Australian authorities issued new flood warnings and evacuation orders yesterday as torrential rains continued to pour onto parts of the country. Forty percent of Australia’s entire population is under severe weather warnings across an area the size of Alaska. This is the worst flooding in 60 years. The deluge of rain is hampering shipments from the world’s biggest coal export terminal – Port of Newcastle, north of Sydney.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was preparing to announce new rates for federal flood insurance on April 1, so that the prices people pay would more accurately reflect the risks they face. The change was expected to reduce Americans’ vulnerability to floods by discouraging construction in high-risk areas. However, Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s objection to the plan has put the plan on hold at the moment. Schumer is concerned that the new rates could have a severe impact on middle-class and working-class families without consulting Congress first. Congress prevents FEMA from increasing a household’s flood insurance premium by more than 18% a year. Under the new system, some households would face that maximum annual increase for 10 years or more.
Bipartisan legislation was reintroduced last week in Congress that would create a $25,000 tax credit for businesses and a $3,000 tax credit for homes to help their owners rebuild after natural disasters. Through the tax credits, the Disaster Savings and Resilient Construction Act will incentivize building owners and homeowners to use resilient construction methods to rebuild damaged structures to be more disaster-resistant.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is challenging development projects in San Diego County as local officials weigh the risk of increasingly devastating wildfires against the state’s need for more housing. Becerra is acting under a 2018 update to the California Environmental Quality Act that created new standards for officials to analyze whether development projects will increase wildfire risks. A pending bill in the state Legislature would bar new development in very high fire hazard severity zones.
In lighter news, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that it will no longer use the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms. The WMO determined that the use of the Greek alphabet to name storms are hard to translate into other languages and can sound too similar to each other leading to messaging difficulties. The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1 this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidance for schools stating that most students only need to be spaced 3 feet apart in classrooms – just half of the 6 feet first recommended by the agency to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The changes also provided clear guidance when a greater distance (such as 6 feet) is recommended. The CDC’s revisions bring its distancing recommendations for schools in line with others like the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also removes the recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks.
A number of states have advanced legislation that would provide coronavirus-related liability safeguards for businesses. North Dakota House Bill 1175 gained Senate approval last week. The bill would protect employers from lawsuits brought by employees who may have contracted the virus at work, excluding any intentionally malicious acts. In Arizona, Senate Bill 1377 is moving through the House Judiciary Committee. This bill would protect businesses and others from litigation who acted in “good faith” to implement reasonable policies to protect their customers, clients, and patients. Bills in Iowa, Georgia, and Idaho are awaiting the governor’s signature, while the bill in Florida should be heading to the governor’s desk soon.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that provides more clarity when a business should classify workers as independent contractors. The worker classification measure, S.B. 272, establishes criteria that employers can use in determining if their workers are independent contractors rather than employees. Opponents of the bill argued that the number of West Virginians who would be reclassified as independent contractors would greatly increase and they could lose state-level protections. Lawmakers who supported the bill said it will lead to more certainty for both businesses and workers, especially as there is an increasing number of people working in the “gig” economy. The bill takes effect June 9.
The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) announced that it expects New York-regulated insurers to make diversity of their leadership a business priority and a key element of their corporate governance, treating diversity like other strategic priorities. The Insurance Circular Letter 2021-5 also stated that questions relating to an insurer’s diversity-related efforts will be included in DFS’ examination process beginning in 2022. DFS will collect data from New York domestic and foreign insurers with more than $100 million in annual NY premiums relating to the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of their boards and management as of Dec. 31, 2019 and 2020, including information about board tenure, key board and senior management roles.
Brackets busted everywhere this weekend as March Madness returned in full force. And as teams continue to vie for to be crowned the champion, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to reform the business model of college sports at the end of March. We’ll keep tabs on this since it can have an enormous ramification in higher education. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the Bulldogs!