Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending July 18, 2014

House Passes $11 Billion Highway Bill

The House of Representatives on Tuesday easily approved a bipartisan, short-term fix to the nearly depleted federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF).  The vote was 367- 55, with 186 Democrats and 181 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.  The bill authorizes funding to address the shortfall to the HTF and extends federal surface transportation programs through May of 2015.  With just days to go before the scheduled August recess, the Senate is likely to ignore their own bill put forth by the Senate Finance Committee and instead vote on the House’s version.  Passage in the Senate would obviate the need for negotiations between the House and Senate to iron out differences in the bills. (Marta David – mdavid@afscme.org)

Senate Votes to Reverse U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Women’s Health Care

On Wednesday, a minority of Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a bill that would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.  The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act (S. 2578), would correct the Hobby Lobbydecision by ensuring that closely-held corporations could not exclude any lawful contraception methods from coverage under their health plan as required by the Affordable Care Act.

In its Hobby Lobbydecision, the Court held that the religious beliefs of the owners of the Hobby Lobby stores trumped the religious beliefs and health care needs of their workers.  The decision allows some corporate owners the right to insert themselves into the decisions that women make about their health care.  Because the most effective forms of contraception tend to be the most costly, coverage under health plans increases their use and gives women greater security against the risk of unintended pregnancy.  When women have greater control over timing and spacing of childbearing, and the number of children, it gives them the ability to complete their education and increase their workforce participation.  This leads to greater economic security for women and their families.

As noted by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent of the Hobby Lobbydecision, the Court’s decision opens the door to a day when employers use religious objections to limit other health care services such as vaccinations, the use of antidepressants, blood transfusions, HIV treatment and more. 

The bill garnered 56 votes, including the support of three Republican Senators: Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Mark Kirk (IL) and Lisa Murkowski (AK).  Unfortunately, the bill was blocked by a filibuster led by Republican leaders. (Barbara Coufal – bcoufal@afscme.org)  

 

Municipal Bankruptcy Reform Bill Introduced

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the Protecting Employees and Retirees in Municipal Bankruptcy Act of 2014 (H.R. 5133). The bill addresses serious shortcomings in existing Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy law that were brought to light in the recent Detroit bankruptcy case. 

Chapter 9 is intended to create a process to address financial emergencies. As currently written, the law is vague and has created confusion and serious inequities. The Protecting Employees and Retirees in Municipal Bankruptcy Act of 2014 would make important corrections to address problems in existing law that are advocated by AFSCME. The bill would make it clear that a debtor must engage in good faith negotiations in a genuine effort to reach agreement and avoid bankruptcy. It would prohibit debtors from voiding or rejecting collective bargaining agreements and provisions through unilateral action.  The legislation would also reform the federal bankruptcy code to prevent Chapter 9 from being used to sidestep, invalidate, preempt or otherwise take precedence over state constitutions and state and municipal laws protecting pensions, retiree health care and other retiree benefits.

AFSCME strongly supports this legislation and other efforts to restore fairness and balance to the bankruptcy process. (Ed Jayne – ejayne@afscme.org)

House & Senate Act to Change State & Local Government Taxes on Internet Access and Internet Sales

On Tuesday, by voice vote, the House approved the harmful Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) (H.R. 3086), a bill that would make permanent, an existing temporary ban on the imposition of taxes on internet access by state and local governments.  The current ban grandfathered internet access taxes that had been implemented previously in 7 states (HI, NM, ND, OH, SD, TX, WI).  Under H.R. 3086, these states and localities would lose this source of revenue.  According to independent experts, the loss of revenue in these 7 states would total $500 million annually.  By barring other states from adopting internet access taxes, the bill would deny them roughly $6.5 billion in potential revenue.  AFSCME is working in coalition with other unions, state and local governments, and progressive budget and tax groups to oppose ITFA.

In response to the House’s action, Senators Michael Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced a new related bill, The Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA), which combines provisions from the 2013 Senate-passed Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) with a temporary extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA).  The bill’s MFA provisions would enable states and localities to collect sales and use tax from remote and online sellers of products and services. This is estimated to raise up to $23 billion annually. To retain support of the 69 Senators who voted to advance MFA in Spring 2013, MITFA retains the MFA bill’s provisions with a few minor improvements.  The new bill combines this with a 10-year extension of both the existing moratorium on state and local government taxes on internet access and the related grandfather clause described above.

AFSCME strongly supports MITFA’s provisions, which allow states and localities to require businesses to collect sales taxes on internet and remote purchases.  While MITFA’s 10-year moratorium on state and local taxes on internet access is very long, it is preferable to a permanent ban. AFSCME supports extending MITFA’s current grandfather clause on internet access taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put MITFA on a legislative fast track with potential votes by the end of this week, but more likely next week.  (Marc Granowitter -­ mgranowitter@afscme.org)

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