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BPAA Biweekly Federal Policy Updates - January 10, 2019

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POLITICAL UPDATE

  • Roll Call reports  - 2020 Senate and House outlook looks a lot like it did at the start of 2019: More than a year into the election cycle and with less than a year to go, how much has the political landscape changed? The answer: not a lot. And that’s not particularly good news for Republicans. Thus far, we know that a year’s worth of news (including impeachment) has not fundamentally altered the president’s standing. As 2019 came to a close, Donald Trump’s job rating stood at 44.5 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove, according to the RealClearPolitics national polling average. A year ago, the president’s standing was virtually the same. On Jan. 1, 2019, Trump’s job rating was 43 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove, according to RCP.
    • Senate: The overall shape of the fight for the Senate hasn’t changed much in the past 12 months. In January, 10 races were considered competitive, compared with 11 competitive Senate races as the year comes to a close.
      • The partisanship of the competitive races shifted slightly in favor of Democrats. At the beginning of the cycle, Republicans were defending six competitive seats while Democrats were defending four. With less than a year before Election Day, Republicans are defending eight of the competitive states, compared with just three for Democrats.
      • Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith was the only senator on the first list of 2020’s competitive races who was not listed as vulnerable by the end of the year. Former Rep. Jason Lewis, North Central University professor Rob Barrett and other Republicans are running, but it’s clear the race is not a priority for Republicans at his stage, even though Minnesota is likely to be a presidential battleground.
      • Two races were added to the list of competitive seats over the year: Texas and Georgia.
    • House: The House battleground hasn’t changed dramatically either over the first year of the cycle.
      • In February 2019, Inside Elections rated 68 seats as competitive, including 39 Democratic seats and 29 Republican seats. At the end of the year, the House playing field consisted of 70 seats, including 38 Democratic seats and 32 Republican seats.
      • Republicans need a net gain of 18 seats for a House majority, and they’re working against some history. The party hasn’t gained at least 20 seats in a presidential year in nearly three decades.
      • Within the batch of competitive races, the year’s developments haven’t been positive for Republicans. Three seats currently held by Republicans — North Carolina’s 2nd and 6th districts, as well as Texas’ 23rd District — are likely to fall into Democratic hands. Republicans don’t have any similar situations, although they gained a seat when New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched parties.
    • Read full article here.

 

LABOR & MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE

  • Bloomberg Government reports - New Overtime Rule Hitting Some Employers Harder Than Others: A significant update to federal overtime pay eligibility takes effect this week, and while it’s drawn little fanfare from corporations, lawyers say the change is creating compliance headaches for other workforce sectors. Starting Jan. 1, the Labor Department will begin enforcing an annual salary threshold of $35,568, below which workers qualify for the time-and-a-half overtime premium when they work over 40 hours in a week. That represents a boost from the previous salary cutoff of $23,660, in place since 2004.
    • Although the new rule is projected to extend overtime wages to some 1.3 million employees, companies that already offer all salaried workers above $35,000 won’t have the budgetary adjustments and legal risks that typically come with major labor regulations.
    • To the frustration of worker advocates and the delight of industry groups, the rule is a compromise from an Obama-era iteration, which was struck down in court before it could take effect. That 2016 rule would’ve lifted the salary level to $47,476 and qualified about three times more workers for overtime.
    • Even the more modest bump to the salary threshold is challenging for smaller employers in select regions of the country who are forced to make sensitive choices on payroll, staffing, and benefits.
      • Businesses in rural communities or in regions with low cost of living, such as the South and Midwest, are more likely to face complications adapting to the rule change than employers in more expensive, higher-wage cities, such as New York or Chicago, multiple attorneys told Bloomberg Law.
      • Nonprofits, small businesses, and other employers lacking the budgetary flexibility to absorb higher labor costs have been making tough decisions to prepare for the rule’s Jan. 1 enforcement date.
      • Many companies seem to be ambivalent about the rule change because they’ve been complying with the 2016 Obama-era regulation all along.
      • The start of DOL enforcement this week doesn’t guarantee the new overtime salary level is fixed for the near future.

 

  • U.S. Department Of Labor Issues Three New Wage And Hour Opinion Letters: The U.S. Department of Labor today announced three new opinion letters that address compliance issues related to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). An opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the department's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the person or entity that requested the letter.
    • The opinion letters issued today are:
      • FLSA2020-1: Addressing calculating overtime pay for a non-discretionary lump sum bonus paid at the end of a multi-week training period.
      • FMLA2020-1-A: Addressing whether a combined general health district must count the employees of the county in which the health district is located for the purpose of determining FMLA eligibility for its employees.
      • FLSA2020-2: Addressing whether per-project payments satisfy the salary basis test for exemption.

 

  • 2.1 Million Federal Employees To Get Paid Parental Leave: More than 2 million federal government employees will get paid parental leave for the first time with a new bill, as the U.S. slowly catches up to the rest of the developed world with its family leave policies. The Senate gave the final congressional green light on the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday. It already passed the House with bipartisan support and now heads to the president's desk.
    • President Donald Trump indicated at a summit last Thursday at the White House that he would sign the bill, calling it a “historic deal.” The defense bill includes 12 weeks of paid paternal leave for employees who give birth, adopt or foster a child. "Right now, we are one of only two nations in the world that does not provide our workers with any form of paid family or medical leave," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, who helped write the family leave language in the bill said in a statement last Friday after it passed the House. Maloney added that when she was pregnant with her first child she asked about her office's leave policy and was told "What leave?" and that "Women just leave." "When this bill is signed into law, it will be a tremendous victory for 2.1 million federal employees who will no longer need to choose between being home with their new child or their paychecks," she added. Read the full article at ABC News

 

  • Bloomberg proposes increased minimum wage to aid 'badly broken' economy: Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday formally supported a $15 minimum wage, according to a report in the Associated Press. Bloomberg's backing comes on the heels of a minimum wage increase for 47 cities, counties and jurisdictions across the U.S. in the new year. The former New York City mayor made the announcement during a discussion about his larger economic plan over the course of his Midwest campaign tour, which includes stops in rural Minnesota, Chicago’s South Side and Akron, Ohio. The framework of his plan proposes to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and include collective bargaining rights for workers. The current federal minimum wage is set at $7.25. Bloomberg also says he intends to fund “major new investments in research and development,” as well as technological accessibility in local municipalities and rural communities. Read more at The Hill.

 

TAX UPDATE

  • Politico Reports  - Jockeying on corrections: There are dozens of fixes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, H.R. 1 (115), that could be made. But the potential correction that might get the most attention is the so-called retail glitch, which has kept restaurants and other merchants from getting full expensing on renovations (as the Republicans who wrote the bill intended).
    • So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that, not even a month after Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree to fix the retail glitch in the year-end tax bill, Grassley and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) aren’t moving off their previous positions.
    • Still, it was interesting that Neal was so upfront this week that Democrats won’t be backing off their demand to expand refundable tax credits in exchange for cleaning up the retail glitch, which causes a 39-year writeoff period for those businesses. “We do think that that was a blatant mistake that was made in the tax bill and we’d like some leverage for it,” Neal said this week, via Pro Tax’s Aaron Lorenzo. Read more at Politico’s Morning Tax.
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