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Officials: Bill could hurt small business bids

Northbrook Chamber Commerce president Tensley Garris.

Northbrook Chamber of Commerce president Tensley Garris.

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Updated: June 13, 2013 9:09PM

Suburban business leaders are fending off proposed state legislation they say would effectively block many local businesses from bidding on municipal contracts.

Illinois House Bill 924 could require private contractors to provide apprenticeship training programs for journeymen employees entering the trades field, such as pipefitting or plumbing.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-113th, Collinsville, also would apply to public works and private projects that receive state or local assistance.

The proposed law will amend the Prevailing Wage Act.

Tensley Garris, president of Northbrook Chamber of Commerce, urged members to write opposition statements to state representatives in the north and northwest suburbs.

“Our local business people won’t have the ability to bid because many aren’t large enough to offer apprenticeships,” Garris said.

“Chambers of commerce work really hard to provide economic opportunities for businesses,” she said.

Ray Mullen, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce for Green Oaks, Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills, supported additional training in apprentice programs.

“(However), we do not believe in a requirement to operate such programs or that additional burdens should be placed upon municipalities and contractors to comply,” he said.

The Glenview Chamber of Commerce also opposes the bill.

“The Glenview Chamber is in opposition to Bill 924 as we feel that it reduces the competitive bidding process and would effectively preclude many of our adept and strong local businesses from competing on a level playing field,” said Betsy Baer, executive director of the Glenview chamber.

Rep. Carol Sente, D-59th, favors the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act that requires contractors to pay laborers, workers and mechanics employed on public works projects no less than the prevailing rate of wages; however, she was undecided on HB 924.

“I have some concern about small projects under a certain dollar value being included in prevailing wage due to the significant increase in cost for taxpayers,” she said in an email.

Sente co-sponsored a bill that exempted small public works projects, such as landscaping, from the prevailing wage rule.

“(I) would prefer to see this bill move forward because I believe it is a fair compromise that protects prevailing wage, but allows for reasonable exemptions for small projects,” she added.

In a report to chambers of commerce and village governments, the Des Plaines-based Northwest Municipal Conference said public works departments typically contracted out for such projects as water and sewer main maintenance, traffic signal and street light upkeep and building improvements.

“A large number of these contracts are less than $100,000. Many of these smaller projects already receive a limited number of bids under Prevailing Wage requirements. The requirements in HB 924 would further diminish that pool,” the report stated.

Other elected officials pointed out HB 924 would harm taxpayers.

“We’re talking about public works projects, and the cost of cutting down trees in our emerald ash borer program, for instance, would be higher for companies with apprentices, said Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum.

“This bill also limits competition because it restricts who can bid. The bill sounds very union-driven and it’s really not good for municipalities,” she said.

State Rep. Laura Fine, D-17th, said several concerned village presidents have contacted her about the legislation.

“They’re not in favor of it for good reason. This is a very important issue for our communities; therefore, I vote with those communities,” Fine said.

Hoffman did not return repeated calls from Sun-Times Media.

Fine did not know why Hoffman proposed the bill.

“Unions certainly favor it as a benefit, but it’s only good for some people and not all people,” she said, adding HB 924 will be debated on the House floor next week.

Hoffman was unavailable for comment.

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