Keeping an Eye on Changes in D.C.

Peter Gerstenberger

Sometime over the weekend after voting, the electoral votes were tallied. Although some of the voting was still in dispute, and Georgia was looking at runoff elections to fill Senate seats, we have a clearer idea of what the next four years might look like for our industry from a legislative and regulatory point of view. Let’s set aside the larger socio-economic issues that affect all of us as U.S. citizens and focus on key issues that affect most tree care employers.

We have an incoming Democrat administration, and with that change comes the confirmation and appointment of a new cabinet, as well as political appointments to the leadership positions in most federal regulatory agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor.

We have a Senate with a slim GOP majority – possibly a split. There will be runoff elections on January 5, 2021, for Georgia’s two Senate seats. At this point these races are neck and neck, making it anyone’s guess which party will control the Senate for the next two years.

We have a House of Representatives with a slimmer-than-it-was Democrat majority. Nancy Pelosi is the favorite to remain Speaker of the House, but her influence may be checked by the close margin separating the parties in that chamber.

The changes in Congress make for a situation where issues that traditionally split along party lines could potentially swing either way if moderates from either party decide to vote with their colleagues from across the aisle. But as we learned from Ulman Public Policy – TCIA’s Washington, D.C., advocacy team – an unprecedented 91% of us voted straight ticket, suggesting that strong partisan sentiments endure and political compromise will be hard to come by.

Some of the key issues for the industry currently are immigration reform, specifically the status of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and H-2B non-immigrant VISA programs; the OSHA separate standard for arboriculture; DOT’s entry-level driver training (ELDT) initiative; and, of course, a COVID-19 package benefiting employers and employees affected by the pandemic.

And now the crystal-ball part.

TPS: At the end of the day, TPS was, and is, a humanitarian issue affecting 411,000 individuals, mostly from El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, but also impacting the companies that employ them. The Trump administration sought to end TPS through executive order, and a Biden administration will likely resurrect TPS as it unwinds previous executive orders and proclamations.

H-2B visa program: Non-immigrant visas is one area where there is a curious alignment of the outgoing and incoming administrations, at least in terms of outcome. The new administration will be pro-labor, and the idea of non-U.S. workers taking jobs is not one that sits well with unions. There likely will be no support for H-2B expansion from the White House, and a Congress too evenly split to make any headway on its own.

OSHA separate standard: The new OSHA rule has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle and is most likely to be viewed favorably by the new administration, but it may come down to priorities within OSHA. There could be renewed appetite for OSHA to issue a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, and that effort could sideline other initiatives temporarily.

ELDT: COVID-19 and information technology issues at the state level seem likely to delay the DOT’s implementation of ELDT even further. This is an issue TCIA is keeping a careful watch on.

COVID-19 package: As the folks from Ulman put it, Congress as a whole could be “freaked out” by the fact that they haven’t accomplished that much in the past four years. If there was ever an urgent issue demanding cooperation and compromise, it’s COVID-19. Don’t be surprised if a package contains provisions for seven days of paid sick leave. Look for some action soon, and, of course, we use the word “soon” advisedly. After all, it is still

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