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BPAA State Policy Update - February 15, 2021

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COVID-19 Updates and Tracking 

 

State Budget and Stimulus Updates 

  • Virginia’s House and Senate pass competing state budget plans The state House and Senate on Friday passed competing budget plans that reflect Virginia's ongoing battle with a pandemic but boast better-than-expected tax revenue and the promise of federal help. The budget bills also would fund low-cost business loans, housing aid and utility relief — financial lifelines for small businesses and individuals bearing the brunt of the crisis. But with state revenue exceeding the dire projections made when the coronavirus first gripped Virginia, the House and Senate also found ways to boost pay for teachers, correctional workers, state employees and home health-care aides. Read the full story at WaPo.  
  • Maryland approves coronavirus relief bill that would greatly expand Earned Income Tax Credit Maryland passed a sweeping state stimulus package of roughly $1.2 billion on Friday, including an anti-poverty measure that will send cash payments to the state’s poorest residents for the next three years. The plan also will benefit small businesses, nonprofits, food banks and the unemployed, among many others, pumping the largest infusion of state tax dollars into the battered economy since the pandemic began. 
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) promised to sign the emergency legislation, which he has called his top legislative priority of the year. On bipartisan votes in both chambers, the General Assembly swiftly enacted the coronavirus relief package offered by Hogan last month, after scaling back tax breaks for wealthier households and businesses.  
    • The plan expands the value of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to the most generous in the country. Anyone who qualifies for the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit will be eligible for the stimulus check and its more lucrative benefit for the next three years. Last year, 400,000 households filed for the credit, though analysts expect many more were eligible. 
    • The act allows small business to keep as much as $3,000 in sales tax they collect for up to three months. Employers who laid people off during the pandemic do not have to pay increased unemployment insurance taxes. Read more at Washington Post. and at WBLTV.  
       
  • Inslee expected to sign $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief bill this week Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the next round of COVID-19 relief bills in the coming week. The Washington legislature approved a bill on Wednesday to allocate $2.2 billion in federal COVID-19 funding. Because it has an emergency clause, it will take effect immediately upon Inslee’s signature. Under the bill, $668 million will be allocated to schools as they move toward welcoming students back to the classroom. An additional $618 million will go toward vaccine administration, contact tracing and testing, and $365 million will go toward rental assistance to help renters and landlords affected by the pandemic. Small business hurt by the pandemic will also receive $240 million in grants. Read more at King5.  
     
  • State Senators propose COVID-19 relief bill for New Hampshire An independent audit into care at homes for seniors and veterans, a $1 million micro-enterprise fund, state support for live venues, and employer responsibility for the cost of required employee testing are included in an omnibus bill offering state relief during the pandemic. Supporters said Wednesday the bill (SB 132) is designed to fill any gaps in COVID-19 federal relief and help consumers deal with health and financial risks once the state of emergency is over. Read more at NH Union Leader.  

 

Minimum Wage and Labor 

  • Governor Wolf’s renewed minimum wage push, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday renewed his call for state lawmakers to increase Pennsylvania's minimum wage. Wolf’s proposal would increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour on July 1, with annual increases until the rate reaches $15 per hour in 2027. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009. Read more at WGAL. 
  • California paid out $11 billion in fraudulent jobless claims in 2020, officials say California paid out $11 billion in bogus jobless claims in 2020, and investigators are looking into possible fraud involving $20 billion more, authorities said Monday, according to CBS Los Angeles. Between March 2020 and January 16, 2021, the California Employment Development Department processed 19.5 million claims and paid out $114 billion in unemployment benefits — roughly 9.7% of which were paid out to fraudulent claims, the agency said. Read more at CBS.  
     
  • Fraud Drives New Spike in Ohio Jobless Claims Ohio labor officials say a major spike in jobless claims in the first week of February is due largely to a new wave of unemployment fraud. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services received 140,444 initial jobless claims for the week ending Feb. 6, an increase of 194% over the prior week, according to a state report released Thursday. The state has flagged 44,000 of those claims as potentially fraudulent, and it expects to find even more bogus filings as it reviews others. “We have international gangsters who are moving in and preying on this situation,” Gov. Mike DeWine said during a Thursday news conference. Read more here. 
     
  • Arizona: New rules would crack down on ballot measures District 6 State Rep. Brenda Barton wants to make it harder for voters to approve initiatives that tie the hands of the Arizona Legislature. A new bill would clamp down on voter-approved initiatives, like the recently passed measure that imposed a big income tax increase on people making more than $250,000 annually for schools. Lawmakers have been seeking to clamp down on the initiative system for years — ever since 2016, when voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $12. Read more here. 

 

Business COVID Liability Protections 

  • Coalescing coalitions set to clash over Florida COVID-19 business liability bill Opposition to a proposed bill affording businesses COVID-19 liability shields is coalescing into a formidable coalition while supporters backing the measure are also marshaling a mighty assembly to ensure its passage. Senate Bill 72, filed by Senate Judiciary Chair Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was set to go before the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee Monday, but the hearing was postponed. It must advance through the panel and the Rules Committee to be eligible for a floor vote when the legislative session begins March 2. Read more here.  
  • Arizona lawmakers advance Covid liability protection bill A bill to provide Covid liability protection for businesses, schools, healthcare workers, and others is advancing at the Arizona Legislature.  The Senate Judiciary Committee last week voted 5-3 to approve the legislation to offer a shield for responsible businesses and workers who have been on the front line of the virus. “Since the first outbreak of COVID in Arizona in March 2020, we’ve seen businesses really step up to remain open, while taking numerous safety precautions. We’ve seen Arizona’s health care heroes on the front lines, battling the pandemic daily,” said the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke. Read more at Chamber Business News.  
  • Georgia House of Representatives passes bill to extend Covid-19 liability protections for businesses A legislative priority for businesses continuing to operate during a pandemic is one step closer to being achieved. The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would extend Covid-19 liability protections for businesses in the state until July 2022.  The initial legislation shields Georgia businesses and health-care facilities from being sued by people who contract Covid-19 unless they can prove the company was grossly negligent or guilty of intentional misconduct. The General Assembly passed the bill in June, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law in August. Read more at BizJournals.  
  • States Revive Push for Virus Liability Protections for Employers More than a dozen states at the start of the 2021 legislative season are renewing a push to shield businesses from lawsuits over customers’ or employees’ Covid-19 exposure. From Florida to Montana, state lawmakers have declared liability protections to be a top priority this year. Republican lawmakers are mostly leading the charge, but in a few cases they’re coordinating with Democratic legislators or governors. If these states enact liability shields, they would join more than a dozen others that did so in 2020. These state laws broadly shield all or most types of businesses from coronavirus-related liability lawsuits, unless a plaintiff can show the company was grossly negligent or guilty of intentional misconduct. Read more at Bloomberg Law.  
     
  • Texas Governor Calls for COVID-19 Liability Protections for Businesses In his State of the State address on Feb. 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott advocated liability protections for businesses faced with lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. In his prepared remarks, Abbott said business owners “have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic to open and to operate safely.” Those “businesses now face the crosshairs of lawsuits. Texas businesses that have operated in good faith shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits,” he added. Read more here. 
     
  • Colorado small business group calls for liability protections as confidence dropped in JanuaryA Colorado business group says liability protections for small businesses in the state could help rebuild business's deteriorating confidence. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) this week released its report that uses the Small Business Confidence Index, a survey that found confidence among its member businesses declined in January to 95.0. This is down 0.9 points from December and is three points below the 47-year average of 98.0. Read more here.  

 

Tax Update 

  • SALT-Cap Repeal Unlikely to Be Added to Covid-19 Relief Bill Hopes among millions of upper-income and middle-class taxpayers for a repeal of the Trump administration’s limits on their federal deductions will likely be on hold for now, as an effort to include the measure in the Covid-19 aid package is poised to fail. The House Ways and Means Committee is slated to clear the tax portions of President Joe Biden’s stimulus legislation on Friday. Calls by some New Jersey Democrats to repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax, or SALT, write-offs, have gone unheeded in the legislation so far. The panel’s chair, Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, didn’t include the item in the draft legislation released by the committee earlier this week. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat on the committee who’s among the lawmakers pushing for a SALT-cap repeal, isn’t going to propose an amendment with the measure, according to his spokesman Mark Greenbaum. Read More at Bloomberg 
  • Kansas Lawmakers Nix Marketplace Proposal in Big Tax Cut Bill This week saw the rise and fall of marketplace facilitator proposals in Kansas, the opening of a remote seller amnesty program in Pennsylvania, an Urban Institute report that state tax collections are still catching up with the shift to e-commerce, and answers to questions about who collects local taxes in Illinois. 
    • Bills to require sales tax collection and remittance by marketplace facilitators such as Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc., and Etsy Inc. are moving forward in the Kansas Legislature, although the Republican-led Senate Feb. 9 shot down one such proposal from Gov. Laura Kelly (D)—offered as an amendment to a massive tax cut bill. 
    • Kelly proposed the amendment—which she said would generate $97 million in additional revenue for Kansas, support small businesses, and allow a tax cut for 94% of Kansans—to a measure (S.B. 22) that would cut taxes by nearly $500 million annually. Requiring facilitators to collect and remit the state’s 6.5% use tax would level the playing field for Main Street businesses, Kelly said. 
    • Kansas, Florida, and Missouri are the only three of the 45 sales tax states that have not enacted a marketplace facilitator provision. 
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