JA Lobbies Capitol Hill for WDC Conflict Diamond Bill

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On the final day of the Jewelers of America (JA) annual Affiliate Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. held February 24 through 27, about 150 JA leaders lobbied their respective elected officials on Capitol Hill to support draft legislation on conflict diamonds proposed by the World Diamond Council (WDC) (See pages 31, 33). The JA leaders’ main goal was to find a sponsor for the WDC legislation. While no legislator committed to sponsorship of the bill, most said they would take it under consideration.

“The meetings were very productive,” said Matthew Runci, president and CEO of JA and executive director and chairman of the U.S. legislative committee for WDC. “We showed that we are a steadfast industry and that we are trying hard to get legislation enacted.” He noted that the delegation had some good prospects in mind as primary sponsors of the bill, but was not currently prepared to release any names.

“Today the industry presented its case,” said Fred Michmershuizen, director of marketing and communication for JA. “It’s important to realize that the people who did the lobbying all run jewelry stores and took time out from their business to talk to their representatives.”

Most of the JA members met with the staff members of their state representatives; appointments were set in advance. Nearly 30 local JA groups met directly with their representatives. Members of the Arkansas Jewelers Association spoke with U.S. Senators Tim Hutchinson and Blanche Lincoln. The delegation from New York, said Michmershuizen, had a “successful” meeting with Senator Charles Schumer’s staff members, who were “very responsive.”

John Armbruster, president-elect of the Wisconsin Jewelers Association, and a member of the Capitol Hill JA delegation, met with staff members of Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., and U.S. Senators Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl. “Everyone was cordial but non-committal,” said Armbruster, “but we expected that. All the jewelers riding back on the bus from Washington felt we had communicated our concerns about conflict diamonds and showed that we are working toward a solution. This was truly democracy in action.” He added that the delegation had also created awareness that jewelers are concerned about the future of African nations that are part of the legitimate diamond trade.

All representatives visited by JA delegates received a copy of the WDC draft legislation, an overview sheet, information on the JA and a list of all the state associations. In addition, remaining members of Congress were mailed the informational packet.

The JA delegation, said Michmershuizen, was asked not to specifically criticize conflict diamond legislation to be introduced by Congressman Tony Hall of Ohio. Hall’s latest bill, the Clean Diamond Act, will be released next week, according to Debra DeYoung, a senior aide to Hall.

Runci said that JA was recently presented a summary of the Clean Diamond Act, and saw two major differences between the Hall and WDC bills. One concerned the export of diamond jewelry in addition to loose stones and the other pertained to whether countries making a good-faith effort could continue to export diamonds even if a final certification program was not yet in place. The differences between the two bills, however, said Runci, were not that great and he hoped that Hall and the JA/WDC could form a consensus that would result in one bill being presented to Congress.

Until Hall’s final bill is released, however, “we can’t support something we haven’t seen,” said Michmershuizen. “There may be something included that could be detrimental to the industry.” He noted that Hall had said that his legislation would be available the week of February 19, but it was delayed several times.

DeYoung said that Hall’s staff is still obtaining the necessary comments about the Clean Diamond Act to assure that it complies with existing laws and that it would be released next week. She noted that one of Congressman Hall’s concerns, beyond conflict stones, was the smuggling of diamonds. No member of the JA delegation visited Hall during its lobbying efforts, she said, but representatives from Tiffany and WDC discussed the bill with Hall shortly before the JA conference took place.

Anna Maria Borg, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the State Department, a guest speaker at the JA Conference, said, “We want to break the deadly link between conflict and diamonds. We also want to maintain and protect the legitimate diamond industry and trade.” Borg is working on the conflict diamond issue for the U.S. government.

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