May 17, 2005--Affordable healthcare, tax reform, simplification of government procurement rules, and better access to capital are among the top legislative issues that women owned businesses and small business organizations would like to see taken up during the 109th Congressional session, according to the National Women's Business Council's (NWBC) May 2005 Issue Brief, Legislative Priorities Among Key Women's and Small Business Advocacy Organizations.

Other issues "meriting legislative consideration," according to NWBC's brief, are legal and regulatory reform in class action suits, tort reform, small business liability limits, limiting damages in medical liability lawsuits, curbing of frivolous lawsuits, simplification of pensions, reducing barriers to trade, increasing market opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and implementing free trade agreements.

Affordable health care for employees, however, topped the list of issue priorities, with Association Health Plans (AHP), in particular, a focus for the majority of women's and small business organizations.

With the exception of the National Small Business Association (NSBA), all groups favor passage of legislation to expand the use of AHPs. Other health care issues cited by business organizations include Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and tax credits to small business employers who pay a portion of the cost of employee health insurance premiums or employee HSA contributions.

Women who own small businesses largely have the same concerns as their male counterparts, but there are a few issues that are particularly important to women business owners. Government procurement is one of the issues, said the NWBC.

In 1994, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act set a goal for Federal agencies to award at least 5% of all prime and subcontract dollars to women owned small businesses. However, the goal has never been achieved.

"Women business owners want the 5% award to be made into a requirement, rather than a goal. There is a lot of discussion happening on that," said Julie Weeks, executive director of the NWBC. "There is also more action required to enlighten government officials about making the process friendly for women business owners."

Access to capital is the second key issue women business owners would like the 109th Congress pay more attention to.

"Women business owners want better monitoring to ensure that the SBA loan programs offer sufficient support to women," said Weeks.

The demand for tax reform also is a priority among most organizations. Simplification of the Federal tax code, permanency of the small-business tax provisions passed in the previous Congress, personal income-tax reductions, a standard home-office deduction, relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and estate tax reform are all key legislative issues for small businesses, according to the NWBC.

The NWBC, a bipartisan Federal government council that advises the President, Congress and U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues important to women business owners, researched websites and position papers sent to Congress, and contacted organizations directly to get their stance on key issues affecting small business. The top 10 women's business and small business associations, including National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Business and Professional Women USA, National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were surveyed.