We started 2019 with a government shutdown and lately it seems like most everything in Congress is at a standstill with all eyes on the impeachment hearings. After two weeks of public hearings, the House impeachment inquiry is approaching its next stage. Lawmakers are writing a report that could lead to articles of impeachment. The report will be sent to the Judiciary Committee shortly after Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess next week. Congress has been moving bills in 2019 – here’s the rundown.
Last week the House Judiciary Committee approved the MORE Act, a bill that legalizes marijuana on the federal level by removing it from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. The bill has more than 50 co-sponsors and is expected to pass the House on a full vote, but it’s expected to have an uphill battle in the Senate. Earlier this fall, the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which aims to protect banks and credit unions serving cannabis companies. Currently, financial institutions in the cannabis industry face legal exposure because the drug remains federally illegal, even as states legalize it. Supporters of the measure emphasize that cannabis businesses operate largely in cash, making them targets for robberies and crime. This bill remains in committee in the Senate.
MEDICARE SECONDARY PAYER
Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate introduced the Provide Accurate Information Directly (PAID) Act at the end of June. Lead Co-Sponsors Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) aim to improve the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) by requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to return beneficiary enrollment information in Part C Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to Non-Group Health Plan (NGHP) Responsible Reporting Entities (RREs). Currently, when an NGHP RRE queries an injured party's Medicare status, CMS solely returns enrollment information regarding Medicare Parts A and B. The measure would help the claims industry obtain timely and relevant information about claim payments and help resolve claims faster. There is a companion bill (H.R. 1375) that was introduced in February. We are pleased to be a part of this effort to help Medicare beneficiaries, businesses, and the claims industry.
The House passed a bill that would extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) through December 31, 2027. The Senate also did a quick introduction and markup of a Senate bill, which paves the way for the bill to move through the committee, one of the final hurdles for the program’s long-term extension. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was extended until Dec. 20, marking it the 13th temporary renewal since June 2017. There are several bills under consideration to reform and reauthorize the NFIP for a long-term extension. We’ll continue to keep watch on these federal bills and others we’ve reported on.
A new Brexit delay was granted until Jan. 31 by the European Union in October. Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiated a new exit deal that Britain’s Parliament still needs to ratify. If this happens before Jan. 31, the United Kingdom can withdraw early. If Britain leaves the bloc with a deal, it would have a transition period until the end of 2020, meaning business as usual for banks. However, the UK will hold a general election on Dec. 12 with the outcome determining how the Brexit deal plays out.
As Venice was hit by some of the worst flooding in 50 years and more than 80% of the city was underwater, Italy’s prime minister declared a state of emergency. Record-breaking temperatures fueled bushfires across Australia with more than 60 fires still burning across New South Wales. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief said climate change will be a key priority and is getting ready to incorporate environmental risk into its economic analysis. We’ll continue to monitor climate change risks and how policies are being played out on the world stage.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced its final rule to make 1.3 million more Americans eligible for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by raising the earnings threshold to qualify for overtime. The regulations they replace have been in effect since 2004. The final rule will be effective on Jan. 1, 2020. The DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched the OSHA Weighting System (OWS). OWS will encourage the appropriate allocation of resources by weighting certain types of inspections based on the time taken to complete the inspection, the impact of the inspection on workplace safety and health, and the types of hazards inspected and abated. On a final note on labor, the House of Representatives passed the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, a far-reaching bill that bans companies from requiring workers and consumers to resolve legal disputes in private arbitration. Supporters of the measure suggest the FAIR Act could affect more than 60 million US workers. The FAIR Act would only invalidate arbitration clauses signed after the effective date of the legislation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was active this year. Registration opened for its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a national online database intended to provide – in real time – the names of commercial motor vehicle drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests. Authorized users, including carriers, drivers, third-party administrators, medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals, must register to access the clearinghouse – slated for full implementation Jan. 6. Starting Feb. 10, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will require all entry-level drivers to complete the prescribed program of theory and behind-the-wheel training. The new entry-level driver training rules are based on recommendations that were made by a special advisory group. The FMSCA also issued long-awaited changes to its hours-of-service (HOS) rules. The proposed rules will now increase truck drivers’ flexibility to use their 30-minute rest break and specifically allocate time in a sleeper berth. The proposal also extends by two hours duty time for drivers encountering adverse weather and expands the current 100 air-mile “shorthaul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, consistent with workday rules for long haul truck drivers. The public comment period closed in October.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S. We extend our warmest gratitude to our readers and the industry in your continued readership of The Way. We appreciate your feedback, support, and loyal readership. From all of us at The Way, have a blessed holiday.