Postal Reform Can Survive Katrina, Insiders Say

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Postal reform still can pass this year, though it may take a little longer, mailing industry insiders said yesterday.


Mailers can expect that oversight hearings related to Hurricane Katrina will preempt discussion of the Senate's postal reform bill, S. 662.


"We all have to assume that for the next 60 to 90 days, anyone who had anything else going on in Capitol Hill just has to wait patiently because Congress works on a triage system, where the most important and pressing issues take precedence, and clearly their energies need to be focused on the relief efforts and all of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina," said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers.


The House of Representatives passed H.R. 22, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, by a 410-20 vote July 26.


Many in the mailing industry were hoping a reform bill co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Tom Carper, D-DE, would be voted on by the full Senate this month. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the bill for floor action in June.


But Collins, who has championed postal reform in the Senate, is deeply involved in disaster relief as chair of the homeland security committee, which is conducting an oversight investigation of the preparation for and response to the hurricane.


"None of us want to try and divert her attention away from those urgent issues until after she's had a chance to resolve more important stuff first," Denton said.


However, behind-the-scenes discussions on reform are expected.


"From what we can gather, Senate staff is still working to see if they can get something written that can be acceptable to get through on unanimous consent," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Direct Marketing Association. "Those efforts are going forward. They are not being sidetracked because of the Hurricane Katrina investigation."


Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, agreed.


"Negotiations are continuing behind the scenes to try and work out some of the differences," he said. "It doesn't take that long to consider a bill like this, especially if it is considered under unanimous consent."


When the hearings on Katrina are through the Senate, "we'll be ready to focus on postal reform," Cerasale said. "That's our hope, and that's what we understand."


Some also expressed concern that debate over Supreme Court nominee John Roberts could stall reform. The Senate begins confirmation hearings Sept. 12.


Bush urged senators to confirm Roberts before the court session resumes Oct. 3. Bush also is considering candidates for the second vacancy, which is expected to tie up the Senate's time as well. However, the initial deliberations will take place at the Judiciary Committee level, "so if we are ready to go forward with postal reform, there will be time on the Senate floor to handle postal reform," Cerasale said.


The nomination process also may delay movement of a bipartisan Senate bill introduced in July that would require notification of consumers in the event of a data breach as well as increase penalties and include jail time for company executives who fail to provide notification.


The Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2005, introduced June 29 by Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-PA, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, also contains a provision to grant consumers access to and the opportunity to correct public records, as well as a provision to limit the buying, selling and displaying of Social Security numbers.


"We probably will see a data security bill going through the Senate and House in early 2006," Cerasale said. "I would be surprised if it happened before that time frame as a result of the Supreme Court nominations, but not because of Katrina."


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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