The seasons of 2021 are drifting from one to the next. We pause this week on the edge of summer to check in on several executive actions from the White House and federal agencies affecting our industries.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
Beginning with workplace safety, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it will not enforce its own ruling that requires companies who mandate COVID-19 vaccines to treat adverse reactions as “recordable injuries.” Initially, OSHA said companies would have to treat adverse reactions as recordable if they mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. This week, OSHA reversed its course to avoid "the appearance of discouraging workers" from getting the vaccine as well as deterring companies’ safety efforts. Pundits agreed, suggesting this announcement could help industries push for increased vaccination among its workforce.
STORY OF THE HURRICANE
Turning to catastrophic claims, the Biden administration plans to invest $1 billion to help states prepare for extreme weather ahead of the 2021 hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects above-average storm activity during the upcoming hurricane season, which is set to begin on June 1st. NOAA anticipates this to be the sixth consecutive season with unusual activity. The administration's $1 billion pledge doubles the amount spent through 2020’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. The administration plans to use NASA's Earth System Observatory to help forecast and monitor natural disasters. We’ll keep an eye on these preparations if a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
AHHH, YOU’VE GONE TO THE FINEST SCHOOLS
In higher education news, the Biden administration will review and overhaul regulations governing major federal student loan relief programs. The Department of Education (DOE) plans to first review the Borrower Defense to Repayment, which allows student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their schools to get their federal student loan debt cancelled. The DOE will also examine the Total and Permanent Disability Discharges, which supports borrowers who are unable to maintain substantial, gainful employment due to a medical condition. Also up for review are Income-Based Repayment plans that allow federal student loan borrowers to repay their loans using a formula tied to their income. Finally, the department will examine the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which forgives federal student loan debt of borrowers who work for at least 10 years in qualifying public service employment.
BLOWING IN THE WIND
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final federal plan for existing municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills operated by any state, tribe, or locale that has not submitted a satisfactory plan in accordance with the agency’s 2016 landfills emissions guidelines. Enforcement of these regulations have been stalled because they were the subject of several lawsuits. The new regulations contain updated standards and guidelines originally outlined in 1996, and they describe well-designed and well-operated landfill gas collection-and-control systems. In addition, the regulations require affected landfills to install and operate a gas collection control system within 30 months after landfill gas emissions reach 34 metric tons of nonmethane organic compounds, down from a threshold of 50 metric tons.
DEA REASEARCH LICENSES
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will issue licenses to a number of growing facilities to increase medical marijuana research. Since 1968, only one operation, the University of Mississippi, has been licensed to supply marijuana to U.S. medical researchers who want to explore its value for treating medical conditions. The DEA dispatched a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to several manufacturers that applied for licenses to grow cannabis for research studies. The memos come less than 6 months after the agency published a final rule on research licensure. But, they also come almost 6 years after the initial license applications were submitted during the Obama administration, which first signaled the expansion of permissible growers.
Bi-partisan lawmakers in the United States Senate introduced the Life Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (LifeBOAT) Act, which would establish a stewardship fee to provide and expand access to substance use treatment. The bill calls for a 1 cent fee on every milligram of active opioid in prescription pain pills. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 90,000 Americans died from drug related overdoses in 2020. This was the highest year of overdose deaths ever recorded, with over half of those likely involving an opioid or synthetic opioid. Funding raised by the LifeBOAT Act would, among other initiatives, seek to improve access to substance use disorder treatment, expand access to long-term residential treatment programs, and support services to help those recovering transition back into society.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The Texas Senate passed a version of House Bill 19 (HB19), a bill that would permit a two-part trial in civil actions involving commercial motor vehicles, if requested in a motion by the defendant. Under the proposed bifurcated trial system, issues of fact related to the accident would be tried separately from the issues surrounding the employment relationship between the drivers and trucking companies. The senate bill’s sponsor cited the number of lawsuits arising out of commercial motor vehicle crashes in Texas has increased by 118% over the past 11 years. The House of Representatives passed HB19 last month with the addition of two amendments, including a technical amendment and an amendment requiring the Texas Department of Insurance to study the impact of the legislation on the insurance industry. The Texas House must concur with the Senate version before the bill is sent to Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) for his signature. If signed, the measure would become effective on Sept. 1, 2021.
The New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed A2617, a measure that would require an employer with at least 50 employees to provide a hiring preference to an employee who was injured in a work-related injury, has reached maximum medical improvement, and cannot return to the employee's former position with that employer. Under this Assembly bill, the employer is only required to provide the hiring preference if the employee can perform the essential duties of an existing, unfilled position. The bill does not require an employer to create a new position for the injured employee, nor does it require the employer to remove another employee from an existing but filled position to accommodate the injured employee. The bill crosses over to the state senate for consideration.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) signed into law Senate Bill 88. The measure updates Vermont’s captive law, including a clarification on a cell’s ability to convert to another entity type, a streamlining of the rules surrounding domestication, and a series of changes required of captives during the annual reporting process. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Special Insurer Act of 1981 that created the captive industry in the Green Mountain State.
Back to our main story this week, Monday marked Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday. Dylan is a Nobel Laureate in Literature, an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost singer-songwriters. As this American troubadour famously said, “there is nothing so stable as change.” And, as emerging government actions make their way to the risk and insurance industry, we’ll be right there with you. Until next week, stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.