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Governance Rollback Bill Remains in Flux

Compliance Week | March 21, 2012

The Senate voted yesterday to keep alive the sweeping governance rollback legislation passed two weeks ago by the House—and then, true to the chamber's usual form, saw the bill's overall progress stall amid partisan bickering.

The bottom line: Companies hoping to go public without the governance obligations mandated by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, and numerous other Securities and Exchange Commission rules must wait longer for a definite answer.

Senators yesterday voted on amendments to reduce eligibility for those governance exemptions from $1 billion in annual revenue to only $350 million, but those amendments won only 54 votes and needed 60 to pass. But Senate leaders had also attached another bill, re-authorizing operations of the Import-Export Bank, to the rollback legislation—and those amendments also failed to win 60 votes, throwing the fate of the overall bill into chaos.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that the Senate has too many other pressing issues to consider the Import-Export Bank separately, so Republicans should simply accept the entire legislative package in another vote likely to be held later this week. But Republican opposition to the Import-Export Bank is high, meaning the GOP might vote down the legislation even though it contains the larger, looser exemptions for SOX and Dodd-Frank compliance that conservatives want.

And to be clear, the governance rollback bill would only apply to companies planning to go public. Companies that are already public will still be stuck with just as much SEC oversight as they have today.