Government Shutdown Could Imperil Theater Owners' Lobbying Assault

U.S. Capitol Building - H - 2013
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UPDATED: The National Association of Theater Owners has scheduled more than 75 meetings between its members and congressional lawmakers for Oct. 1.

Movie exhibitors may not get their day on Capitol Hill after all.

The National Association of Theater Owners spent the weekend notifying its members that a planned lobbying assault scheduled for Oct. 1 may become impossible if a proposed U.S. government shutdown takes effect that day because of a deep divide over government spending and Obamacare.

More than 30 theater owners had planned to travel to Washington, D.C, to hold at least 75 meetings with their respective members of Congress to discuss a variety of issues, including the impact of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and a proposed Justice Department rule requiring exhibitors to provide closed captioning and video descriptions for the deaf and blind.

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On the issue of Obamacare, exhibitors are opposed to a provision defining a full-time employee as someone who works 30 hours a week, versus the traditional 40 hours a week. Under the act, companies with more than 50 employees must provide full-time workers with health insurance coverage. NATO, saying the definition could hurt cinema owners' livelihood, supports legislation stating an employee is full-time when he or she works 40 hours a week.

In regards to the pending Justice Department rule, NATO and its members say theater owners have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars making their cinema houses accessible to moviegoers with disabilities, and that the matter shouldn't be regulated because of these voluntary initiatives. According to NATO, more than 18,000, or 53 percent, of the country's digital screens are now enabled for closed captioning and video description.

Exhibitors also intend to stress that the movie ratings system should remain voluntary, as well as express their opposition to a proposed FDA rule governing laser cinema projectors.

The lobbying effort coincides with NATO's national meeting on Wednesday and Thursday."We're disappointed that partisan politics is inhibiting the democratic process," NATO president John Fithian tells The Hollywood Reporter

"If the government shuts down on Oct 1. and our NATO Capitol Hill Day meetings are canceled, it will be difficult to get all those members to come back to DC on another day," one NATO insider said.

On Saturday, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would keep the government funded through Dec. 15, but would delay enactment of Obamacare for one year. The Senate is sure to strike down the stopgap measure.