February 13 Issues Update
February 13, 2014
WH&LA's Capitol Insider is a communications vehicle exclusively for our Lodging Members, as a member benefit included in your dues. We hope that you find it of value, and appreciate that you are keeping these updates within the WH&LA Lodging Member "family."
Dear WH&LA Lodging Member:

A lot is happening at both the state and federal levels for the lodging industry. If you are not currently a member of the AH&LA, you may want to consider joining so you can get their federal level communications (if you are a brand property, you can join through your brand, if you are an independent property, just contact our office at whla@wisconsinlodging.org.)

Yesterday the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business, and Tourism Committee had a marathon length hearing on four bills, the last of which was SB 301 on Room Tax Reform.

WH&LA provided a stellar group of carefully chosen speakers to provide testimony on various components of the bill. Special thanks go to WH&LA Chairman Kevin Gallagher, Lola Roeh, Bob Dove, Dan Schetter, Gerry Gadke, Aaron Wolf, Adam Wolf for helping us to get our key message points across in a clear and articulate manner! Thanks also to the members who sent emails to the committee members, registered in support at the hearing, and to Tom Price, Brad Toll, and WACVB speakers Julia Hertel and Pam Seidl, along with tourism speakers from Waupaca and Fond du Lac. The tourism message was strong and clear: we need to invest more in growing local tourism, and reforming the room tax law will enable this.

There were also a number of municipality speakers describing how any reductions in what they keep for their own use from Room Tax would place undue burdens on their budget, somewhat ignoring the Amendment introduced less than two weeks ago to minimize this burden. They also complained about losing some local control over how the tourism promotion & development monies are spent, inflating the real impact at times. The primary voices of opposition came from the Mayor and staff from the City of Brookfield, the Mayor of Bayfield (who also owns a B&B), the City Administrator and an alderman from Lake Geneva, and the lobbyist for the League of Municipalities. The City of Brookfield was proud that they "give" almost $500,000 to their CVB from room tax, and even proud that this is approximately 17% of the total room tax collected. Lake Geneva seemed proud that they "give" almost $100,000 to their CVB from room tax along with free office space, although they were not mentioning how much total room tax they receive in this high tourism area.

What is the next step? We now have to wait for both the Assembly Tourism Committee and the Senate Committee noted above to call for a committee vote in an Exec Session before the bills can go to the floor of each house, where we will also have to push to have them voted on. We will let members know when we need you to contact your legislators to ask for their support, as you can bet that many municipalities will be contacting them to oppose it. Only with considerable voices from all of you can we succeed - just ask our Speaker team yesterday - they have seen this up close.

Hopefully a large number of members from independent properties participated in the recent survey AH&LA hosted on 911 calls. On our AH&LA 911 Task Force conference call earlier this week, we learned that over 5,000 properties have participated in the survey from both brand and independent properties, and they were still getting new participants, so they waited a few more days to begin the analysis. We also learned from some experts that a good share of the PBX systems currently have the capability of being converted to allow a 911 dialer to call out direct without an added number. This was estimated to take up to two hours of a technician's time, estimated to total about $250. AH&LA will be analyzing the survey results to get a better idea of the types of systems properties of all sizes have, whether guests can currently dial direct out for 911, and more. WH&LA has also noted consideration should be included that a number of small properties do not have phones, or may have non-lodging-specific phone systems that could be more difficult and costly to revise. We are hopeful to be able to pursue a voluntary or best practices approach to improving the safety of guests needing to call 911, instead of government mandates, and AH&LA has been meeting with numerous members of Congress interested in addressing 911 call concerns. Resolution will take time, and we will continue to participate in the Task Force to be a part of this complex issue.

While it would have been better to have more people participating in Action Day, we were all treated with presentations by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, State Senator Tom Tiffany, and Deputy Tourism Secretary Dave Fantle, along with tips on meeting with legislators by WH&LA contract lobbyist Kathi Kilgore and an overview of our issues for the day by yours truly. Our four key issues were: support of Room Tax Reform, increasing the state Tourism marketing budget, support of the Hospitality Tax Credit bill, and support of the Patent Notification Protection bill. The approximately 30 attendees each had 2-4 scheduled meetings with legislators and key staff at the Capitol, an energizing & educational experience for all, while equally importantly delivering key messages to legislators for the lodging industry. We made considerable progress on a few issues just from these meetings alone. If you know someone who participated, ask them what they thought of the experience, and consider attending next year!

SB 498 & AB 656 were introduced in January to create some requirements for companies or individuals sending patent notifications to lodging and many other types of businesses informing them that they are infringing with a patent the notifier claims to have and threatening litigation unless they wish to settle for a fee of a few thousand dollars (called "patent trolling"). An example of an actual notification that has been sent to multiple lodging properties is that the property's offering of a wi-fi service infringes on a patent they have the rights to. These bills would require the sender to provide specific information on the patent they hold, and what is the specific infringement, and authorizes Consumer Protection to investigate violations and impose penalties. WH&LA supports these bills on the state level, while similar efforts are moving slower on the federal level.

There are many bills WH&LA is tracking on a regular basis. We try to update the website information every other week, so you may want to bookmark the following link to see some of what we are working on (click on the State Legislative Tracker button): http://www.wisconsinlodging.org/members-legislative-information. Your member id and password will be required for access.

Thanks for all you do for Wisconsin's lodging industry.

Trisha Pugal
President, CEO
Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association