How the Federal stimulus bill affects the court reporting and captioning industry

This is important information regarding the Federal stimulus bill for NCRA members who are independent contractors (i.e. freelancers) in the reporting and captioning industry, as well as legal videographers, scopists, and others in our industry. NCRA’s Government Relations department has been actively following all bills and is working to make sure that our freelance community is heard. Special thanks to NCRA’s lobbyist, Jocelynn Moore, for pulling a lot of this together. We understand the impact of this bill on all of us and want to try and give you timely updates.

As with everything COVID-19, things are changing hourly. There is a call to action for you at the end of this communication to push this across the finish line, so PLEASE read the entire message. I apologize that this is long, but this is crucial information for you and your business.

On Wednesday night, the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus package (96-0 for passage) that included many things that will help the average American survive the pandemic we are currently experiencing. The 880-page piece of legislation included many things to help employers, employees, and independent contractors. We will give you a high-level analysis of this massive bill, but we will be working over the next weeks to dive into it and give you direction on where you can seek assistance. Please understand that this is not legal or employment advice but simply guidance. Your professional Association is trying to provide you with the direction to apply for assistance, if needed. We will continue to provide information, links, and analysis as funding and opportunities present themselves. This is exactly why being a member is important and what NCRA is here for.

Here are some bullet points regarding the passed Senate bill.

H.R. 748, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act

  • This is the $2 trillion Coronavirus Relief package.
  • It was passed by the Senate on March 25, 2020, by a 96-0 vote, and heads to the House for a voice-vote to be held tomorrow, Friday, March 27, 2020.
  • Upon passage by the House and signature by the President, the bill will be enacted into law.
  • The bill, as passed by the Senate, contains provisions to provide financial assistance to American adults, extension of the unemployment insurance program for laid-off workers, and loans for small businesses impacted by coronavirus, among other provisions. The relevant provisions pertinent to court reporters and captioners are detailed below.

Title 1 – Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act

Provision: Sec. 1102. Paycheck Protection Program.(Small Business Loans)

Purpose: This is emergency assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Treasury, which provides $350 billion in funding for a provision to create a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP provides small businesses and other entities with zero-fee loans of up to $10 million dollars. This emergency assistance can be used in conjunction with other COVID-19 assistance established by Congress or another SBA loan program.

Individuals Eligible for Relief:

  • Small Businesses, 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, 501(c)(19) veteran’s organizations, or tribal businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
  • Sole proprietors
  • Independent contractors
  • Self-employed individuals
  • Businesses with more than one physical location, so long as no more than 500 employees are employed in each location.

Description of Relief:

  • The maximum loan amount that may be borrowed will be $10 million dollars with a maximum interest rate of 4 percent through December 31, 2020.
  • The allowable uses of the loan include payroll support (employee salaries), paid sick leave, paid medical leave, insurance premiums, business mortgage payments, business rental payments, and business utility payments.
  • Requires eligible borrowers to make a good faith certification that the loan is necessary due to the uncertainty of current economic conditions caused by COVID-19 and that the loan funds will be used for the above business purposes.
  • Up to eight weeks of average payroll and other costs will be forgiven if the business retains its employees and their salary levels.
  • Principal and interest are deferred for up to a year and all borrower fees waived.

Additional Information: The covered loan period begins on February 15, 2020, and ends on June 30, 2020.

Specific Provision: Sec. 1110. Emergency Economic Injury Grants

Purpose: Expands eligibility for access to Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to include small businesses during the covered period of January 31, 2020, to December 31, 2020. The stimulus includes $10 billion in funding for a provision to provide an advance of $10,000 to small businesses and non-profits that apply for an SBA economic injury disaster loan within 3 days of applying for the loan.

Individuals Eligible for Relief:

  • Small businesses
  • Employee-owned businesses
  • Cooperatives
  • Individuals operating as sole proprietors
  • Individuals operating as independent contractors
  • Private non-profit organizations and tribal organizations.

Description of Relief:

  • This provision establishes an Emergency Grant to allow an eligible entity who has applied for an EIDL loan due to COVID-19, to request an advance on that loan of not more than $10,000. The Small Business Administration (SBA) must then distribute that grant within three days.
  • Borrowers may loan up to $2 million dollars with an interest rate of 3.75 percent for companies and 2.75 percent for nonprofits, with principal and interest deferment for up to four years.
  • Approval based solely on an applicant’s credit score or use of an appropriate alternative method to determine applicant’s ability to pay.
  • The loans may be used to provide paid sick leave to employees, maintain payroll, meet increased production costs, and business obligations such as rental or mortgage payments.
  • Eligible grant recipients must have been in operation on January 31, 2020.

Title 2 – Assistance for American Workers, Families, and Businesses:

Subtitle A – Unemployment Insurance

Specific Provision: Sec. 2102. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Purpose: Creates a new program modeled on Disaster Unemployment Assistance to individuals that provides unemployment compensation to individuals who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits and who are not able to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals Eligible for Relief:

  • Self-employed workers, including gig workers and independent contractors
  • Part-time workers
  • Workers with limited work histories

Description of Relief: Sections 2104 and 2107 define the relief:

  • Sec. 2104: Provides an emergency increase in unemployment compensation by adding an additional, taxable $600 to every weekly unemployment benefit. The increase will last until July 31, 2020.
  • Sec. 2107: Provides emergency unemployment compensation, which would make available 13 additional weeks of federally funded unemployment compensation for individuals who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. This will be available immediately through December 31, 2020.

Additional Information: This entire program is administered through the states, is federally funded, and will be effective through December 31, 2020.

Subtitle B – Individual Provisions

Specific Provision: Sec. 2201. Recovery Rebates for Individuals.

Description of Relief:

  • This provision provides $1,200 for single individuals an heads-of-households ($2,400 for couples filing joint tax returns). It also provides $500 per qualifying child dependent under age 17. For instance, a family of four would receive $3,400.
  • The payments phase out at a 5 percent rate above adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 for single individuals, $122,500 for heads-of-households, and $150,000 for married couples who file jointly.
  • Tax filers must provide Social Security Numbers (SSN) for each family member claiming a rebate payment (there is an exception for spouses of active military members.
  • The rebate payments are fully available to residents of all 50 U.S. States and U.S. Territories, including Puerto Rico.
  • The payments will be paid out in the form of a check or direct deposit on the basis of the taxpayers’ filed tax year 2019 returns (or 2018 if not yet filed).
  • The rebate payments will be made between now and December 31, 2020.

Subtitle C – Business Provisions

Specific Provision: Sec. 2301. Employee Retention Credit for Employers Subject to Closing or Experiencing Economic Hardship Due to COVID-19.

Purpose: This provision provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

Individuals Eligible for Relief:

  • Employers or Non-Profit Organizations whose operations have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings.
  • Employers who have experienced a greater than 50 percent reduction in quarterly receipts (measured on a year-over-year basis).
  • Employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours as a result of their employers’ closure or economic hardship due to COVID-19.
  • Employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees, regardless of whether the employee is furloughed.
  • NOT ELLIGIBLE: If an employer is already receiving a Small Business Interruption Loan.

Description of Relief:

  • The credit is provided to employers for wages and compensation, including health benefits.
  • The credit is provided for the first $10,000 in wages and compensation paid by the employer to an eligible employee.
  • Wages do not include payroll credits for required paid sick leave, paid family leave, or paid family and medical leave.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury makes these payments to eligible employers.
  • The credit is provided through December 31, 2020.

Specific Provision: Sec. 2302. Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes.

Purpose: This provision allows taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through 2020 to alleviate the burden of employers struggling to make payroll.

Description of Relief:

  • Allows employers’ share of the 6.2 percent Social Security tax to be deferred past the current 2020 taxable year. Fifty percent of the tax will be due on December 31, 2021, and the other fifty percent will be due on December 31, 2022.
  • A self-employed taxpayer can defer paying 50 percent of his or her self-employment tax past the current 2020 taxable year. Twenty-five percent will be due on December 31, 2021, and the other twenty-five percent will be due on December 31, 2022.

The House of Representatives will be voting on this bill on Friday, so it is CRITICAL you call your House member and ask them to pass the stimulus bill. You are encouraged to tell them how important this is to you personally and your need for economic relief, and to thank them for thinking of the average American (as a freelancer, employee, or employer). That is really all you need to say to the office.

You can find your personal House member by going here https://www.house.gov/ and typing in your zip code in the upper righthand corner of the landing page.

We hope you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy. We will continue to work for you on these issues and provide resources to help you during these unprecedented times.

Sincerely,

Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC

NCRA’s Executive Director

Register now for NCRA’s 2020 Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp

Registration is now open for NCRA’s 2020 Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp being held May 17-19 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in beautiful Old Town Alexandria, Va. Book your hotel stay by April 24 to receive the special NCRA rate of $239 per night.

NCRA’s Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp offers an immersive, hands-on opportunity for members to advocate for court reporting and captioning. Attendees will participate in intensive educational sessions, leadership training, and mock meetings to help them hone the skills and strategies necessary to advocate in their state legislatures on behalf of the court reporting and captioning professions.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to network with other NCRA members and key influencers who are passionate about the profession. The event culminates with a trip to Capitol Hill where attendees will meet with their legislators and key legislative staff to advocate for such legislation as the reauthorization of the Training for Realtime Writers Act, a grant program to encourage careers in realtime writing and court reporting. The program allows colleges and universities to apply for funding specifically to help encourage more students to pursue a career in realtime writing, closed captioning, or court reporting.

“Every professional in every career needs to be aware of regulatory and legislative measures at the local, state, or federal levels that could impact their business, whether those measures are negative or positive,” said NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, a court reporter and firm owner from Franklin, Tenn. “NCRA’s Leadership and Legislative Boot Camp provides attendees with the tools, tactics, and skills necessary to successfully monitor issues and advocate for laws and regulations that protect their business and their profession,” added Curry.

This year’s Boot Camp schedule features presentations by NCRA Executive Director Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC, who will offer practical tips and advice on being more effective in governing an association and will also lead role-playing scenarios. Wenhold will be joined by NCRA’s Director of State Government Relations Jocelynn A. Moore, J.D., to lead other sessions that will cover politics 101, using grassroots advocacy for maximum success, and the dos and don’ts for effective networking on the Hill.

Other sessions will address the state of court reporting and captioning.

“NCRA’s Legislative Boot Camp is the most valuable professional training I’ve ever attended. The tools and skills I learned helped me become an effective advocate for our profession not only at our state legislature, but throughout the legal community,” said Liz Harvey, RPR, CCR, a freelance court reporter from Seattle, Wash., and chair of NCRA’s National Congress of State Associations.

“You’ll find yourself putting your training to use even outside of court reporting. And the best part for me was establishing friendships and professional contacts throughout the country. It’s a great experience!”

Registration rates for NCRA’s 2020 Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp includes the scheduling of meetings with lawmakers and key legislative staff, and transportation to and from Capitol Hill. Be sure to also book your hotel stay by April 24 to receive the special NCRA rate of $239 per night, which includes a cooked-to-order breakfast each morning and a complimentary evening reception.

Davis unveils bipartisan bill to spur careers in realtime writing

The Ripon Advance reported on Dec. 10 that U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, Ill., introduced a bipartisan bill to reauthorize competitive grants for training court reporters and closed captioners under the Training for Realtime Writers Act, which became law as part of the Higher Education Act of 2008.

Read more.

Reps. Kind and Davis introduce bill to reauthorize the Training for Realtime Writers Act

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois introduced bipartisan legislation on Dec. 6 that will reauthorize a grant program to encourage careers in realtime writing and court reporting. In 2007, Rep. Kind introduced the Training for Realtime Writers Act, which was passed and signed into law as part of the Higher Education Act of 2008.

The grant program allows colleges and universities to apply for funding specifically to help encourage more students to pursue a career in realtime writing, closed captioning, or court reporting. Around 48 million Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and many of them rely on captioning services for news and information.

“From maintaining the integrity of our democracy to ensuring every citizen stays up to date on today’s 24-hour news cycle, realtime writers are vital to folks everywhere,” said Kind. “Over the past decade, this program has encouraged a new generation of realtime writers to enter this vital field. I am proud to work across the aisle with Rep. Davis to reauthorize this program so we can continue to increase awareness and interest in this profession.”

“The Training for Realtime Writers grant is an important grant program that ensures we have the necessary resources to train court reporters and captioners for the estimated 48 million Americans who are deaf or impacted by hearing loss,” said Davis. “These funds have been incredibly successful in training the current generation of captioners and court reporters by modernizing curriculums, developing new captioning-specific programs, and increasing attendance at institutes of learning through student recruitment, scholarships, advertisements, equipment upgrades, and distance learning programs. I’m proud to be introducing this legislation to reauthorize this program with my colleague, Rep. Kind, and look forward to working to ensure it is included as the House tackles Higher Education Reauthorization this Congress.”

Read the bill text here.

NCRA Government Relations update

NCRA Government Relations has been very busy this fall. On September 24, 2019, Jocelynn Moore, Director of State Government Relations, attended the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) meeting to demonstrate our commitment to our captioning members and the associations that support the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

NCRA also has been advocating for members on Capitol Hill this month. On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, Moore attended a tour of the U.S. Capitol Dome, which was hosted by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and his legislative assistant Emma Rindels. The Dome, which was constructed between 1854 and 1865, weighs 8,909,200 pounds and cost $1,047,291 at the time it was built.

Jocelynn Moore, NCRA Director of State Government Relations, visits Rep. Mike Gallagher’s (Wisc.) office.

Following the tour, Moore had meetings with U.S. Representatives from Wisconsin, including Jim Sensenbrenner, Bryan Steil, and Mike Gallagher, to advocate for the Training for Realtime Writers Act of 2019. The stand-alone bill was drafted by Rep. Ron Kind, also from Wisconsin, and is set to be introduced later this month.

Lastly, in an effort to reduce NCRA’s expenses for the 2020 budget, we have successfully re-negotiated a contract with lower rates for our legislative tracking software while maintaining the same legislative services we have offered to our members in the past. NCRA Government Relations looks forward to continuing our work on state and federal legislative issues and to continuing our representation of our members nationally.

NCRA files comment with FCC about captioning quality

In response to Colorado Law’s Petition for Declaratory Rulemaking, Jocelynn A. Moore, NCRA’s Director of State Government Relations, has submitted the following public comment to the Federal Communications Commission:

NCRA supports this petition with regard to the topic of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). Additionally, we are aware that the quality of captioning remains a critical issue and look forward to working with our consumer partners regarding this specific concern. Further, NCRA and our Captioning Committee members would like to note that positive changes are occurring in the way that captioning is currently processed. This is due, in large part, to the best practices standard that our Captioning Committee advocated for before the FCC and which was ultimately implemented in 2015. For instance, due to this standard, our captioners have had more access to advanced material, including scripts and lyrics, than they had prior to 2015; access to more advanced material improves caption quality. Lastly, NCRA is committed to improving the quality of captioning and feels the FCC complaint process could better encourage viewers who use captioning to file complaints and provide feedback to the FCC.

The petition, filed by the Colorado Law Technology Law & Policy Clinic, asserts that the FCC’s “best practices standard” that already applies to human captioners should also be equally applied to ASR technologies. The Clinic also recommends that the FCC should investigate ASR technology to ensure that its captions are equal to human captioning. The “best practices standard” says:

Captioning quality will now be measured via four non-qualitative measures:

  • Accuracy – the captions “accurately reflect what is in the program’s audio track by matching the dialogue, music, and sounds, and identify the speakers”;
  • Synchronicity – the captions “are delivered synchronously with the corresponding dialogue and other sounds at a speed that can be read by viewers”;
  • Completeness – the captions “are complete for the entire program”;
  • Placement of the captions – the captions “do not obscure important on-screen information and are not obscured by other information on the screen.”

NCRA reps working for you on Capitol Hill

Over the past several months, NCRA Interim Executive Director Dave Wenhold and NCRA Director of State Government Relations Jocelynn Moore have been spotted regularly in the halls of Capitol Hill.

They are continuing the advocacy efforts that NCRA members started during the 2019 NCRA Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp. Those efforts support reauthorization of the Training for Realtime Writers Grant Program, a competitive program that was originally authorized under the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 2008, and which allocated 1.5 million dollars per year from 2010 to 2015 for the training of captioners.

“Once the legislation is introduced and moves forward, NCRA Government Relations will make sure to keep members updated as to any potential progress,” Moore said. “Thank you, again, to our Boot Camp attendees for the valuable information they collected during their Capitol Hill Day — their advocacy efforts from one day of grassroots lobbying is leading to tangible change and potential funding for the training of new captioners!”

On Capitol Hill Day, NCRA Boot Camp attendees met with more than 128 legislative representatives. During their visits, attendees emphasized the need to secure future funding for the program through the potential reauthorization of the HEA, which has been discussed in the last several legislative sessions.

After their Capitol Hill meetings, Boot Camp attendees reported back to NCRA Government Relations with crucial information concerning the possible reauthorization of the HEA and the status of funding for the Program. From the Hill visits, NCRA Government Relations learned that the HEA is still undergoing negotiations and that pursuing a stand-alone piece of legislation that seeks more funding is the best course of action.

Based on that information, Wenhold and Moore have been making the rounds in the House of Representatives and in the Senate the last several months to garner support for a stand-alone bill. In June, they met with Rep. Ron Kind, a representative from Wisconsin and a longtime ally of NCRA. Currently, Kind’s staff has graciously agreed to sponsor a new bill seeking to fund the Training for Realtime Writers Grant Program and is in the process of drafting new bill language. The congressman also sponsored stand-alone bills supporting the program in past Congresses.

NCRA Government Relations is pushing for the bill to be introduced during this legislative session, in the 116th Congress, and is seeking approximately $2 million per year. While Congressman Kind’s office has been working on bill language, Wenhold and Moore have been meeting with other representatives who may support the bill and have also been meeting with any senators who may be interested in introducing the bill in the Senate.

In June, they met with the offices of Rep. Bobby Scott (VA), Rep. Kay Granger (TX), Sen. Jon Tester (MT), Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), Sen. Patty Murray (WA), and Sen. Mike Braun (IN). Recently, they met with the offices of Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA), Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN), Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA), and Sen. Pat Roberts (KS). At this time, NCRA Government Relations is looking to Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA) to be the lead sponsor on the bill in the U.S. Senate.

NCRA Boot Camp boosts lobbying confidence

NCRA members hit Capitol Hill in full force on Tuesday, May 7, as part of the NCRA Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp. More than 80 attendees shared the importance of the court reporting and captioning professions with senators, representatives, and staff members.

Jocelynn Moore, NCRA Director of State Government Relations, called the day a big success.

“On Capitol Hill, it’s common for constituents to meet with the elected member’s staff for 15 minutes to a half hour,” Moore said. “Our Boot Camp attendees from Montana and Oregon not only met with the staff of a senator for an hour-and-a-half but were also given a private tour of the House and Senate office buildings and were invited to attend a constituent coffee the following day where they discussed the Training for Realtime Writers grant program with both senators Tester and Daines, as well as Congressman Gianforte. After their meetings, Sen. Tester’s staff even took them on another private tour to see the Capitol. As a former staffer on the Hill, I was absolutely amazed. That sort of facetime just doesn’t happen.”

The event started with two days of training with Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC, NCRA Interim Executive Director, and Moore.

(Read Dineen Squillante’s “My NCRA Boot Camp experience.”)

“My experience at Boot Camp was simply amazing!” said Rebecca Brewer, RPR, CRR, of St. Louis, Mo. “I find it hard to explain to others, you simply just have to attend to understand the intensity of the training and the wealth of knowledge gained from attending. Dave Wenhold, with his vast knowledge and experience of the legislative process, was able to train the attendees in an easily understandable way, making the Boot Camp that much more enjoyable.”

Wenhold outlined the goals of the event and discussed the nuts and bolts of association work. Wenhold and Moore then talked to attendees about politics on Capitol Hill and how to effectively advocate for ideas and legislation. Moore followed with a presentation about the state of court reporting and captioning throughout the country and how to effectively advocate before state legislatures. NCRA Board President Sue A. Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, Springfield, Ohio, and NCRA President-Elect Max Curry, RPR, CRI, Franklin, Tenn., ended the first day of Boot Camp with a discussion about the state of electronic and digital recording throughout the country.

During the second day of Boot Camp, Mike Goodman, with Cornerstone Government Affairs, Washington, D.C., began the day by talking to attendees about the dos and don’ts of lobbying members of congress. Then attendees broke out into a mock scenario session, in which they were trained to lobby before senators and representatives, and they had the opportunity to testify before a mock congressional committee. The day ended with Wenhold and Moore discussing the proper way to network and what they were to expect on Capitol Hill when lobbying for key legislation.

On Hill Day, NCRA members asked legislators and staff to make sure funds for captioning training are included the next time the Higher Education Act is reauthorized.

Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, Washington, D.C., and Crystal Pilgrim, RPR, Silver Spring, Md., reported on a successful meeting with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who represents Maryland, and his Legislative Director Sarah Shenning, who said they supported the reauthorization of the captioning grant money.

“We met Sen. Van Hollen because we arrived 15 minutes early and met him as he walked in for the day,” Rogers said. “The senator asked us why we were there.  We were prepared and answered questions with confidence. We told him about the HEA Act Bill 872, the reauthorization, FIPSE. We informed him that we represented NCRA and that we were court reporters here in Washington, D.C.  He even did the court reporter finger motion and said how fascinating our jobs were.”

First-time attendee Lori McCoin Jones, RPR, CCR, Midlothian, Va., met with staff members for Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, and Rep. Elaine Luria.

“Boot Camp was a wonderful experience to bond with other reporters, gather information, and stretch and grow as reporters advocating for our profession,” Jones said.   

Miranda Seitz, Eau Claire, Wisc., also reported a great experience.

“I think as court reporters we feel that we should not interrupt unless we absolutely have to, and as women doubly so. The fact that NCRA has taken on the task of providing this kind of training and experience for their membership that goes so much against our professional instincts is quite the endeavor. The fact that they did it so effectively and at such a pivotal time for our profession … my gratitude cannot be overstated,” she said. “Every single person that I met and networked with within Boot Camp was so genuine and engaging with me, and I did my best to do the same! I’m so glad I seized this opportunity to be able to (learn to) focus, strategize, and implement our collective goals alongside my multidimensional peers.”

See a photos from the event.

My NCRA Boot Camp experience

By Dineen Squillante

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Dineen Squillante

I signed up for Boot Camp, because I come from a state with no association. Having limited resources and many concerns about the future of our profession, I wanted to learn how to advocate effectively and appropriately for stenography.   NCRA Interim CEO Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC, and NCRA Director of Government Relations Jocelynn Moore took us through the dos and don’ts of getting our legislatures behind us, and NCRA board members took our teams through perfecting our mission through role playing.  

Our team bonded quickly and strategized together. The task that seemed impossible and intimidating became fun and attainable. We all pulled from our unique strengths and conquered our mission, each contributing in our own way. Each member of our team grew more confident as the mock day progressed. At the end of the day we were all exhausted. At the same time, we were much more comfortable in the shoes we were about to wear.

When we got to Hill Day, sadly our team had to disperse and stand on our own. But every single member of our team was ready and had an over-the-top successful day. In fact, every member from every other team I spoke with had a hugely successful and exciting day. We grabbed the ear of our representatives and senators across the United States in full force! I feel like everyone who attended and/or had a part in pulling Boot Camp together lifted all of us to a higher level of confidence in advocacy. We all had exciting stories to tell about our meetings on the Hill, and, actually, how easy it was to advocate for what we believe in. 

I had the honor to meet with the following Vermont representatives: Sen. Patrick Leahy and his legislative correspondent, Jeff VanOot; Rep. Peter Welch’s legislative aide, Alexandra Morris; and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ floor coordinator, Ihna Mangundayao. All of these folks are extremely busy and graciously took time out to hear our message.

Every one of us has taken home new friends, allies, and important contacts from across the nation. Now, more than ever, we need to be confident in pushing to make sure humans stay in the chair. 

Thank you to the NCRA board, Dave, and Jocelynn for all the hard work you’ve put in to making us stronger advocates! Together we are mighty!

Shout out to my fellow Team Hotel members! Kimberly Cottrell, Quincy, Ill.; Kimberly Duran, RPR, Albuquerque, N.M.; Pam Fuller-Goold, RPR, Blanchard, Okla.; Janice McMoran, RDR, CRR, Granbury, Texas; Debbie Peterson, RPR, Prior Lake, Minn.; Kelly Shainline, RPR, CRR, Walnut Creek, Calif.

#stenoarmy

Dineen Squillante, RPR, is from Arlington, Vt.

Tennessee law gives criminal court reporters pay increase

Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.
Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.

The Tennessee legislature passed a pay increase for criminal reporters in the state. The bills, SB 667 and HB 729, were passed through both state houses with the support of the Tennessee Court Reporters Association (TCRA) legislative committee, and the bills were fully funded in the state budget. The increase is expected to go into effect July 1.

Getting this bill through the houses and signed into law was quite the coup for Tennessee reporters, according to NCRA President-Elect Max Curry, RPR, CRI, who spearheaded the legislation. “A little more than 10 years ago, Tennessee did away with the employee status of criminal reporters in Tennessee and has moved to a contractual status for the criminal courts around Tennessee. Due to the substantially lower amount in per diem and page rate offered by the criminal courts, more and more stenographic reporters were refusing to cover the work in lieu of more lucrative private sector work. The situation was creating a shortage of coverage by stenographic reporters in the criminal court system, and the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), which administers the criminal reporters in Tennessee, had begun training electronic recording reporters to cover the criminal courts. Of course, as an association we don’t want that, so we got to work on trying to find a solution,” Curry said. 

“The clearest solution was to increase the funds being paid to attract stenographic reporters,” explained Curry. “The AOC expressed a lack of willingness to move the rate up.  We were only asking for them to increase it to the same rate as that offered by other state entities that use stenographic reporters for their hearings, depositions, EUOs, arbitrations, etc., including the Department of Labor, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and so on. All of these organizations offered higher rates. The AOC couldn’t even compete with the other State entities, much less on an open market. The situation was spiraling out of control quickly, with the AOC offering no solutions that kept the stenographic reporters involved.

“Since the new rate is competitive with other state entities, we feel this will effectively correct the issue and get the criminal courts back on an even keel with the other state entities,” Curry continued. “It will simply be up to the AOC to do rate increases to keep up with inflation and what the other State entities are offering.”

The legislation moved through the process quickly. Every other year, Tennessee’s legislature runs on a fast track, and 2019 was a fast-track year.  “Over three months, we managed to maneuver the bill through the committee/subcommittee system of both House and Senate, work with the legislature on balancing out the fiscal impact of the bill as a law, and get it passed,” said Curry. “It was passed on the final evening of the 111th Tennessee Legislature being in session this year. We literally did this just under the wire of one legislative session, which is next to impossible!

“I took the lead on lobbying to work the bills through the process in the Tennessee House and Senate. Various people from our committee would show up for some of the interviews with legislators, and I would be remiss not to mention them. They were: Dana Webb, TCRA president when the process started; Stephanie Falkner, CRI, CPE, TCRA’s state president as we finished up; Sheila Wilson, TCRA past president and legislative committee member; Sheryl Weatherford, RPR, another TCRA past president and legislative committee member; and Peggy Giles, another wonderful reporter who was part of the legislative team. Each of these people took turns to accompany me to meetings with legislators and advocated for and educated the legislators about our bill and about the court systems in Tennessee and how court reporters are used. In addition, criminal court reporters Lisa Moss, Lori Bice, Gloria Dillard, and Kim Davidson, and many others would show up for subcommittee or committee meetings to show their support of this legislation,” Curry said. “Many of TCRA’s members were involved in the grassroots portion, too, and they did a stellar job of emailing and calling legislators’ offices. I would often hear from the state senators and representatives that people were reaching out and how impressed they were with how organized it all was.”

When asked what he credits the success to, Curry said: “First, we had an excellent game plan. Sheila, Stephanie, and I had all been to NCRA’s Boot Camp in the past, so we had the training. Also, Sheila, Peggy, and I had been through the legislative efforts previously in Tennessee, so all three of us knew how the process worked, and we worked very hard to educate and train the others. In addition, our grassroots organization and ability to get info out to the membership via email blast at a moment’s notice was truly impactful as well…. and they then took action as a group!  Engagement meant everything!

“Most importantly, we had Judge Dee Gay, who is a criminal courts judge here in Tennessee, who worked with us closely, advocated for us, and got us in touch with key legislators to help us,” Curry continued. “One of the attorneys who practices in front of Judge Gay regularly is William Lamberth, who happens to be a State of Tennessee Representative, and who more importantly happens to be the Majority Leader in the House and was our House bill sponsor! This was impactful and quickly opened doors and conversations for us. We did the leg work, and he worked the power struggle in the back. He also worked very hard at making sure we found the money in the budget to address the fiscal impact of this bill as a law. Leader Lamberth also recruited as our senate sponsor a very powerful ally: Pro Tem Speaker of the House Sen. Ferrell Haile!

“That’s not to say that the process was free of problems. While the legislative committee was working to get the legislature to pass the bill to increase pay to the criminal court reporters, two competing bills were also working their way through the process. It took additional education and lobbying to make sure that the legislators understood the impact of these other bills,” explained Curry.

“One of the bills we called the ‘Free Copy Bill,’ which basically would allow litigants (or anyone for that matter) to get a free copy of the transcript once the original was purchased and filed with the court. The second bill was to install an audio recording system in every single courtroom in the state of Tennessee. Because of our involvement, the legislators just let these bills die in committee,” said Curry. “This has been an amazing legislative year in Tennessee and one I’m proud to have been a part of!”