A record 10,000 Realtors have convened in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with their congressional delegation to discuss top concerns for the real estate industry during the National Association of Realtors’ Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo that runs through Saturday.

The key points Realtors are raising: Congress should provide an equal playing field for small-business people to buy health insurance; keep banks out of commerce and the real estate brokerage business; and continue federal tax policies that support home ownership.

Last week, the Senate failed to pass a procedural vote to debate legislation passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that would allow self-employed workers and small-business employees such as Realtors to band together through a trade or professional association to negotiate lower health insurance costs. That legislation would give small businesses access to the same quality group insurance plans currently available to union workers and employees of large corporations, NAR officials have said.

The House passed similar legislation in 2005. A recent poll conducted by NAR showed that 89 percent of voters favor small-business healthcare legislation.

“Getting this bill passed can make or break the healthcare choices available to small-business workers and their families, many of whom are Realtors,” said NAR President Thomas M. Stevens, of Vienna, Va. “The Senate bill would enable organizations like NAR to offer all members a uniform, national health insurance plan and to use our collective bargaining power to lower the cost of health insurance for many of the 1.2 million Realtors.”

Realtors are also asking members of Congress to support the Community Choice in Real Estate Act, H.R. 111/S.98, which would permanently bar big banking conglomerates from entering the real estate business. In addition, Realtors are urging lawmakers to maintain the separation between banking and commerce by asking Congress to challenge opinions by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that expand the authority of banks to build a luxury hotel, build a mixed-use project, and take an equity position in a wind-energy facility.

“We can’t allow banking and commerce to mix,” said Stevens. “We tried before and the result was the costly savings and loan crisis of the ’80s.”

Realtors are also asking Congress members to defend the tax rules that protect home ownership, especially the mortgage interest deduction. If tax benefits associated with ownership were reduced, NAR said, property values would likely decline.

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