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State Policy Update Aug 25th

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FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Sugar Tax:

Pennsylvania: A new report about Philadelphia’s sugar tax done by Catalina, a data and media firm, found that sales of sugary drinks have plummeted in Philadelphia since they city began taxing the beverages at 1.5 cents per ounce in January 2017, but the opposite has been true just outside the city limits. Catalina looked at the actual purchasing behavior of 14.7 million shoppers at 976 stores inside and outside Philadelphia. The data revealed that sales of carbonated soft drinks dropped by 55% and sales of sweetened coffee and tea and sports drinks fell by 51% and 47%, respectively. However, when looking outside city limits, data showed that purchases increased across the same categories - carbonated soft drinks increased by 38%, sweetened coffee and tea increased by 19% and sports drinks increased by 13%. This suggests that city residents could be driving just outside the city limits to purchase soda and avoid the tax. Catalina said that the study was not funded by the beverage industry, but city officials are skeptical of the data.

Illinois: Chicago local news reports that IL House Republicans introduced a bill that would repeal the Cook County sugar tax. According to lawmakers, “House Bill 4082 would prevent any home rule county from imposing a tax on sweetened beverages based on volume sold. It applies to any county ordinance adopted on or before the effective date of the bill, repealing the existing Cook County ordinance.” Cook County’s sugar tax went into effect on August 2 after the IL Retail Merchants Association lost a legal challenge against the tax. This tax is also problematic for federal regulators. Reporters noted that “The federal government said it is unhappy with the way food stamp recipients are being exempt from the soda tax. Retailers weren't able to update their systems quickly enough, so they are taxing shoppers who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and then refunding them the money. The Department of Agriculture is threatening to withhold $87 million in food stamp funds from the state if Cook County doesn't come up with a better system.”

Illinois: Bloomberg BNA reports that since the Cook County sweetened beverage tax went into effect on August 2, “at least three class action suits have been filed in Cook County involving retailers' attempted compliance with the tax.” The authors’ take on the issue and status of the tax -“The implementation of Cook County's tax, despite all of the identified problems, demonstrates that taxpayers—retailers, distributors and bottlers—cannot rely on courts to stop these taxes, but must be prepared to shoulder the administrative burden.” The authors further discuss the background of the sugar tax, why it is problematic, and the implications to taxpayers. Other localities that have passed similar sugar taxes include Albany (CA), Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Boulder, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

Menu Labeling:

New York:  The federal government (FDA) filed a Statement of Interest on August 14 in a lawsuit between a group of food industry trade associations and New York City urging a federal judge in New York to block New York City from carrying out in August its own rules that require menus on city restaurants to include calorie counts. Similar to the food industry trade associations’ argument, the FDA took the position that, because of the pending federal menu-labeling requirements, which are part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the city ordinance is pre-empted at this time. Thus, New York City is not legally permitted to begin enforcement of the requirement in August 2017, nine months before the deadline set by the FDA for the federal menu labeling law. The FDA wrote, "The [Affordable Care] Act unequivocally demonstrated Congress's intent that menu labeling requirements be established with national uniformity, specifically through regulatory requirements to be set by the FDA. To fulfill that purpose, the FDA has been tasked with determining when and in what circumstances uniform menu-labeling rules will be enforced across the nation. The City may not choose to take its own path in the face of this clear expression of Congressional purpose." Read more at JD Spura: http://bit.ly/2g5N39u

Labor

Wages:

Business Insider reports on the seven states, along with the District of Columbia that have a current minimum wage of $10 or more and many of these rates will continue to increase over the next few years. These states include Massachusetts ($11 per hour), Washington ($11 per hour), California ($10.50), Connecticut ($10.10 per hour), Arizona ($10 per hour), Oregon ($10-$11.25 per hour), Vermont ($10 per hour). 

Florida: CNBC reports “Miami Beach is at the center of an ongoing battle of its own over a minimum-wage hike after a judge struck down a local ordinance set to hike the city's minimum to $10.31 in January 2018, eventually hitting $13.31 by 2021. Oral arguments begin in appeals court in October. Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes the case could reach the Florida Supreme Court but that ultimately the higher wage will prevail. "I believe its necessary, and our entire commission as well as our business community felt it was necessary, because we felt that we need to make sure that our workers in our city get properly paid," Levine said. "We all know that no one can live on $8.10 an hour. So the question is, How do you live? The government is going to help you — they are funding you with subsidized programs, welfare programs and social programs. So, basically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of businesses." The Florida Retail Federation argues that the increase in the city’s minimum wage will hurt small businesses and future businesses in the city.

Paid Medical or Family Leave:

Michigan: U.S. News reports on the various potential ballot initiatives in Michigan’s statewide elections in November 2018. “Faced with an unreceptive Legislature, advocates for marijuana legalization, guaranteed paid sick leave and a host of other bills are banking that you will embrace them at the ballot box — if the proposals make it there. Organizers so far have launched seven initiatives for the November 2018 statewide election and need to collect hundreds of thousands of valid signatures to qualify. Circulators are working the crowds at summer festivals, park concerts and other places with pedestrian traffic.” It further reports on the proposal for paid sick leave, “Advocates for requiring paid sick days for employees are taking another crack at the ballot after a 2016 drive was unsuccessful. The proposal would ensure that workers earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Similar Democratic-sponsored bills have stalled in the Legislature. MI Time to Care says 1.7 million Michigan workers in the private sector work without the ability to earn paid sick time to care for themselves or family members. The measure could be a priority for labor interests and progressive groups in the midterm election and would spark pushback from the business community.”

New Mexico: Albuquerque Journal reports that the legal battle to keep the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance off of the October 3 ballot is not over yet. “Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers filed an emergency petition on Monday asking the state Supreme Court to remove the proposed sick leave ordinance from the ballot. And the state’s high court signaled on Tuesday that it is taking up the matter, ordering attorneys in the case to file a response to Rogers’ petition by Aug. 28. “The process used by OLÉ/Acorn proponents to push this extreme and onerous job killer onto the city ballot is not authorized by the New Mexico Constitution or the New Mexico Legislature,” Rogers said in a statement. “The proposed ordinance drafted in secret by New York City lawyers is the most expensive and extreme version of sick leave laws in the United States. It will discourage new jobs and it will cost present jobs in Albuquerque and New Mexico.” If approved by voters, the Healthy Workforce Ordinance would require employers to allow workers to earn paid sick time off. It would apply to full-time, part-time and temporary workers at any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque. A coalition calling itself Healthy Workforce ABQ gathered enough signatures in favor of the sick leave initiative to trigger a provision in the City Charter that allows people to get legislation on the ballot directly, bypassing the city council. “Over 24,000 people signed a petition to get the earned sick days ordinance on the ballot,” Tim Davis, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said in a statement this morning. “If passed, it would mean that hard working New Mexicans no longer have to choose between caring for a sick child and receiving a paycheck.””

New York: New York’s robust Paid Family Leave program is a newer concept and many across the nation are keeping a close eye on the implementation of it as it goes into effect on January 1, 2018. BenefitsPRO dives into six FAQs in anticipation of NY’s implementation, including whether employers are required to provide paid family leave, how NY’s program is funded, and how it will be implemented. 

Washington: The Tacoma City Council is primed to change the city’s paid sick leave law to align with new state laws on the issue. Tacoma Weekly reports that “The changes are needed since voters in the state passed Initiative 1433 last fall that increased the state minimum wage and added rules for paid sick leave. Tacoma’s local minimum wage will not be impacted until at least 2019; however, amendments to Tacoma Municipal Code are now needed to align the city code with the state’s new paid sick leave law, which goes into effect Jan. 1. The city adopted its paid leave rules in early 2015. The rules required all workplaces in the city to provide 24 hours of paid leave each year for full and part-time employees to use in cases of their own health or to tend to the health of a member of their family as well as school closures. The paid leave can be earned at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked and can be carried over to the following year if not used. The statewide initiative enacted a similar rule around Washington. It, however, will allow workers to carry over 40 hours of sick leave and contains other changes about how the rules will be enforced that the city must now address with changes to its municipal code.” Information about the rules can be found here.

Washington: The WA State Department of Labor and Industries is developing its own set of rules in two phases to explain and enforce requirements under the state’s new mandatory paid sick leave law. Throughout August, the Department has been holding pre-hearings on an overview of the rules across the state. The rulemaking is an opportunity for the public to provide input on the details of how the new law will be enforced. The new rules will include procedures for using sick leave, employee notification, reporting requirements and protecting employees from retaliation for the lawful use of paid sick leave.

Colorado: The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Department of Transportation and BACTrack, a personal breathalyzer company, are teaming up on an initiative, “Before You Go, Know.” This initiative is a six week campaign where pocket-sized breathalyzers are handed out as safety devices to Colorado drivers who have already been convicted of driving under the influence. “BACtrack gave 475 DUI offenders personal breathalyzers this month, in exchange for information about whether the device thwarts possible DUI incidents. Officials hope people will learn to judge their blood-alcohol content and whether they can drive safely. Another takeaway is to gain insight into the thought processes of people who drink and drive.”

Utah: WalletHub, a personal finance website, released a study in early August about which states were strictest or most lenient on drunken driving, looking at factors of jail time, fees, license suspension, etc. The Salt Lake Tribune highlights that, until its new 0.05 BAC law takes effect in December 2018, Utah ranks only number 8. States ranked with the strictest laws include Arizona, Georgia, Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Connecticut. Some of the most lenient states include South Dakota, Ohio, North Dakota and Maryland. The article also speaks to UT’s new 0.05 law and that the UT legislature has been studying this summer on how to tweak the law to address concerns related to penalties, hunters, tourism, and new drivers from other countries. The UT legislature has not spoken on repealing it. 

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