Weekly Legislative Update - May 20, 2019

The Fight for WOTC is at Hand
 
Ways and Means hearings have been moving fast and it's possible a hearings schedule for tax extenders can be issued this week, before the Memorial Day recess begins.
The only hearing on expired or soon-to-expire tax code provisions was on March 12, entitled "Temporary Policy in the Tax Code." TIA submitted a statement for the record making the case for permanent WOTC.

Tough calls like changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, raising revenue to fund an extenders bill, and financing a large infrastructure bill, now slip to June. Tax staffs are busy looking at revenue-raisers, and after the recess Chairman Neal can start pouring over funding options to bring to the Committee.

It'll take a huge lobbying effort to get permanent WOTC passed by the House in June. By July, the struggle over budget caps and debt ceiling will be rising; the risk is legislators judging "extenders" as a group (although no two are alike in worth or merit) mostly by their impact on the deficit rather than contribution to the American worker and economy.

This week, TIA will go on record supporting permanent WOTC with a letter to Ways and Means Chairman Richard E Neal urging support for passage of the bi-partisan Thompson-Reed bill (HR 2213) "to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 making the work opportunity tax credit permanent."

June and July will be hectic months when members of Congress will have less time to pay attention to, and solidify their understanding of, our case for making WOTC permanent. That's why it is important to go on record supporting permanent WOTC now.

We are simply asking this, "Please make every effort to ensure the work opportunity tax credit is made permanent this year."

Another point is, "We understand Ways and Means is considering expanding the earned income tax credit. Remember the work opportunity tax credit and earned income tax credit work together to help disadvantaged workers rise above poverty; both are necessary components of the social safety net, EITF has long been permanent, and WOTC should be."

TIA will continue to work for permanence of WOTC.

In Growing Trend, Maine Passes Broadest Paid Leave Law
 
The Maine State Legislature has passed a bill that would require private employers with ten or more employees to provide 40 hours of paid leave each year-with no restrictions on permissible uses. 
 
While other states require paid sick leave to allow employees to deal with illness, or paid family leave to allow employees to bond with newborns, Maine's legislation would permit employees to take paid leave for any reason. 
 
Employers would be required to offer up to 40 hours of paid leave each year, at an accrual rate of one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked. Accrual would begin at the start of employment, though employers could prohibit the use of paid leave during an employee's first 120 days of employment. 
 
In yet another break from most paid leave ordinances across the country, the Maine legislation would only require employees to provide "reasonable notice" of the intent to use paid leave in the absence of an emergency. 
 
Nonetheless, the legislation does provide that the use of leave in non-emergency situations shall be scheduled to avoid undue hardship on the employer. 
 
The legislation is slated to take effect on January 1, 2021. 

Important and Welcome News from Senate Finance Leaders
 
Senate Finance Committee leaders, Chairman Charles Grassley and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, have announced formation of five bi-partisan task forces to develop a long-term solution for some 42 tax provisions (including WOTC, Indian Employment Tax Credit, and Empowerment Zone tax provisions) that have expired or will expire between December 31, 2017 and December 1, 2019.
 
The five task forces and their leaders are:
  • Employment and community development: Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) co-chair the taskforce; GOP Senators Tim Scott (SC), James Lankford (OK), and Todd Young (IN) are members, as are Democratic Senators Benjamin Cardin (MD), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Catherine Cortez Masto (NV). 
  • Health: Senators Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA);
  • Energy: Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI);
  • Business Cost Recovery: Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ben Cardin (D-MD);
  • Individual, Excise, and other Expiring Policies: Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
WOTC, Indian Employment Tax Credit, and Empowerment Zones are assigned to the Employment and Community Development Task Force. New Markets Tax Credit, Mine Rescue Team Training Credit, and American Samoa Economic Development Credit are also assigned.
 
A Disaster Tax Relief task force, separate from extenders, will develop a core package of permanent tax relief provisions available in event of disasters.  It will be headed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
 
That this is launched so opportunely, with an invitation from Senator Grassley for stakeholders to join in the discussion, is a win for WOTC advocates.  "I encourage stakeholders to view this as an opportunity to come to the table and work with us to find long-term solutions," are Senator Grassley's words. 
 
TIA will move promptly to consult with the Employment and Community Development Task Force and submit research and analysis on WOTC and related issues.  Having a direct route to Finance Committee senators examining WOTC, Empowerment Zones, and Indian Employment allows us to portray how they achieve goals desired by Congress and reinforce programs like New Markets and Opportunity Zones-questions which are likely to arise.  We have a good case that by lowering the cost of labor in poverty or distressed areas, WOTC, EZ credits, and Indian credits stimulate the flow of capital to Empowerment Zones, Opportunity Zones, and New Markets by increasing the return to investment. 
 
Senator Grassley's statement includes a suggestion to the House Ways and Means Committee that it's time to start moving on expired and soon-to-expire provisions.  He says, "I hope my colleagues in the House of Representatives will take note that the Senate is willing to work on long-term solutions to temporary tax policy and immediately send us a bill that addresses the provisions that expired for 2018 so we can deal with the unfairness Congress has caused for so many individuals and industries."  The word "immediately" comes at the right moment.
 
Senator Grassley's statement, "Grassley on Launch of Bipartisan Task Forces To Resolve Temporary Tax Policy," and press release, "Grassley, Wyden Announce Task Forces To Find Long-term Solutions To Temporary Tax Policy," are available at: www.finance.senate.gov

FMCSA Younger Driver Information Request
 
Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice seeking public comment on creating a pilot project to allow commercial drivers 18-20 years old to operate in interstate commerce. The agency is seeking input on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems that it should consider in developing options or approaches for a second pilot program for younger drivers.
 
As you are likely aware, FMCSA is currently working on a pilot project authorized by the FAST Act to allow military veterans under 21 to drive in interstate commerce. The announcement indicates that the agency is considering expanding this pilot to determine how best to bring younger drivers into the industry safely, a very positive step that could help move this issue forward.