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Action needed, both in the courts and on the roads

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This will be a year dominated by coverage of the presidential campaign, yet the business of government will continue. There are a number of issues before Congress this year that will greatly impact commercial real estate and business in general.

At our recent Winter Business Meeting, BOMA International approved policies on two issues of fundamental importance to the industry: tort reform and transportation.

One of the greatest challenges to American jurisprudence has been the balance between administering justice to those who rightfully seek it, and dissuading litigation of questionable merit that merely seeks financial enrichment. In today's climate, we believe that tort reform is desperately needed in the courts. BOMA supports tort reform efforts that would discourage frivolous lawsuits without curbing corporate accountability or discouraging citizens from pursuing legitimate action.

The lack of tort reform laws affects a broad range of citizens. Consumers ultimately pay the high price of excessive legal claims and enormous damage rewards. As our economy struggles toward recovery, job growth is hampered as businesses contend with soaring insurance premiums and the higher cost of goods.

Last year Congress came within a razor-thin margin of enacting tort reform, passing a bill in the House before the Senate came up one vote short. Passage of this legislation in 2004 would be an excellent catalyst for the continued upward momentum of our economic engine.

Reauthorization of the comprehensive transportation policy would be another great way to improve the quality of people's lives while spurring economic growth. The data on our transportation infrastructure is not good. According to Americans for Transportation Mobility, since 1970, vehicle miles traveled increased by 123 percent while road capacity increased by only 5 percent. This no doubt contributes to the sobering news that each person traveling during peak times wastes an estimated 62 hours a year in traffic delays.

Transportation legislation should provide for balanced funding of highways and mass transit to include alternative modes of transportation and commuting. State and local governments should have the flexibility to meet the local transportation needs of their citizens.

Because the extension of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century (TEA-21) expires early this year, Congress will address the issue in the first quarter. A commitment to helping people reach their places of work quickly and safely would be appreciated by both business owners and workers alike.

The road to economic recovery is often slow and challenging. Action by Congress can make that road smoother, both literally and figuratively.

Kelly is chairman of BOMA International and executive vice president at Ryan Companies U.S. Inc., of Minneapolis, Minn.

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