Congress Still Silent on Company Stock Fix

December 10, 2001 ( - The drastic fall of Enron Corp. and its ill effects on the company's rank-and-file employees is on the minds of many members in the House of Representatives, but a formal bill addressing employer stock programs seems far off.

Insiders say the only hope proponents of such a proposal have is a revamped Boxer bill. The Boxer Bill was introduced by Barbara Boxer (D-California) in 1997. Originally the proposal aimed to limit the amount of stock employees could invest in company stock options programs to 10% like defined benefit plans.

Sherwin Kaplan, house counsel at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Piper, Marbury, Rudnick and Wolfe, told he expects the Boxer bill to be resurrected next session with a new provision – one that addresses the ability of employees to freely transfer in and out of employer stock.

Indeed, a major sore spot with Enron’s employees was the fact that many of them had to accept Enron’s matching contribution after its stock plunged. Only employees over 50 years old were allowed to transfer out of the stock.

Poor Education

But until the Boxer bill makes its reappearance on the floor, the pending Boehner (advice) bill may be the closest thing to reform. Kevin Smith, an aide to Representative John Boehner, the speaker of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the Enron case is an example of employees who were poorly educated.

“The Enron case plays into [the need for advice]. Clearly there is a lack of education and on top of that there is clearly a lack of accessible investment advice to workers,” Smith said. He added however, that the Boehner bill would not solve every problem faced by sponsors. Instead, it will give them another tool to help employees reach retirement.

“Our bill is not going to prevent every situation out there but we think it?’s a step in the right direction. Regardless of whether the bill is passed or not, it’s never a good thing to put your eggs in one basket. The whole angle of our bill is to increase access to investment advice to workers to the extent that it will provide them with additional tools to plan for retirement.”