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Government Affairs: Unfinished business

November 4, 2014 -  By

As the 113th U.S. Congress comes to the end of its term in December, many are calling it the most unproductive Congress in history. Partisan wrangling rather than constructive legislative work seemed to have been the order of the day throughout this Congress’ two-year history.

Left undone are at least three pieces of legislation that could help landscape contractors. Putting aside super-controversial legislation like comprehensive immigration reform, these three bills are small bites that could get done if Congress had a mind to do anything in its remaining two months.

1. Fix H-2B

H-2B is not a small bite. However, there is general agreement that the H-2B guest worker program is broken and needs to be fixed. H-2B is a legal way to bring needed seasonal foreign workers into this country.

But miles of red tape, an unrealistic cap on the number of workers who can be granted work visas and a prevailing wage requirement that boosts H-2B wage rates by almost a third make the program incredibly difficult to use.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) has introduced HR 4238, designed to fix most of what is broken with H-2B. The bill has been sitting in the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security since last April with no signs of moving.

Write your congressman and urge him or her to cosponsor HR 4238 and move the legislation before this term of Congress ends in December and the bill dies.

The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) has made it easy to do, providing a prewritten a letter you can modify to your own circumstances. Just click here to go to its legislative action center. It will take you no more than five minutes.

2. Make Obamacare work for landscape contractors

Figuring out how Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA), applies to small seasonal businesses like landscape contractors is just about impossible. The ACA itself contains several definitions of seasonal workers that conflict with each other or, at a minimum, are not consistent.

So a landscape contractor in one section of the ACA may be considered a large business and in another section be considered a small business. In one section of the law, one group of employees requires insurance coverage, and in in another section a different group of employees requires insurance coverage.

“Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act of 2014” (HR 5213) was introduced by Rep. James Renacci (R-OH) The bill is designed to simplify the conflicting language in the ACA, creating one definition of a seasonal employee and eliminating seasonal employees from the complicated calculation of whether you are an “applicable large employer” (ALE).

If Congress would pass STARS, life under the ACA would be much simpler for landscape contractors. It’s not controversial, but has gotten caught up in the “repeal Obamacare” frenzy. It’s a reasonable tweak that just makes sense.

Again, PLANET has made it easy for you as a landscape contractor to let your congressman know where you stand. Simply click on this link to go to the PLANET legislative action center and let your voice be heard.

3. Save neonicotinoids

As I mentioned in my blog in September, neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) have become widely used in our industry. Neonics are essential for controlling pests such as the woolly adelgid that attacks hemlocks and the emerald ash borer that attacks ash trees.

But neonics are under attack. Recent concern over honeybee colony collapse and a couple of widely publicized bee kills by the inappropriate application of neonics has the public way ahead of the science.

Bowing to public pressure, Home Depot is labeling plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids and Lowes is under extreme pressure to follow suit. Laws are being considered in state legislatures and Congress to ban neonics outright or declare a moratorium on their use.

In an attempt to support the scientific study of the causes of bee colony collapse, both of our national associations, PLANET and AmericanHort, are advocating for passage of HR 5447, introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), the Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.

The bill requires federal agencies to take greater action to deal with some of the parasite and disease factors impacting the health of managed bees and not rush to judgment about the role neonics may play in bee colony collapse.

To support passage of HR 5447, write your congressman and ask for their support of the bill by clicking on this link. It will take you to the AmericanHort website where you can email your congressman.

There you have it—in 10 or 15 minutes you can let your congressmen know he or she has work to do before they call it quits in December!

Photo: iosphere/

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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

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