By Jason Raiche
ESCANABA - U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek stopped in Escanaba during a business tour through the district, where he's learned of some major issues that have impacted residents.
Benishek is back in the U.P. visiting local businesses on his "100 Businesses in 100 Days" Tour - which just recently passed its halfway point. He said the main purpose of the tour is to identify issues businesses are having with the government that have made it difficult for them to hire. Through his visits, he has been hearing many concerns.
"There's like four things that come up time and time again," he said. "First, the regulations: The federal government is coming up with arbitrary regulations, either with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), or things like that."
He said some businesses have been operating the same equipment for years, but now it doesn't meet certain criteria, which he said makes it tough for these places to comply and still be in business.
Additional problems he's been hearing about is the uncertainty involving taxes, as well as costs associated with President Obama's health care plan.
"The plan was touted to decrease costs and provide insurance for everybody. Everybody's finding it's becoming more expensive to comply," said Benishek, adding it's costly for businesses to adapt to new rules, because it seems the rules are always changing.
A final forefront issue businesses are dealing with is difficulty hiring.
"There's a lot of difficulty finding people to do work for a variety of reasons," he said. "People don't want to work, or they don't have the right skill set to work, or they wait until their unemployment runs out before they get to work. There's a lot of challenges."
Benishek said he believes there needs to be a set of regulators that take into account the economic impact of rules and regulations on businesses, and that regulators must know exactly what they are doing.
"Talking to guys here at Basic Marine, for example, the guy that's inspecting them has no idea what the piece of equipment does, and yet he's defining whether it's safe or not," he said. "It's pretty arbitrary. We need to have regulations that promote safety, but we should have inspectors that know what they're talking about."
He said these agencies should practice common sense on regulations, which he said the House has been trying to pass.
"We passed changes in legislation in the House last year that haven't been acted on in the Senate," he said. "It's tough to get anything done when the Senate doesn't act on it. People hear that Congress doesn't do anything, but we've done all kinds of stuff in the House. We've passed 30 pieces of legislation last year."
Going forward, Benishek said the economy and jobs are the most important issues, but highlighted some upcoming prime pieces of legislation too.
"We just have to get the appropriations bills done and get something done so the government doesn't come to a halt before the end of the year with all this crucial funding ... coming up.
"We passed a budget early on, and now we're going through the different departments, trying to fund them, and we're going to try to fund them all in the House," said Benishek. "It's going to depend on whether the Senate actually does something or not."
Another important piece of legislation to the area, the Hunting Heritage Act, would protect hunting and fishing rights on federal land.
The bill passed in the House, but the Senate may remove the language from the bill that would guarantee these rights, according to Benishek.
"That was a bill I sponsored," said Benishek. "It got rolled into a larger bill and we passed it in the House, but now the Senate is taking a look at the language. Apparently they're going to try to pull that out, so we're trying to put a stop to that."
The heart of the controversy pertaining to the bill hinges on the fact that the legislation would open up Wilderness Areas to motorized use.