public and all members of the accounting profession, legislation shall be adopted to regulate on a continuing basis those persons who, in additional to Certified Public Accountants and those grandfathered Public Accountants, offer or perform accounting services for the public. Accountancy legislation should regulate and control the function or services offered or performed by such persons for the public, and grant a suitable descriptive title, clearly reflecting that accounting services are being performed."

The 1964 NSPA National Legislative Policy has been consistently opposed by the CPAs. Long before the adoption of the AICPA/NASBA joint model accountancy bill in October 1984, the CPA legislative doctrine recognized that the only individual qualified to perform accounting services for the public, including compilation and review services, is the certified public accountant (or the dying class PA). The pre-SSARS and the post-SSARS position of the CPAs is the same. The success of the CPA state societies' legislative policy for a single class of accounting licensee is seen each year in the state legislation they introduce to restrict accounting functions, including compilation and review, to licensees of the accounting board, namely the CPAs and dying class PAs. One objective of the Legislative Strategy Conference was to demonstrate how the CPAs' offensive thrust could be defeated in the legislature.

When the NSPA Model Accountancy Law was adopted in 1987, the issue of an additional classification of accounting licensee was neither unanimous nor harmonious among the NSPA affiliated state organizations. At that time, some officers of affiliated state organizations, particularly in those states where unlincensed practitioners possessed the title of accountant and were permitted to use a modified "safe harbor" language compilation report, expressed opposition to what they perceived as a disturbance to their favorable statusquo. In several states an uneasy truce exists whereby unlicensed accountants are permitted by suffrage of the CPA establishment to carry on their accounting practices.

Attendees at the Legislative Strategy Conferences appeared to recognize that even in states where there are no direct restrictions against the unlicensed accountants' practice, nonlicensees should still be very much concerned. One reason for concern is that where unlicensed accountants are tolerated by suffrage, they have no property rights in whatever tolerances they enjoy. Accordingly, the legislature may pass laws sponsored and lobbied by the state CPA organization, which can terminate the privileges enjoyed by unlicensed accountants. In brief, there is no protection in the status-quo nor any assurances that restrictive conditions of practice could not be enacted to their detriment. Beneficial legislation contains an element of protection that does not exist when the same privileges are permitted by sufferance.

If the 1990 Legislative Strategy Conferences did not accomplish any other purpose, at the very least it raised the awareness of the creation of an additional class of licensed accountant who meets legislatively designated qualifications. Since August 1964, NSPA has believed sincerely based on empirical evidence that the public interest can best served by the creation of an additional class of accounting licensee. The public is entitled to know that a chosen accountant, whether or not certified, possesses the skill necessary to performed the required accounting tasks. Moreover, the public is entitled to freedom of selection of accounting services in the market place, and not be limited to CPA (or dying class PA) licensees.

To summarize, the attendees left the Legislative Strategy Conference with a feeling of renewed determination and knowledge of not only how to protect their practice rights, but also how to achieve recognition and status under state law.

Will there be future NSPA Legislative Strategy Conferences? Will the conferences become an annual meeting where members of affiliated state organization legislative committees can exchange ideas, information and experiences? The answer depends on the affiliated state organization, but if the enthusiasm shown by the attendees at the 1990 conferences is any indication, similar conferences seem destined for future years.

William H. Sager Legal Counsel
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Title Annotation:National Society of Public Accountants
Author:Sager, William H.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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