President Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill last week, averting another government shutdown. The bipartisan spending package includes additional funding for the military and domestic programs but failed to include a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Below are some highlights.
Biggest winner in the spending bill – transportation. The omnibus bill restored funding for critical transportation programs and includes $7.8 billion in new infrastructure spending for transportation-related activities. Additional funds were allocated to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to fully fund safety inspectors and programs, including Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation, as well as to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to provide additional grants for buses and bus facilities and transit systems. The Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Highway Administration also received increases to improve infrastructure.
Community development block grants, which are flexible funds helping communities develop projects that meet unique infrastructure, housing, and economic development needs and to support job creation, received almost double the budget from last year. The bill received a $2.4 billion increase to $5.2 billion. The bill also tripled a transportation grant program known as TIGER to $1.5 billion, which allows states and local governments to address aging infrastructure and create jobs. Another transportation win.
The opioid crisis, a nationwide public health emergency, received a $3 billion increase. The bill includes $4.6 billion in total funding to fight the epidemic. To help on this front, draft legislation was released this week aimed to bolster the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) capacity to respond to the opioid crisis. The FDA was given an additional $94 million in the spending bill, and the Senate Health Committee wants them to upgrade equipment at the border, boost laboratory capacity, and improve infrastructure to better seize illegal drugs at the border. This includes fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and contributes up to nearly half of deaths involving opioids.
This bill is long overdue, coming almost halfway through the 2018 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Lawmakers now have until Sept. 30 to approve the 2019 fiscal year budget that will include a deficit which is expected to exceed $1 trillion. Let the countdown begin.
Let's Make It Equal
New Jersey lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to strengthen the state’s pay-equity law. The bill would ban employers from paying women less than men for “substantially similar work.” It would also allow victims of discrimination to sue up to six years of back pay, up from the current cap of two years. In addition, monetary damages that are proven in court would be tripled. Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign the bill.
The Pay Equity for All Act that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representative last year would forbid employers from requesting salary history from potential employees. However, no further action has been taken since being introduced last year. Salary history bans aim to close gender pay gaps because the gap in pay is usually follows an employee from job to job since employers base future salary on a previous, inequitable salary. Many states and cities have picked up the efforts and passed salary history bans. These include states like California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Delaware, and cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New York City, and Philadelphia.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Kentucky took another step forward in overhauling its workers’ compensation system when the State Senate passed the measure last week. The bill proposes significant changes to the act, including the creation of a drug formulary, a 15-year cap on claims from the date of injury (with an amendment that called for recertification filings if a worker is still suffering), increases to weekly wage caps, and the establishment of medical treatment guidelines and standards of care. The bill is back in the House to accept the revised version then it will be sent to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
Gov. Rick Scott signed over 140 bills into law last week. This includes expanding workers’ compensation benefits so first responders can get coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as a new statute for independent contractor to include online handyman services. Gov. Scott also signed legislation requiring backup power sources in Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities, months after the deaths of several residents from sweltering nursing homes that lost power in Hurricane Irma. State officials estimate it will cost nearly $430 million for facilities to comply. Oh, and he also signed a bill to make Daylight Savings permanent.
This weekend brings the pranks and jokes of April Fools’ Day, the celebration of Easter, the beginning of Passover, Opening Day and the Final Four . I say root on the Loyola Ramblers, catch a ballgame, eat some good food, and beware of pranksters. Enjoy the weekend but get some rest.