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IHRSA Advocate

The IHRSA Advocate is your guide to knowing and understanding the policies that influence daily health club operations. We analyze the action, so you know when to take your own.

For more timely relevant news about advocacy issues affecting the industry, and your bottom-line, subscribe to​ the bi-weekly (member-only) IHRSA Advocate newsletter

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ILC: Legislative Threats

I’m writing to bring to your attention the legislative threats that IHRSAs sees on the horizon for clubs in 2016. The work to arrive at this list began last fall. The process of looking forward began by looking back, starting with a review of what was introduced, in which states, over the past few years.

We do this to look for patterns, trends and unresolved issues. Then we poll and interview each of our state lobbyists to see what they anticipate in the next year. But we aren’t done yet. Starting in November, we read the pre-filed bills for the next year. We do a little digging, which includes calling bill sponsors or Committees to see what is behind the bill. Often, it includes additional calls with our lobbyist.

Once the bill reading starts, it doesn’t end until each state legislature adjourns. Every day, we review what has happened since the day before. What new legislation has been filed. Which Committees plan to consider which bills.

Legislative surprises can happen, but through our process of reviewing, anticipating and monitoring we do our best to make sure the surprises are rare and even then, we are prepared to address the challenge. All this behind the scenes work is what brings you the four paragraphs below (and the entire 2016 Legislative Threat Report.)  This work and your support are a good part of the reason why IHRSA’s 2015 track record is 13 wins and 0 losses.

Anticipated Threats

Restrictions on Membership Contracts

During the 2016 session, IHRSA anticipates that we will see numerous bills that would limit how a health club and retains its members. In particular, we will be keeping a close watch on Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.

Personal Training

IHRSA remains concerned about legislation that would limit a clubs’ access to qualified personal trainers, or make fitness services more expensive for consumers without safeguarding the consumer – as it generally claims to do. Our Public Policy team anticipates that we will see this issue in multiple states in 2016, most notably in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Sales Tax

I am honestly looking forward to the day when sales tax on memberships is not even a category because lawmakers have recognized the importance of healthy lifestyles and the fact that taxes change behavior.  But in 2016, we also must continue to fight the cost barrier that a sales tax can impose. Legislators will consider the issue in multiple states in 2016, most notably in California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Virginia. (And of course the battle to stop the sales tax is continuing in Pennsylvania.)

Locker Rooms

Currently, 17 states have passed laws granting protections for transgender individuals in places of public accommodation, and IHRSA’s Public Policy team predicts that this issue will be seen in a number of other states in the 2016 session.  This issue is gaining steam throughout the country. Clubs who have been operating in states that were early adopters of the transgender laws are having an increasing number of people inquiring about this issue. And while club operators and members in the locker room understand the privacy issue, it is very hard to get government officials and transgender advocacy groups to understand the locker room side of this problem.

If you would like to get a more background on these issues we’ve compiled the IHRSA blog series on Industry Threats into an e-book. It is available here for download. And of course as always, if you have any question please don’t hesitate to contact us. 



Helen A. Durkin
EVP Public Policy


ILC Summit

IHRSA has announced that content creation expert Ann Handley, will be the featured presenter at The ILC Summit ~ A Gathering of Global Leaders ~ sponsored by ABC Financial.

“Content marketing and brand storytelling represent a vast opportunity for all businesses. That’s especially true for the operators of fitness companies who have such great stories to tell” said Ann Handley when speaking about her upcoming presentation, “From Puny to Ripped: How to Inspire Great Marketing”.

Handley added,the questions for fitness leaders are, How do we inspire our teams to create more robust, effective marketing? How do we up the quality of what we are producing? (And how do you define “quality,” anyway?).”

Invitees of this special session will learn

  • Why storytelling matters to you (and to your members).
  • To inspire your teams to create more effective marketing.
  • How your organization can tell bigger, better stories from your unique viewpoint.
  • To provoke 'best of breed' content from your teams.

Helen Durkin, Executive Vice President of Global Public Policy added, I had a chance to hear Ann speak this fall. I was a fan before her talk – two of her books 'Content Rules' and 'Everybody Writes, Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content' – are two of my favorites. Her talk was so good that I had to go up to her after and asked what she knew about the fitness industry. Ironically, I learned that back in the day, Ann was a writer for Club Industry. So not only is she an excellent speaker and writer and content marketer, but she knows the fitness industry, cool!”.

Invitees of the ILC Summit and reception are asked to RSVP here. You and your guests must be registered for the Convention Sessions to attend this special event.

And, ILC members are invited to check out the additional special ILC member-only events (like private sessions with keynote speakers) taking place as part of the ILC Executive Track during IHRSA 2016 for ILC members here.


ILC: Transgender Rights, Privacy in Locker Rooms

In today’s email, I’m going to talk about what is clearly a sensitive topic - the issue of transgender people using health club locker rooms. My intent is to provide some help to you on this sensitive topic and to ask for some help from you.

This is not a new issue for clubs. One of the earliest briefing papers we did contained the question, “What do we do when a man dressed as a women wants to use the locker room?” The answer then was to use the sex specified on the person’s driver’s license to guide what locker room to send them to. These days that advice is virtually useless because eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that - to different degrees - make it illegal to discriminate against transgendered individuals.

So when we get an email from a club operator asking us what to do when a member of their club told them he was transitioning from a he to a she, the first thing we do is reference the law in that state and see what it tells us to do. We have created a chart that summarizes the transgendered laws in the US. If you are interested in receiving the chart, please let me know via e-mail.  

Since these transgender discrimination bills were first introduced, IHRSA has been working with legislators to help them see the importance of protecting the rights of transgendered individuals AND protecting the privacy rights and standards of modesty for health club members by exempting locker room and bathrooms from the provisions of the law. But times are changing. In Massachusetts, where IHRSA has been able to convince the legislature of our position since 2008 with bathrooms and locker rooms exempt, it appears that they are re-examining the  locker room exemption. So we have been working to develop new ways to provide assistance for clubs. IHRSA has requested that if the law passes,  regulations should be written to provide guidance for clubs when dealing with the competing issue of privacy rights and transgender rights.

On Tuesday, IHRSA met with the Judiciary Committee’s office to discuss the need for the guidelines. Here’s where we need your help. We need to get back to the Judiciary Committee staff with examples of situations in the club. Don’t worry if you aren’t located in Massachusetts, this is an issue across the country and we need to hear from all of you. If we are able to develop helpful guidelines in Massachusetts, it can serve as a guide for the rest of the country. In addition, IHRSA is developing resources to help you deal with this sensitive issue  when it comes up in your club. Your answers to these questions will be extremely helpful in helping us develop more and better resources for you on this issue.

Given the sensitive nature of this issue, I’m not asking you to fill out a survey form. I’m just going to list some questions that it would be helpful to hear from you about. Just send an email reply and I will keep the source of the information confidential.

Here’s what we would like to know:

Have you had any situations involving a transgender member or potential member?

If you did, how did you resolve the situation?

What questions or concerns do you have? (Either that you can anticipate or you have experienced.)

If you could change the law on public accommodation in your state, how would you have it read?

Remember, just send me an email to let me know you would like a copy of the transgender law chart. If you can take a moment to reply to any or all of my questions, I would really appreciate it.

Thanks so much for your help.



Helen A. Durkin
EVP Public Policy


ILC: Grow the Industry

In this week’s ILC email, we are going to focus on the grow portion of IHRSA’s mission to grow, promote and protect the industry with a list of the top ten things IHRSA’s Public Policy and Health Promotion teams are doing with your ILC donation to grow the industry.

Before I get to the list, like Simon Sinek, let’s start with why, and take a look at how just 1% growth in the number of people exercising in health clubs could impact the industry. Using data from the 2015 Global Report, if the number of club members increased by just 1% in the US, the US health club industry would earn another $240 million dollars.

So what are the top 10 ways IHRSA Public Policy is growing the industry?


10. Focusing on the future. Focusing on kids. Passage of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” ended 2015 on a good note for kids. The law will require physical education to be recognized as a key component of every student’s educational experience. Learn more. 

9. Getting kids more active in your clubs. Coming soon, a best practice e-book “Getting Kids Active In Your Club.” This adds to the entire library of best practice tools you can access here.

8. Bringing 15% of the world’s population suffering disabilities into clubs.Came one step closer with the creation of a UFIT inclusion toolkit that will provide best practices on how to embrace ‘fitness opportunities for all.’ More at IHRSA Convention “The Ufit Project: Targeting a New Untapped Market to Increase Membership.”  3/23 at 11am. 


7. Lowering the barrier to physical activity for the thousands of cancer survivors in the US. “There will be 14 million cancer survivors in the United States in the next couple of years, and we -- health clubs -- need to be ready to be the solution and truly their prescription for wellness!” Remarked Kevin McHugh from the Atlantic Club with other representatives of the nutrition, physical activity and cancer advocacy communities gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss the effect that healthy lifestyle practices, including regular, exercise play in preventing and treating various forms of cancer. For more information visit here.

6. Leading the fight against taxes on wellness. IHRSA Clubs are leading efforts to stop (PA) or repeal (MO) sales tax efforts. For a compelling short video on what a sales tax would do to one person with MS, listen to Lisa Boyle’s plea here


5. Helping members of Congress and their staff remember Why they Get Active. The Congressional Fitness Caucus will host and IHRSA will sponsor the #WhyGetActive Health Policy Fair on May 12, 2016.

4. Encouraging Business Leaders to Incorporate Wellness and Physical Activity in the Workplace. IHRSA and the National Coalition to Promote Physical Activity (NCPPA) are working to engage more businesses to incorporate more physical activity into the work day. . Click here to watch a short video by CEO Pledge spokesperson Jack Groppel, PhD, Co-founder of Human Performance Institute, a division of Johnson and Johnson click here.

3. Building capacity in  the health club industry to deliver evidence-based health promotion programs through the IHRSA Foundation. Because despite the many proven health benefits of exercise - physical inactivity, obesity, and chronic disease continue to be growing global problems. Learn more here. 

2. Working to make it easier for businesses to offer fitness as an employee benefit.  On November 17, 2015, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) took the lead introduced the WHIP Act in the Senate. WHIP encourages corporations of all sizes to incentivize employees exercise by eliminating the current tax on employer sponsored financial subsidies provided to employees to defray the costs of memberships in off-site gyms. For more information or how to support this bill click here.


1. Promoting tax incentives to encourage exercise. PHIT was introduced into the Senate for the first time and in the House. (HR 1218 and S. 2218). PHIT would allow individuals or families to pay for gym memberships, fitness equipment, exercise videos and youth sports league fees with dollars from pre-tax accounts, like flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). Momentum for PHIT is growing with 4 cosponsors in the Senate and 51 in the House. For more information click here.

As always, if you have any questions or need additional information just let me know and we would be happy to help.



Helen A. Durkin
EVP Public Policy


ILC: IHRSA Clubs are a Force to Be Reckoned With


State Legislators in Pennsylvania are afraid of the club industry and in this case that is a good thing. Normally, things are quiet in a state legislator’s office. Sometimes a big issue might come up and he or she will receive calls or emails from 10 constituents. Often when a lobbyist walks into an office to discuss a bill before the legislature, the legislator or staff doesn’t really remember if he or she has heard from a constituent. But when IHRSA’s Pennsylvania lobbyist Dick Gmerek walks into a legislator’s office these days, he knows that they have heard from the club industry and are actually afraid of us. That’s because of the tremendous effort Pennsylvania club operators have put into fighting the sales tax in the state.

The issue originated from efforts to reform property taxes, which have been ongoing since 2006. In order to offset a reduction in property taxes, state legislators have routinely sought to increase sales tax revenue by expanding the list of services subject to it – including those provided by health clubs dues. The latest chapter in the battle began in March of last year when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his first executive budget, which included an ambitious spending plan and thus required new revenue streams. Naturally, lawmakers once again defaulted to expanding the sales tax base.

Throughout much of 2015, IHRSA’s lobbyist in Harrisburg maintained steady communication with legislative leadership, continually educating lawmakers about why taxing health club services would negatively impact Pennsylvania’s physical and fiscal health. With the legislature poised to finally send a tax package to the governor as the calendar year drew to a close,  the situation grew significantly more urgent. On December 1st, IHRSA hosted a call with over 30 operators and our PA lobbyist to develop a plan of action to remove the sales tax threat.

Jim Worthington, assisted by Linda Mitchell from Newtown Athletic Club, urged Pennsylvania clubs to stop at nothing to generate a loud roar in the state capital, that the club industry was not going to quietly tax the club industry. Jim told all of us on the call that he had all of his managers making calls and sending emails to PA state legislators. Thanks to the efforts of Jim and his team, as well as other club operators in the state, MORE THAN 13, 200 messages have been sent to 137 different legislators in Pennsylvania.

Thanks to these efforts, the clubs have been given a reprieve, but the battle continues. The details are a bit complicated, but the bottomline is that while club membership dues were removed from the budget package passed in December, the fight continues. IHRSA’s lobbyist believes  “we are in jeopardy of being taxed unless and until it ever ends, which likely won't occur now until June 2016. By that, I mean that the possibility of $1 billion in new taxes, including a tax on fitness centers, will continue for the foreseeable future.”


My thanks goes out to the Pennsylvania clubs and the entire team of IHRSA staff and lobbyists who have been working so hard to stop the sales tax in PA, while demonstrating that the health club industry is not an easy industry to tax.

January through June is high season for legislative action, so I will be sending weekly emails to keep you up-to-date on how IHRSA, with your ILC dollars, is helping to Protect, Promote and Grow the health club industry. As always, if you have any questions or need any additional information just let me know.



Helen A. Durkin 
EVP Public Policy


ILC: Invitation to CEO Pledge Twitter Chat

I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say, that most of us getting this ILC email are not social media natives. I know many of you are interested in it and you have staff who are engaged in social media, but it may feel a little foreign to those of us who started our careers before iphones. (I could say laptops - which would be true - but makes me feel too old - so I’m sticking with iphones.)

In a second, I’m going to invite you to participate in a twitter chat that may expand your social media knowledge and may help you learn more about an important program to talk to CEOs in your community about health promotion.

But before I do that, I’m going to share with you three reasons why it is in your club’s best interest for you - the owner/manager/executive/visionary - to get more active on social media, especially twitter. Don’t worry, as a person with only 143 twitter followers, these words of wisdom don’t come from me. Rather I’m highlighting some key points from The Convince and Convert Blog - named the #1 content marketing blog in the world. 

  • Twitter is a Good Start for Socializing Executives There are lots of options for executive engagement on social media but “Twitter is a low-risk way to get started...the instant gratification of twitter will give hesitant executives the quick wins...when they join a chat and get fifty new followers in an hour they get a sense of accomplishment that takes a lot longer on Facebook or LinkedIn.”
  • Executive participation in twitter helps establish a strong company brand. A recent survey by BrandFog revealed that when executives are active on social media, consumers develop a higher level of confidence in a company’s leadership.
  • Consumers may be more likely to make a purchase from a company with socially active executives. The BrandFog study found the brand awareness established by executive visibility “builds greater trust, brand loyalty, and purchase intent.”
Pat Laus signing the CEO Pledge
With that build up, you are invited to join a twitter chat IHRSA is hosting on the CEO Pledge on Thursday, October 8th from 12:00-1:00 pm (EST). I’ve written about the CEO pledge before, but for those who aren’t aware of it, the CEO Pledge is a national campaign promoted by the National Coalition to Promote Physical Activity to encourage CEOs across the country to prioritize opportunities for physical activity in the workplace. Questions addressed during the chat will focus on the biggest obstacles to physical activity during the workday, ways that businesses can encourage their employees to exercise at work, and the benefits associated with having a physically fit workforce. To join the conversation, use #ceopledgeinaction and follow @IHRSA_GetActive. 

If you are brand new to twitter chats or tweeting, IHRSA's Alex Black has created a very easy tutorial that will show you step-by-step how to participate. CLICK here and see you on Thursday.



Helen A. Durkin
EVP Public Policy


The High Cost of Taxing Health Clubs

We are well aware of it in our industry: The nation's health has been in a bad way for some time.

America is suffering from catastrophic rates of physical inactivity, obesity, and chronic disease. Healthcare costs are soaring, and more children are developing diseases that generally only occur in adults, such as heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.

If we remain on our present course, the U.S. is in serious jeopardy. Steps must be taken to invest in our future—the most important being promoting physical activity.

Read the full article.

Click to read more ...


Fitness Tax Proposal Advances in PA Senate

Legislative Alert: With the clock ticking on the Pennsylvania legislature's 2014 session, state lawmakers continue to give serious consideration to imposing a sales tax on health club services. 
Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 76 (SB 76), which finances an elimination of the state's property tax, in part, by expanding the list of services subject to the sales tax. The amended version of that list includes services provided by "fitness and recreational sports centers."
The bill still must pass a full vote in the Senate before being considered in the House (where an identical proposal has previously failed to gain support). And while there is limited time remaining for SB 76 to clear the remaining legislative hurdles, our industry must continue to speak loudly against the bill while it advances toward enactment.
IHRSA is working with its lobbyist in Harrisburg to voice the industry's opposition to the tax and educate legislators on the harmful impact that taxing fitness would have on the physical and fiscal health of the commonwealth. The industry's lobbying efforts will be significantly strengthened by the involvement of health club owners and operators located throughout Pennsylvania.

IHRSA Members should be on the lookout for another Legislative Alert prompting you to take action.


IHRSA to Host Conference Call on D.C. Sales Tax

IHRSA is hosting a conference call for our Washington, D.C. members to discuss the district's new tax on health club services, and we would like to invite you to participate. The call will help clubs understand what lead to the enactment of the tax, what is now expected of clubs and the current prospects for altering or repealing the requirements of the tax. Enacted as part of the district's budget earlier this summer, the 5.75 percent tax will go into effect on October 1, 2014. IHRSA fought to oppose the tax after it was added to the budget with less than 24-hours before the council's vote on the package, working with fitness professionals and exercise enthusiasts to generate thousands of messages to the city council in opposition to the tax. Those efforts were unsuccessful, however, the campaign helped generate positive press and recruit important allies for our industry's cause. This call is the next step in the industry's renewed efforts to fight against the district's taxation of healthy lifestyles:

Click to read more ...


Blog Post: The Power of Wearables

To showcase the contributions that IHRSA members make to America's health to policymakers and other "activity-minded" organizations, IHRSA regularly blogs on "Be Active Your Way", the official blog of the Health and Human Services Department. 

The blog is designed to encourage healthy, active lifestyles for all Americans, and IHRSA, of course, serves as the voice of health clubs in this effort.

This month, IHRSA explores the power of wearable technology and it's potential to use social behavior to turn the tide against the populations' sedentary nature.

See the blog post on the "Be Active Your Way" blog, and see prior blog posts and other compelling IHRSA Commentaries.