Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am pleased to join with my distinguished colleague, Senator Max Cleland, and the cosponsors of our legislation in introducing the National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act.

The bill we are introducing today is the Senate version of H.R. 203, which bears the same name as our legislation. H.R. 203 passed the House by voice vote in October of last year with the strong support of the House Committee on Small Business. However, our version deals with several issues that have been raised since House passage and will help ensure that small businesses receive the regulatory compliance assistance the legislation envisions.

I am pleased to say that we have the full support of the Association of Small Business Development Centers, which has been working closely with us since January of this year to draft the Senate version of this legislation, correcting several issues with the House passed bill. I am also pleased to say that we have kept Congressman Sweeney, the House sponsor, and Congressman Manzullo, chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, informed of our actions throughout the process to ensure our changes would have the support of the House committee, as should be the case.

Small businesses, especially small businesses with few employees, often face a daunting task when seeking advice on how to comply with Federal regulations, particularly when implementation varies for different regions of the country, or from State to State. Many small businesses fail to comply with important and needed labor and environmental regulations not because they want to break the law, but because they are unaware of the actions they need to take to comply. Often, small businesses are afraid to seek guidance from Federal agencies for fear of exposing problems at their business.

One important way to help small business comply with Federal regulations is to provide them with free, confidential advice outside of the normal relationship between a small business and a regulatory agency. The Small Business Administration's, SBA, Small Business Development Centers, SBDC, are in a unique position to provide this type of assistance.

Our bill establishes a pilot program to award competitive grants to 20 selected SBDCs, two from each SBA region, which would allow these SBDCs to provide regulatory compliance assistance to small businesses. The SBA would be authorized to award grants between $150,000 and $300,000, depending on the population of the SBDC's State.

Under our legislation, the SBDCs would need to form partnerships with Federal compliance programs, conduct educational and training activities and offer free-of-charge compliance counseling to small business owners. Further, the measure would guarantee privacy to those who receive compliance assistance. This privacy provision has also been extended to all small businesses that seek any assistance from their local SBDC.

The legislation we are introducing today uses only SBA funds and will serve to complement current small business development assistance as well as existing compliance assistance programs. Versions of this legislation introduced in previous Congresses used Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, enforcement funds to pay for these grants.

Small businesses can succeed when it comes to complying with Federal regulations, if provided with the necessary tools and information. The National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act will go a long way toward assisting our Nation's small businesses who want to comply with Federal Regulations.

I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation.