Public Policy News You Can Use – June 17
June 17, 2009
Congress Begins to Roll Out Health Care Reform Proposals
Health Care reform is expected to be at the forefront of the congressional schedule this summer. President Obama and Democrat leaders in the House and Senate have made re-tooling our nation’s health care system a priority beginning on the campaign trail for the November 2008 elections. Five committees in total, two in the Senate and three in the House, have been developing health care proposals since this spring. The month of June has been earmarked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed (D-NV) to begin the roll out of the proposals, with mark ups in committee and efforts to combine the various proposals to ensure a bill can reach the House and Senate floor for a vote before the August recess. President Obama has played a significant role in shaping the debate on the issue by creating two different Offices of Health Reform, one in the Department of Health and Human Services and the other in the White House, to work closely with congressional leaders and guide the drafting of legislation. He has also been very vocal about the importance of an overhaul at this time in town hall meetings and radio addresses and has laid out a deadline for congress to accomplish the task by the fall.
As the committees begin to release language they have been working on throughout the spring, some do not share the optimism of the President and others that health care reform is feasible. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), and President Obama’s first nomination to be the Secretary of HHS, has spoken publicly that health care reform has a 50-50 chance at best. There have been many sticking point issues that have caused the initially unified conversation to deteriorate to become quite partisan. The most controversial provision is a proposed public insurance plan that proponents say would compete with private insurance to keep the costs low, but others fear this will lead to a single government run program, seen in Canada and many European countries. Senate Republicans say a public option is a non-starter though, spurring on the latest discussion of a co-op system for health insurance that could still hold private insurers accountable. Other stumbling blocks may include mandates for employers and employees and how a new system would be paid for. The Senate Finance Committee is looking at taxing at least a portion of employer sponsored insurance benefits, as well as, a sin tax on alcohol and other sugar-sweetened beverages to raise the funds.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released portions of their proposal last week and are expected to begin a two week mark up of the bill beginning on June 17. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to release portions of their proposal by June 19 with a mark up beginning June 23 and lasting the week. The House Committees released a “tri-committee” general outline of a bill last week and are expected to begin considering a bill in late June or early July. The health care debate is just beginning and CUPA-HR will continue to update members as things unfold in the coming months.
E-Verify Federal Contractor Rule Delayed Until September
Federal Acquisitions Regulatory Councils delayed yet again the effective date for a final rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors use E-Verify, a federal government’s system for electronically verifying work authorization. The rule would require contractors use the E-Verify system in addition to the existing I-9 requirements. The FAR Councils published the notice extending the rule’s June 30 effective date to September 8, in the June 5, 2009 Federal Register. This is the fourth delay announced by the FAR Councils. Reasons cited for postponing the rule have included on-going litigation challenging the rule and the review of a new Administration. The delay angered a group of 51 Republican House members who sent a letter to the President demanding he move forward with rule . Absent congressional action, E-Verify will expire on September 30. Some speculate the Administration may be delaying moving forward with the rule until it solidifies it broader position on E-Verify re-authorization and comprehensive immigration reform. The President recently expressed a desire to see congress begin addressing immigration reform. To initiate the conversation, the White House is expected to hold an Immigration Summit with Democrat and Republican lawmakers and administration officials later in June. The prognosis of the federal contractor rule actually taking effect this time may depend in large part on the immigration and E-Verify discussions lead by the White House in the coming months, in addition to the resolution of the lawsuit. In light of the delay, any federal contracts awarded prior to September 8 will not contain the new E-Verify requirements. CUPA-HR will continue to monitor the status of this rule and the larger immigration debate and provide members with updates.
House Passes Federal Government Paid Sick Leave Bill
On June 4, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill to provide four weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child. H.R. 626, the “Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act,” was approved by a vote of 258 to 154. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would also permit the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to increase via regulation the four weeks of paid leave to up to eight weeks of paid leave. In addition, the bill would also allow federal employees to use paid accrued sick or annual leave after the birth or adoption of a child rather than the 12 weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Act (FMLA). The legislation would change the Congressional Accountability Act, which currently gives federal agencies the option to allow the substitution of paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave but does not make it a requirement. The House approved an amendment that would allow federal employees that are called to active duty with the National Guard or Reserve to continue to accrue parental leave benefits while serving on active duty.
President Obama was a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill in the last congress and has again expressed support for the goal of the legislation. However, the White House has not wholly endorsed the bill, issuing a statement of administration policy on the bill on June 3 stating that the Administration is reviewing current Federal leave policies and “looks forward to working with Congress to refine the details of the legislation.” A Senate companion bill was introduced by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) on March 20 that currently has 16 senators signed on as co-sponsors.
The passage of the bill in the House demonstrates a clear interest of Congress to continue to work on these issues. CUPA-HR expects so see further legislative action in this congress on leave and work flexibility issues.
House Holds Hearing on Paid Sick Leave Bill
On June 11, Congress held its first hearing on the Healthy Families Act, (HFA - H.R. 2460), a bill that would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave. The HFA would allow employees to earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, to a maximum of 56 hour per year. While the leave would carry over from one year to the next, employers would not be required to allow employees to accrue more than 56 hours at a time. Employees would begin earning the leave on their first day and would be eligible to use the leave after working for 60 days. Also, the bill would allow part-time workers to earn paid sick leave at the same rate – 1 hour of leave for 30 hours worked.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey chaired the House Education and Labor Subcommittee hearing with 6 witnesses testifying if favor of the bill, including 2 members of Congress, and 2 witnesses opposed to the bill. China Miller Gorman, Chief Operating Officer for the Society for Human Resource Managers, testified that companies should be able to decide for themselves on how to establish and implement paid leave programs and that a one-size fits all mandate, like the Healthy Families Act, would not work. Ranking Member Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA) echoed those concerns and said the bill “represents the intrusion of the federal government into the benefits and policies of millions of companies, large and small.” The bill was re-introduced this Congress by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on May 18 and in the Senate by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) on May 21. It is unclear how quickly Congress will move the bill through the legislative process, considering the busy schedule they face on with many high profile issues being considered this summer. CUPA-HR will continue to monitor the issue closely.
NLRB Regional Director Rules That Medical Interns Are Employees
On May 22, 2009, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 2 Director, Celeste Mattina, ruled that interns and residents at the St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, NY are entitled to organize stating that they are employees, not students, so they are covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). A Service Employees International Union affiliate, the Committee of Interns and Residents Local 1957, filed an NLRB petition in January requesting St. Barnabas recognize the union, after gathering signatures from 90 percent of the interns and residents. The hospital argued that the NLRB’s 1999 Boston Medical Center decision, finding interns and residents to be employees, did not apply to their hospital since they receive federal funding under the Pension Funding Equity Act of 2004 for “graduate medical education.” St. Barnabas said according to the Act “any individual who seeks to be admitted to a graduate medical education program” would be classified as a student. Mattina disagreed and ordered an election to be held for the 280 interns and residents within 30 days.
Congress continues to look at the issue of students versus employees in organizing drives, as well, with consideration of the Teaching and Research Assistant Collective Bargaining Rights Act introduced in March and April in the House and Senate. The bill would reverse the NLRB’s July 2004 decision in Brown University and amend the NLRA giving teaching and research assistants at private colleges and universities the right to vote on union representation and collectively bargain over terms and conditions of their employment. The Brown University decision stated that TA’s are students and can not organize, even though they are compensated. Neither the House nor the Senate has acted on the legislation yet this congress. President Obama was a co-sponsor of this bill in the last congress so an Obama NLRB may seek to overturn the Brown University decision if congress does not act on the measure. CUPA-HR will continue to closely monitor the issue in congress and with the NLRB.