Construction Legislative Week in Review
www.agc.org October 29, 2015
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On the Inside
BUDGET
Two-Year Budget Deal Passes House, Moves to Senate
OSHA Civil Penalties Increase under Budget Act
ACA’s Auto-Enrollment Provision Repealed in Budget Act
TRANSPORTATION
Transportation Bill Heads to the House Floor Next Week
WORKFORCE
Congress Gears Up to Consider Career and Technical Education Legislation
CONGRESS
House Elects a New Speaker
SAFETY
AGC Responds to OSHA’s Attempt to Overrule Court Decision
LABOR
AGC Opposes NAVFAC- and GSA-Mandated PLAs
BUDGET
Two-Year Budget Deal Passes House, Moves to Senate
 

Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved by a vote of 266-167, the  Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a two-year budget deal that will help avert automatic, across-the-board budget cuts in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 through raising government spending levels by about $80 billion annually and suspending the national debt limit until March 2017.  Seventy-nine Republicans joined with 167 Democrats in passing the act.  The Senate is expected to pass the measure on Friday or over the weekend.  

The budget agreement will impact the construction industry in a number of ways. At a macro-level, the agreement clears the path for Congress to pass individual, annual agency spending bills or a larger spending bill encompassing all or most federal agency spending for fiscal year 2016. Passage of either individual appropriations bills or an omnibus bill will allow federal agencies to start new construction projects in the current fiscal year and provide Congress an opportunity to include important policy instructions for agencies that could help address regulatory overreach. The federal government is currently operating under a fiscal year 2016 spending bill—called a continuing resolution (CR)—through Dec. 11. The CR prohibits new construction project starts and is devoid of important policy riders addressing burdensome regulations. The budget agreement will also lessen the chances of a government shutdown at the end of this year and in 2016. Additionally, by suspending the nation’s limit on borrowing the act eliminates the threat of a national credit default until 2017. Such a default would lead to skyrocketing interest rates that would be devastating to not only the construction industry but the entire American economy.

At a micro-level, the budget agreement includes provisions that would (1) repeal the mandatory auto-enrollment of employees in employer provided health care coverage; and (2) increase Occupational Safety and Health Act fines based, in part, on inflation. For more on these provisions, please see the stories below. The budget agreement also provides a more definitive path for passage of the annual defense bill—the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2016 (NDAA bill)—which includes a number of AGC-supported federal construction procurement reforms. President Obama vetoed the Defense Bill last week.

For more information, please contact Jimmy Christianson at christiansonj@agc.org or (703) 837-5325. Return to Top

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OSHA Civil Penalties Increase under Budget Act
 

The Bipartisan Budget Act removes a statutory exemption from penalties under certain statutes, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, from inflation for civil penalties. Unlike other similar civil penalties in federal law, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) civil penalties have been explicitly exempted from inflation since they were created in 1990. Under the Budget Act, OSHA will now have to report on their adjustment in their annual financial statements and via the Government Accountability Office. The bill also allows the agency to use a “catch up” formula to make up to 150 percent adjustments in the penalty in the first year to meet current inflation levels. The Secretary could limit the increases if there’s a negative economic impact that outweighs benefits and any proposed increase in penalties would go through the formal notice and comment process.

The Senate could vote on the budget bill with the increase in OSHA penalties as early as tomorrow.  It is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law.

For more information, please contact Jim Young at youngj@agc.org or Kevin Cannon at cannonk@agc.org Return to Top

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ACA’s Auto-Enrollment Provision Repealed in Budget Act
 

An AGC-supported provision within the Bipartisan Budget Act repeals the mandatory auto-enrollment of employees in employer-provided health care coverage. The provision originated in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and forced employers with more than 200 full-time employees to automatically enroll a new full-time employee in a health plan within 90 days if he or she fails to choose or decline coverage. Employers would have also been required to continue to enroll current employees in a health plan. The requirement was in addition to the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, and other employee benefit laws.

For over four years, AGC has advocated that this provision should be repealed because enrolling employees automatically into coverage they did not select could result in unexpected payroll deductions for employees who can't afford it, or already have secured health care through other avenues like a spouse's employer, a parent's employer or an exchange.

The Senate could vote on the Budget Bill with the auto enrollment provision repeal as early as tomorrow.  It is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law.

For more information, please contact Jim Young at youngj@agc.org or Tamika Carter at cartert@agc.org Return to Top

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TRANSPORTATION
Transportation Bill Heads to the House Floor Next Week
Extension Through Nov. 20
 

This week saw significant progress in moving a multi-year highway & transit bill.  Following passage of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA) in the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee last week, the full House is expected to consider the bill next week.

Prior to the bill hitting the floor, the House Rules Committee will meet to determine the parameters for debate and what amendments will be considered.  It is likely this process will be completed by Tuesday with consideration of the bill beginning next Wednesday, Nov. 4.  Since the Senate acted first on their reauthorization bill, the process for passing the House bill is a bit different from previous authorizations.  Ultimately, the House will amend the Senate-passed DRIVE Act to include the House-passed STRRA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration title and other transportation related amendments.  What remains to be seen is if the House plans to allow amendments to the Highway Trust Fund pay-fors that were included in the DRIVE Act. 

AGC is continuing to push for inclusion of an amendment to expand the mileage limit allowing construction drivers to reset their hours-of-service after a 24-hour break.  In addition, we are working with Representative Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) to include an amendment that would initiate a process to ensure the future solvency of the Highway Trust.  We will communicate to AGC chapters and members if the House will vote on these or other amendments of interest to the construction industry.

Extension of Highway & Transit Programs

Also this week, the House and Senate passed by voice votes an extension of highway & transit programs until Nov. 20. The legislation also included an extension of the deadline for railroads to reach full installation of positive train control (PTC) technology to 2018.  The 3-week extension of the highway and transit programs provides a short timeframe for the House and Senate to work out the differences of their respective reauthorization bills (assuming House passage). It is not outside the realm of possibility that a final bill could be agreed to and signed by the president by Nov. 20.  However, both the House and Senate will be in session very little in November, which may ultimately lead to another short-term extension into early December.  If needed, the next extension would be passed to simply give House and Senate negotiators time to finalize their agreement and give members of Congress time to see the see the final bill before voting on it. 

For more information, please contact Sean O’Neill at oneills@agc.org or (202) 547-8892. Return to Top

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WORKFORCE
Congress Gears Up to Consider Career and Technical Education Legislation
 

This week there was movement in both the House and the Senate towards reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The Act is a federal program that distributes more than $1 billion each year to the states to support career and technical education (CTE). The bill was last authorized in 2006 but has been funded through the annual appropriations process since it expired.

In the Senate, the offices of Senators Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Casey (D-Pa.) have begun bipartisan work to reauthorize the bill. The Senators reached out to the CTE Community looking for specific policy recommendations for the reauthorization process. The Senate leaders have a set of bipartisan principles that the Perkins reauthorization bill will be based off of:

  • Make it easier for states and locals to run their CTE programs to serve all students who desire to gain access to CTE coursework, including students with disabilities;
  • Increase access to, and support of, career counseling for all CTE students;
  • Maintain CTE as a formula program;
  • Align with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (where applicable) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the education and workforce development programs;
  • Support the expansion of public/private collaborations with secondary and post-secondary programs, including alignment with state or locally-determined in-demand industries and occupations;
  • Support efforts to integrate into and strengthen career pathways at the state and local levels;
  • Address unfunded programs; and
  • Improve evaluation and research to support innovation and best practices.

In response to the request, AGC, along with members of the Jobs and Careers Coalition, provided changes we believe would strengthen a reauthorized Perkins Act. They focused on aligning CTE programs to the local and regional economic needs by offering a variety of frameworks and avoid a one-size-fits-all mechanism that can be duplicative with other federal programs and stifle employer engagement. We also stressed the importance of work-based learning that is defined in a way that encompasses all types of arrangements that may be in use across the spectrum of industries such as internships, apprenticeships and mentorships.  The comments also highlighted the importance of industry recognized credentials and the need for the legislation to encourage the development and creation of these credentials and to distinguish them from other post-secondary awards. Finally, AGC supports a stronger and better-defined collaboration between secondary and post-secondary institutions with employers.

Meanwhile, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing this week on ways to reform the Perkins Act to better serve students and meet the needs of a 21st century economy. Among the panelists, a representative of the AGC-supported National Center for Construction Education and Research, testified that the key to CTE is to find skilled craft professionals who have some communications skills and provide them with instruction and training resources. The need for a strong national network of CTE programs is vital along with linking post-secondary institutions with employers. Also highlighted was the need to move trained professionals from training programs into the staffs of employers, particularly construction employers.

For more information, please contact Jim Young at youngj@agc.org or (202) 547-0133.  Return to Top

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CONGRESS
House Elects a New Speaker
 

On Thursday, the House of Representatives elected Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) as the 54th Speaker to replace retiring Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). During his swearing-in ceremony, Speaker Ryan stated, “Let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.” He laid out a return to regular order by “letting the committees retake the lead in drafting all major legislation” and including more minority party views.

Following his elevation to the highest ranking member of the House, Ryan resigned as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The Republican Steering Committee has not yet determined when the vote for Ways and Means Committee chair will take place. Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) have all been campaigning for committee chair.  In the interim, Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) will serve as the acting chair.

During this time of leadership transition, the Republican members will convene to discuss some changes to their official rules, including a plan to diversify the makeup of the powerful Steering Committee (which selects leadership offices and chairmen of committees). A window for the changes has yet to be determined, but the changes are likely to effective before the end of the year.

For more information, please contact Brian Lenihan at lenihanb@agc.org or (202) 547-4733. Return to Top

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SAFETY
AGC Responds to OSHA’s Attempt to Overrule Court Decision
 

On Oct. 28, 2016, AGC submitted comments as part of the Coalition for Workplace Safety in response to the Occupation Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Clarification of an Employers Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain Accurate Records of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” proposed rule.  This rule would revise the recordkeeping regulation to allow the agency to cite for inaccuracies on an employer’s OSHA 300 Log.

The proposal was put forward in response to the 2012 court decision which held that OSHA could not issue a citation for a recordkeeping violation after the six-month statute of limitations expressly included in the Occupational Safety & Health Act. OSHA maintains that they could issue a citation during the entire 5-year period during which employers are required to keep these records.  The comments cite the lack of legal authority within the agency to essentially revise the Act through rulemaking as well as the absence of any economic analysis that takes the continuing obligation into consideration.  Ultimately, the comments request that OSHA withdraw this rulemaking.

For more information, please contact Jim Young at youngj@agc.org or Kevin Cannon at cannonk@agc.org. Return to Top

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LABOR
AGC Opposes NAVFAC- and GSA-Mandated PLAs
 

Recently, AGC sent letters opposing the possible use of a project labor agreement (PLA) mandate posted by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest (NAVFAC) and the General Services Administration Mid-Atlantic Region (GSA). The letters address the possible use of mandatory PLAs involving the construction of the Special Operations Forces Logistics Support Unit One Operations Facility at the Navy’s Silver Strand Training Complex in Imperial Beach, California and a Measurement Systems Laboratory at the NASA Langley Research Center located in Hampton, Virginia.

AGC neither supports nor opposes contractors’ voluntary use of PLAs on government projects, but strongly opposes any government mandate for contractors’ use of PLAs. AGC is committed to free and open competition for publicly funded work, and believes that the lawful labor relations policies and practices of private construction contractors should not be a factor in a government agency’s selection process.

For more information please contact Jimmy Christianson at christiansonj@agc.org or 703-837-5325. Return to Top

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