Approaching the Second Fortnight
Jan 16, 2019


About a quarter of the federal government has been closed for 26 days, making the current four-week shutdown the longest in U.S. history.  President Trump and congressional leaders are battling over funding levels for federal agencies, causing 800,000 federal employees to go on furlough or to work without pay.  We take a closer look at the impact of the shutdown on our industry.



We start with the relevant agencies that remain fully operational this week.  Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are fully operational.  Employers should expect a pre-shutdown level of inspections, enforcement, and compliance assistance.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is charged with union elections, unfair labor practice charges, litigation, and similar events, remains fully staffed during the duration of this shutdown.  And, the partial government shutdown is not currently affecting Medicare and Medicaid at the federal level.  The nation’s public payers will continue to operate as normal, since funding for CMS is assured until at least September 30, 2019.



However, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) shrunk 95 percent of its staff, and all current investigations have been suspended.  The remaining staff is on call, should a serious incident occur during the shutdown.  Federal courts are now operating at reduced staff, with nonessential workers at federal district courts and higher courts, staying home or working without pay.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is usually staffed by 2,000 employees has been scaled back to only 103 staffers, will receive charges of discrimination, but is not expected to begin or continue investigations during the partial shutdown.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stopped routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, and vegetables.



Several recent polls suggest that a majority of American voters blame President Trump and congressional Republicans for the partial government shutdown.  The polls show 36 percent of the respondents fault the Democrats in Congress, and further showed that voters oppose by 66-32 percent shutting down the government to force Congress to come up with funding for the wall.  We will continue to follow this developing story.




The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a state law does not allow regulators to make public health and the environment their top priority when setting rules for oil and gas drilling. The underlying matter involved a lawsuit filed by six young people who asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2013 to require that energy companies show they would not harm human health or the environment or contribute to climate change before regulators issued a drilling permit, an argument that gained traction at the appellate level.  The state’s high court reversed the court of appeals, holding state law requires regulators to “foster” oil and gas production, while protecting public health and the environment.  Additionally, regulators must take into account whether those protections are cost-effective and technically feasible.  Leading oil and gas industry groups lauded the decision.



The ruling comes on the heels of a bullish estimation of oil demands worldwide, as the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2020 forecast.  The EIA estimates that crude oil output from the United States is expected to rise to a new record of more than 12 million barrels per day (bbl/d) this year and to climb to nearly 13 million bbl/d next year.  Also this week, the EIA released a report detailing estimates for renewable energy growth projections in 2019, with the following sources leading the way: wind (46%); natural gas (34%); and solar photovoltaics (18%).  According to the EIA, Texas, Iowa, and Illinois are projected to be the location of more than half of the 2019 wind capacity additions.


Making Our Way Around the Country


A lawmaker in Albany introduced Senate Bill 1042, which would establish a seven-member task force to examine how connected health technology could improve workers’ compensation outcomes, increase access to care providers, and enable those providers to improve compliance with worker’s comp guidelines. The committee would also explore how telehealth and telemedicine could help employers and reduce fraud.  If approved, New York’s task force would be comprised of three members appointed by the governor and the rest chosen by the Senate president and state Assembly speaker. It would be required to report back to lawmakers within the year.



The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission announced impending changes to the state's workers’ compensation fee schedule.  In an effort to bring transparency to health care costs and health insurance information, the Commission retained an independent organization to analyze, revise, and update the rules and rate tables for the workers' compensation fee schedule, including values for medical, anesthesia, transportation, dental procedures, and other services.  The review organization will distribute the revisions to providers, administrators and other interested parties on its website.



Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a bill that would regulate marijuana the same way the government currently regulates alcohol products. The bill, H.R. 420, seeks to remove marijuana from the list of illegal narcotics under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also create a nationally regulated industry that would be overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).  In a related state regulatory news story, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) triggered a recall warning this week for cannabis products that failed laboratory testing.



The Risk Management Society (RIMS) announced the presidency of Gloria Brosius, a long-standing member of the society and director of risk management and insurance at Pinnacle Agriculture Distribution, Inc.  She has served RIMS for more than 20 years and five years volunteering on its global board of directors.  Congratulations, President Brosius on your appointment.  We look forward working with you to advance the RIMS legislative agenda this year.



Much of the country is still digging out from a powerful winter storm that spanned from Colorado to the Mid-Atlantic and dropped almost a foot of snow on Washington, D.C.  The storm has affected air traffic control across the nation, which placed additional strain on a system already affected by the government shutdown.  As you take flight this week, please allow for extra time at airport security checkpoints, stay safe, and thank your bus driver


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