Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am pleased to join my distinguished colleague from Maine and Chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Senator Olympia J. Snowe, in reintroducing the National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act. This bill has a long history of bipartisan support in Congress because of the critical assistance it provides to small businesses.

Small businesses, particularly small businesses with very few employees, often are overwhelmed with the task of complying with Federal regulations, especially 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. In addition, small business owners are often afraid to seek guidance from Federal agencies for fear of exposing problems at their businesses.

One important way to help small businesses 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 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are in a unique position to provide this type of assistance, with some 1,000 centers around the country, well-established relationships and visibility within local communities, and the trust of area small businesses.

Our bill establishes a 4-year pilot program to award competitive matching 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, offer free-of-charge compliance counseling to small business owners, and consult with the SBA’s independent Office of Advocacy. The legislation will complement, not duplicate, current small business development assistance and expand upon existing regulatory compliance help.

The legislation we are reintroducing 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 had used Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement funds to pay for these grants.

The SBA’s independent Office of Advocacy estimates that small businesses with fewer than 20 employees -- which make up 89 percent of all U.S. businesses -- pay nearly $7,000 per employee to comply with federal regulations. This is nearly 60 percent higher than the cost to larger firms. While all small businesses should be complying with Federal regulations, the federal government should also do it’s best to ensure that the burden on small businesses is minimized, that small businesses are taken into account when new regulations are drafted, and that unnecessarily burdensome regulations are eliminated. In addition, the government should make sure that small businesses understand the regulations. Often, noncompliance is due to confusion not ill intent. By providing free, private regulatory assistance, we can increase compliance while decreasing the burden on small businesses.

Small-business owners have enough on their plates without worrying about complying with confusing regulations. This legislation will decrease the burden on small businesses by helping them cut through government red tape. 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 that want to comply with Federal regulations.

Mr. President, the legislation we are introducing today is nearly identical to the Kerry-Ensign legislation introduced last Congress. On the House side, the National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act, .H.R. 230, has been introduced and passed by Congressman John Sweeney of New York in each of the past three Congresses and was just approved by the Small Business Committee yesterday. In 2002, our Senate version passed the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship but was not taken up by the full Senate.

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 to re-introduce the Senate version of this legislation, as well as support from the National Small Business Association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, and Congressman Sweeney.

I want to express my sincere thanks to Chair Snowe for her hard work and support on this issue. I also want to thank our cosponsors, Senators Cantwell, Bond, Burns, Leahy, Jeffords, Carper, Bingaman, and Rockefeller for their ongoing efforts to pass this important assistance. I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation. Thank you.