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Government Affairs: Congress’ unfinished business for landscapers

December 7, 2015 -  By

This year was not a productive year for Congress dealing with issues important to landscape contractors. For that matter, 2015 was not a productive year for Congress by any measure.

Although both the House and Senate are controlled by the Republican Party, deep internal divisions among Republican House members, kept much of anything meaningful from getting to the floor for a vote. So deep were the divisions in the House Republican Conference that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced to resign at the end of October.

Boehner’s successor to the speaker’s chair, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has provided some hope that he could heal the deeply fractious rifts among House Republicans and move some legislation through the legislative body.

Here is what is pending in Congress that is of interest to landscape contractors. Make your voice heard!

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is one of the issues that has deeply divided the Republican Conference in the House. During the last session of Congress in 2013, the Senate put together a bipartisan bill that it passed and sent to the House. Many people believed that if then-Speaker Boehner had brought the bill to the floor for a vote, the bill would have passed. But the bill would have required Democratic votes to pass and Boehner was not willing to bring a bill to the floor if he could not get a majority of Republicans to vote for it.

Since then, any action on immigration reform has been stymied by the House. Promises by Boehner to bring Republican-backed reform bills to the floor for a vote never materialized because he could not get enough support within his caucus.

With Ryan’s ascension to the Speaker’s chair, there was some hope that he might be able to coalesce enough Republican votes to move some aspect of immigration reform; if not comprehensive reform, then perhaps only border enforcement.

But those hopes were dashed when soon after assuming the speakership, Ryan said in a televised interview that he would not move immigration reform until after President Obama left office in 2017, at the earliest.

Call your Congressman and Senators and tell them that we need immigration reform now.

Fixing the H-2B Guest Worker Program

Our national and state associations have been working diligently, bucking strong headwinds, to push forward legislation that would fix a broken H-2B guest worker program. The Obama Administration has not been a friend of the H-2B program, and program reforms have been needed for at least the past decade. If you use the H-2B program, you know what I mean.

The strong headwinds have come from a Congress that conflates the guest worker programs with immigration reform, making it difficult to get Congressional attention on the issue. The H-2B and H-2A programs could be one of the best ways of controlling illegal immigration, as they present a legal way for foreign workers to earn money in this country and then go home.
On Oct. 29, Senators Tillis, R-N.C.; Mikulski, D-Md.; Cassidy, R-La.; and Warner, D-Va., introduced the “Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2015,” S. 2225. The bill would remedy the key concerns employers continue to face with the H-2B program.

Then on Nov. 4, Reps. Chabot, R-Ohio; Goodlatte, R-Va., Harris, R-Md.; and Boustany, R-La., introduced the “Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now (SEASON) Act,” H.R. 3918. This bill also would remedy key problems in the H-2B program.

Please contact your Congressman and Senators and urge their support for these two bills by simply following this link.

Affordable Care Act Reform

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has created major headaches for many landscape contractors. The law is complex, even more so for seasonal employers like landscape contractors.

Senators Ayotte, R-N.H.; King, I-Maine; and Blunt, R-Mo., have introduced the “Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality” or STARS Act in the Senate, S. 1809. The Senate STARS Act is similar to H.R. 863, introduced in February in the House. The legislation seeks to simplify and streamline the ACA for seasonal employers. The bill would modify the ACA to define a “seasonal employee” as a worker who is employed for six months or less during the calendar year.

This new definition also would remove these seasonal employees from the equation that determines eligibility for employer health care coverage. Under the STARS Act, large employers would not need to offer health insurance to seasonal employees who work less than six months during the year.

Please contact your Congressman and Senators and urge their support for the STARS legislation by clicking here.

About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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