"The results of the National Small Business Association and National Federation of Independent Business surveys released yesterday provide further evidence that Obamacare was poorly designed and horrendously implemented. It is unacceptable that small businesses and their employees continue to face huge cost increases and struggle to navigate confusion and complexity with this system. We need a health care system that is affordable, responsive, and efficient. What we have had for the last 5 years is none of those things."
Joint Commerce Committee Statement on Senate Passage of Bill to Boost Competitiveness of U.S. Space Industry
Note: Senator Thune was in Lincoln, Nebraska this weekend as a guest of Senator Fischer. Fischer and Thune visited BNSF and Duncan Aviation.
In America’s heartland, we understand and value productivity and hard work. Across Nebraska and South Dakota, there’s no shortage of wide open spaces or hardworking people. The businesses and agriculture producers in our states also rely upon America’s roads, highways, bridges and railroads to get their commodities and other products to market. Despite various challenges, our agriculture producers feed not only this country but millions more across the globe.
This year, we have worked to establish a new pattern of productivity in the U.S. Senate. As leaders on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, we have focused on a wide range of issues affecting businesses and our economy. For several months, this focus has targeted improvements to our nation’s transportation network. By working together and seeking input from stakeholders across the country, our committee has achieved many bipartisan successes, including Senate passage of the first multi-year highway bill in nearly a decade.
Over the course of the year, the committee has held over a dozen hearings to explore the right policies to enhance transportation safety, efficiency, and reliability for all Americans. We heard from a wide group of stakeholders from across the nation on a diverse number of issues.
The first transportation subcommittee hearing examined the future of America’s transportation policy and featured witnesses from Nebraska, including Jim Mullen of Werner Enterprises, Lance Fritz of Union Pacific Railroad, and Douglas Means of Cabela’s. Each witness discussed three common themes: the importance of a reliable and efficient surface transportation network; the challenges they are facing in regard to organization, safety, and overall performance; and their relationships with federal agencies.
This spring, we examined the significant service disruptions that were occurring at West Coast ports. For nearly 10 months, protracted labor disputes delayed the movement of goods to and from markets. This affected even landlocked states like Nebraska and South Dakota. Manufacturers waited for vital inputs and hospitals even had difficulty receiving medical supplies. In fact, meat producers from our region were unable to ship products and had to reduce production levels. Following our hearing, we were pleased to see an agreement ending the dispute.
However, to prevent such occurrences in the future, we have worked on new measures helping the Department of Transportation to actually track and monitor port congestion. Heading off another transportation system problem, just last month, the president signed into law a common-sense, accountability-focused solution we advanced to ensure that our nation’s freight and passenger rail system did not face severe disruptions because of an unrealistic deadline for new train control technology.
One of our committee’s most successful accomplishments this year was the Senate passage of bipartisan, multiyear highway legislation in July that should soon result in the signing of a bill to advance highway project construction and enhance road safety. This bill also incorporates additional regulatory relief for our agriculture producers. Specifically, it would allow farmers the flexibility to transport up to 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel for equipment without the burden of obtaining special permits. The bill also develops a comprehensive strategy for freight infrastructure planning across the country and provisions to strengthen truck safety through regulatory reforms at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These truck safety reforms would encourage stronger regulatory analysis, more transparency, and wider public participation in the regulatory process.
The Senate’s accomplishments are an important step, but our work has just begun as we seek to make the federal government more accountable to the needs of Americans in states like Nebraska and South Dakota.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer is a member of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. She serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security. U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is chairman of both the Republican Senate Conference and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations will meet for a hearing titled, Regulatory Overload: The Effects of Federal Regulations on Small Firms. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:00 P.M. on Friday November 6, 2015, at North Las Vegas City Hall, Council Chambers, 2250 N. Las Vegas Blvd., North Las Vegas, NV 89030.
Across the country, federal regulations are a pervasive issue that affects small firms in all industries. While existing regulatory requirements impose significant burdens on small firms, new regulations create challenges as well. The Subcommittee will examine several federal regulations (either in development or implementation) and the impacts on small businesses.
Mr. Spencer Hafen
President & CEO
Nevada Bank and Trust Company
Ms. Robin E Simmers
Pahranagat Valley Federal Credit Union
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, today called on the airline industry to halt any plans they may have to charge increased checked-bag fees during the holidays.
Nelson made the call in letters he sent today to the CEOs of all the major U.S. airlines. His move comes on the heels of reports that Spirit and Frontier airlines are going to raise their baggage fees during this year’s holiday travel season.
“These increased surcharges fly in the face of declining fuel costs and appear focused on increasing profitability on the backs of American families,” Nelson wrote. “If your company does plan to impose holiday surcharges, I request that you rescind those plans immediately.”
Earlier this year, Nelson released a Commerce Committee minority report taking aim at the airline industry for failing to adequately disclose extra fees and add-on costs charged to the flying public.
The report made several recommendations, including one requiring checked and carry-on baggage fees to have a clear connection between the costs incurred by the airline and the fees charged.
Nelson hopes to include many of the report’s recommendations in legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that’s expected to come before the Senate next year.
Below is the text of Nelson’s letter to the airlines:
November 6, 2015
According to recent reports, at least two airlines plan to impose “holiday surcharges” that will increase baggage fees during the peak holiday travel period.
These increased surcharges fly in the face of declining fuel costs and appear focused on increasing profitability on the backs of American families. That’s why I am seeking an assurance from your company that you will not impose a holiday surcharge on baggage fees. Furthermore, if your company does plan to impose holiday surcharges, I request that you rescind those plans immediately.
In August, Senate Commerce Committee minority staff released a report that found ancillary fees, such as change and cancellation penalties and preferred seating fees, were increasingly keeping consumers in the dark about the true cost of air travel. The report made a number of recommendations, including one requiring ancillary fees to have a clear connection between the cost incurred by the airline and the fee charged. I hope to include many of the report’s recommendations in legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that’s expected to come before the Senate next year.
Thank you for your attention to these concerns. I look forward to receiving your company’s response on this important issue no later than November 20, 2015.
Today, I rise to recognize the inaugural observance of National Apprenticeship Week. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of apprenticeship programs are helping to prepare workers for today’s high-skilled, in-demand jobs.
For far too long, there has been a discrepancy in what students are learning in the classroom and what employers say they need in the workplace.
Apprenticeships are key to narrowing that skills gap because they offer students a low-cost – and in many cases a no-cost – education that arms them with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today’s global economy. Apprentices often earn an average starting salary of $50,000 per year and go on to make $300,000 more than their non-apprentice peers over the course of their career.
Employers who invest in these work-based learning programs are attracting and retaining highly qualified employees. They’re also seeing results in the form of increased productivity and greater innovation.
Apprenticeships can change lives, and I look forward to seeing how these valuable programs continue to strengthen America’s workforce.
Blumenthal, Nelson Demand Independent Federal Investigation into Health Risks from Children's Playgrounds and Artificial Turfs Made with Crumb Rubber from Scrap Tires
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee respectively, called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to immediately conduct an independent, comprehensive investigation to determine the true health risks of exposure to crumb rubber made from scrap tires that is increasingly used across the country to make or fill playgrounds and artificial turf fields. In the senators’ letter to CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye, they highlighted the current lack of conclusive evidence on health risks of crumb rubber and the urgent need to study full health effects from exposure, noting that athletes and young children are two groups that come in frequent contact with rubber turf and most vulnerable for any serious risks. This week, the issue was featured by ESPN on their E:60 program, entitled “The Turf War.”
“Even though crumb rubber sport and play surfaces are widely played on, little is known about their risks to health and safety—especially to vulnerable populations, like toddlers with frequent hand-to-mouth actions, and to participants with especially high exposure, such as soccer goalies, who come in frequent contact with the rubber infill on synthetic turfs,” the senators wrote.
“According to the most recent counts by University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin, who has been tracking cancer incidences involving athletes who have played for a number of years on synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill, there are now 153 such cancer cases. Of these, 124 are soccer players and 85 of these played goalie…A recent study conducted at Yale University found that the rubber used in synthetic turf and rubber mulch contains 96 chemicals. There were no toxicity assessments for a little under half of those chemicals and of those with toxicity assessments, 20 percent are probable carcinogens.”
The senators raised doubts about the validity of a current crumb rubber evaluation in California which is “commissioned by CalRecycle – the state agency responsible for promoting tire recycling and which may have a special interest in finding beneficial reuse applications for scrap tires.” Because of the plausible conflict of interest in the only ongoing study, the senators requested “CPSC should lead the independent federal investigation on this important matter. States and localities already depend on the CPSC for guidelines for playground safety…The CPSC has an obligation to make sure its recommendations do not put children’s health at risk.”
“As part of this investigation, we also respectfully request that your epidemiology team coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and any other relevant public health agencies to keep track of cancer incidences related to playing on crumb rubber surfaces. This information is necessary to confirm or disprove the existence of a cancer cluster.”
The letter also requests the CPSC to provide “interim guidelines regarding how individuals can reduce their exposure to the potential hazards of crumb rubber.” The senators asked that CPSC respond with specific steps they will take by November 30, 2015.
Full letter can be seen here and below.
Dear Chairman Kaye:
With thousands of fields and playgrounds across the country now made or infilled with crumb rubber from scrap tires, and absent conclusive information regarding the safety of these kinds of surfaces, we write to urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to devote additional resources to conclusively determine whether these products can be safely played on by young children and people of all ages.
Even though crumb rubber sport and play surfaces are widely played on, little is known about their risks to health and safety—especially to vulnerable populations, like toddlers with frequent hand-to-mouth actions, and to participants with especially high exposure, such as soccer goalies, who come in frequent contact with the rubber infill on synthetic turfs. According to the most recent counts by University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin, who has been tracking cancer incidences involving athletes who have played for a number of years on synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill, there are now 153 such cancer cases. Of these, 124 are soccer players and 85 of these played goalie.
To date, studies on the health effects from exposure to crumb rubber have only been partial assessments or did not accurately reflect realistic playing conditions. A recent study conducted at Yale University found that the rubber used in synthetic turf and rubber mulch contains 96 chemicals. There were no toxicity assessments for a little under half of those chemicals and of those with toxicity assessments, 20 percent are probable carcinogens. Communities and parents deserve to know whether these chemicals may have synergistic effects and are present in levels that pose a health risk, even under intense playing conditions.
In your September press statement on crumb rubber, you stated that the CPSC intends to provide technical assistance for California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s comprehensive evaluation of crumb rubber. As you may know, this study is commissioned by CalRecycle – the state agency responsible for promoting tire recycling and which may have a special interest in finding beneficial reuse applications for scrap tires.
CPSC should lead the independent federal investigation on this important matter. States and localities already depend on the CPSC for guidelines for playground safety. Many states have adopted into law all or parts of the CPSC’s Public Playground Safety Handbook, which currently identifies rubber mulch as “appropriate surfacing” for playgrounds. Furthermore, CPSC has also issued guidance – based on a limited 2008 staff evaluation – that synthetic athletic fields are “OK to Install, OK to Play On.” In 2013, the CPSC amended that guidance to note that the staff evaluation was “subject to specified limitations including sample size” and that the “exposure assessment did not include chemicals or other toxic materials, beyond lead.” While we recognize this assessment was conducted under other leadership, the same mistakes should not be repeated in any analysis of crumb rubber safety. The CPSC has an obligation to make sure its recommendations do not put children’s health at risk.
Therefore, we request that you lead an independent investigation into the health risks of crumb rubber surfaces. As part of this investigation, we also respectfully request that your epidemiology team coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and any other relevant public health agencies to keep track of cancer incidences related to playing on crumb rubber surfaces. This information is necessary to confirm or disprove the existence of a cancer cluster.
Understanding that the CPSC intends to provide technical assistance for California’s study and that this is the only comprehensive study currently planned, we also respectfully request you answer the following questions:
Much attention has been focused on crumb rubber used in synthetic turfs, but this product is also widely used on playgrounds intended for play by very young children. How will the CPSC ensure the California study also assesses health risks associated with crumb rubber used on playgrounds?
Does CPSC staff believe that crumb rubber or synthetic turf products marketed primarily towards primary schools should comply with the lead limits applicable to children’s products under section 101 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008?
- How will the CPSC ensure that risks to the most vulnerable populations, including toddlers and athletes that play frequently and intensely, are assessed in this study?
Since the makeup of crumb rubber varies widely from one batch to another, and since tire ingredients can be proprietary, how can the CPSC ensure this study examines truly representative samples?
How will the CPSC ensure that all potential exposure pathways (dermal, oral, and inhalation) are being evaluated?
- What steps will be made to guarantee that conclusions from the California study can be generalized for any scrap tire crumb rubber products and playing conditions nationwide?
Finally, in the absence of conclusive information regarding health risks and since the California study is expected to take three years to complete, the CPSC should provide the public with interim guidelines regarding how individuals can reduce their exposure to the potential hazards of crumb rubber. For example, before voluntary standards were instituted to prevent the use of lead in artificial turf products, the Centers for Disease Control recommended field managers post signs outlining specific precautions individuals can take to minimize their exposure risks. Please inform us when you expect to be able to disseminate such information to the public.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter affecting so many communities across the country. We respectfully request you provide a response to this letter by November 30, 2015.
The Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and the Workforce will meet for a joint hearing with Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations titled, “An Examination of Continued Challenges in VA’s Vets First Verification Process.” The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:30 A.M. on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.
This is a successor hearing to a March 19, 2013 joint hearing held by the Subcommittees titled, Consistently Inconsistent: Challenges for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (2013 hearing). The prior hearing examined challenges facing service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) seeking federal contracts using both the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contracting programs. The prior hearing was spurred by a report of the Government Accountability Office that identified significant problems with the VA’s verification program. The hearing will provide an opportunity for the Subcommittee to receive an update on the status of the verification programs at VA.
Mr. William Shear
Financial Markets and Community Investment
United States Government Accountability Office
Ms. Linda Halliday
Deputy Inspector General
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Tom Leney
Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a full committee hearing entitled “Zero Stars: How Gagging Honest Reviews Harms Consumers and the Economy” on Wednesday, November 4 at 10:00 a.m. The hearing follows the introduction of S. 2044, the Consumer Review Freedom Act, by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on September 16, 2015. The bipartisan bill would prohibit the use of non-disparagement clauses referred to as “gag clauses” in form contracts between consumers and businesses. S. 2044 was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee where it is currently pending.
Gag clauses are appearing in a large number of non-negotiable form contracts. This practice can occur when one party imposes a standardized contract without a meaningful opportunity for the other party to modify the contract. Some businesses have sought to use these clauses unfairly to penalize or pursue fines from customers for negative but honest reviews of their services on websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.
One of the witnesses, Ms. Jen Palmer, is a plaintiff in Palmer v. KlearGear.com, where a website demanded that she remove a negative online review or pay $3,500 in damages because the website’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause. When she refused to pay the penalty, the website reported the $3,500 to credit reporting agencies as an unpaid debt.
- Mr. Adam Medros, Senior Vice President for Global Product, TripAdvisor LLC
- Ms. Jen Palmer, Plaintiff, Palmer v. KlearGear
- Mr. Daniel Castro, Vice President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- Mr. Eric Goldman, Professor, Santa Clara University School of Law
- Mr. Ira Rheingold, Executive Director of National Association of Consumer Advocates
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Full Committee hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available at www.commerce.senate.gov.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Today we shine light on an anti-consumer practice that is growing by leaps and bounds every year and is being used by a growing list of companies.
These companies are using their size and unequal bargaining power to force consumers to sign lengthy “take it or leave it” agreements or contracts.
In some cases, these agreements are just online “pop-up” terms that a consumer clicks on – usually without reading – to purchase a good or service on the Internet.
Almost no one reads them – but they can have major consequences.
Now I am just a country lawyer, but, when I was in law school, they called these “contracts of adhesion.”
They are called adhesion, because you’re stuck with them.
You can’t modify the contract in any way, and you are bound by the “fine print” that lawyers are so good at drafting.
And the idea that some companies are suing, or threatening to sue, their customers for truthfully reviewing their consumer experiences online – and saying it’s OK, because of these so-called non-disparagement clauses snuck into contracts in fine print – is appalling.
We need to do something about it.
In a state like Florida, that is so dependent on tourism, we want visitors to share their experiences.
We want to let the sunshine in.
Businesses that do a good job are rewarded; those who do not are punished.
So I’m glad your bill, Mr. Chairman, would stop this practice by voiding contracts of adhesion that punish consumers for sharing their experiences and opinions with other consumers.
I also think this hearing is timely, Mr. Chairman, because this issue and your bill bring up – in my mind – a related issue that needs to be discussed.
Just a few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that Fiat Chrysler was requiring consumers who wanted to receive a “friends and family” discount on a car to sign a mandatory arbitration clause as part of the sales contract.
So if the car is defective and kills or injures that consumer – as was the case with Toyota’s sudden acceleration, GM’s faulty ignition switches, and Takata’s exploding airbags – he or she is potentially barred from seeking judicial relief.
This type of provision is an outrageous “get out of jail free” card for carmakers.
And, beyond the automakers themselves, many dealers are also trying to use these arbitration provisions to shield themselves.
How is this right? How is this acceptable?
This committee has seen too many examples lately of companies getting away scot-free for killing and injuring and hiding the truth.
And these non-disparagement and arbitration clauses are just another way for companies to avoid accountability by silencing consumers – whether by preventing them from posting an online complaint or telling their story to a jury.
So, yes, consumers should be able to write negative reviews about a business. But consumers also should have the ability to seek justice in a court of law when businesses fail to hold up their end of the bargain.
Especially when that failure involves injury or death.
We can’t keep giving businesses more and more “get out of jail free” cards. Not after GM. And not after Takata and Volkswagen.
Thank you, Chairman Thune, and I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses.
"Today we convene to examine a growing and disturbing trend affecting consumers in the United States.
"Imagine you’re a consumer who purchases an item online, but the product isn’t what you bargained for.
"Because you don’t want other consumers to waste their time or money, you take to social media to post an honest account of your experience.
"You’re then aggressively approached by the company that sold you the substandard product and threatened with a stiff penalty unless you immediately take down the critical review.
"Little did you know that buried in the fine print of the website’s Terms and Conditions was an anti-consumer clause forbidding you from posting a negative review about the company, even if it’s true.
"This scenario sounds far-fetched, but the sad reality is that it’s happening every day across the country.
"So-called “non-disparagement,” or “gag,” clauses are being forced on consumers and then being used to intimidate them.
"These gag provisions are egregious from a consumer protection standpoint, but they’re also doing harm to our Internet ecosystem.
"Our committee spends a significant amount of time focusing on how we can increase broadband adoption and create policies that unlock the true potential of the Internet, but speech-stifling contract terms undermine what we’re trying to accomplish in Internet policy.
"A core tenet of the Internet is the ability to freely share information with whomever you like.
"What good is information if it’s been sanitized to remove truthful criticism?
"Simply put, imposing consumer gag clauses can result in unfair bullying.
"The practice is frequently about a larger entity abusing its power and insulating itself from legitimate and constructive criticism.
"Often consumers don’t believe they have any power against companies that treat them poorly, but online review sites and social media have given American consumers a tremendous amount of power.
"Consumers rightfully place high value on the experiences of other consumers and therefore frequently rely on the wisdom of the crowd when deciding where to spend their money.
"Do some consumers sometimes abuse the Internet with false reviews?
"Sure they do.
"But businesses that face unfair reviews have existing remedies available to them, including the ability to sue for defamation.
"In addition, businesses should be able to offset phony reviews with positive assessments from satisfied customers.
"Regrettably, there are a growing number of businesses in the marketplace that are blocking honest consumer speech through gag clauses rather than responding to negative criticism by providing a better product or service.
"Today we are joined by Jen Palmer, who will share her personal experience fighting against an unscrupulous company that sought a $3,500 penalty simply because she told the truth about poor customer service.
"Fortunately for the Palmers, they were able to challenge this abuse in court and persevered.
"The Palmers are far from alone in their experience.
"In one case, a dentist included a non-disparagement clause in her contract, as well as a clause that purported to grant the dentist the copyright to anything the patient may later write about the dentist.
"When a patient posted an online review complaining about being overcharged, the dentist sent a “takedown” notice to the review site.
"The dentist also sent the patient a series of invoices demanding payment of $100 for each day the complaints continued to appear online.
"The patient sued the dentist and a court found the clause to be unconscionable and void, awarding the patient nearly $5,000.
"In another case, a consumer who did not receive her order from an online retailer informed the company she would report the matter to her credit card company.
"In response, the company demanded the consumer pay $250 for violation of its fine-print “Terms of Sale,” which prohibited a customer from even threatening to make a negative public statement about the retailer.
"The consumer filed suit against the retailer alleging its actions were unfair, deceptive, and contrary to public policy. The court ultimately found in the consumer’s favor.
"Going even a step further, in a wedding contract, one hotel went so far as to inform prospective newlyweds they could be fined if they or any of their guests violated a gag clause by leaving a negative review.
"After this clause was reported widely in the press, the business changed its terms.
"Keep in mind, the vast majority of non-disparagement clauses never see public light.
"This is because consumers often succumb to pressure and remove the negative review.
"Understandably, they’d rather avoid the fight than face the threat of excessive penalties, costly litigation, or damage to their credit scores.
"The proliferation of this problem led Senators Moran, Schatz, Blumenthal, McCaskill and me to introduce the bipartisan and bicameral Consumer Review Freedom Act that would ban non-disparagement clauses in form contracts while still permitting companies to pursue good faith defamation claims.
"Our bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General to enforce against these anti-consumer provisions.
"The FTC recently filed suit against one company over a consumer gag clause and the Consumer Review Freedom Act would guarantee the commission’s ability to fight against these provisions.
"Since introduction we’ve worked with stakeholders and plan to make a few changes prior to marking up the bill.
"I’m looking forward to moving this pro-consumer legislation through our committee and the Senate so Americans can continue to help each other make informed decisions.
"We have an excellent panel here today with diverse experiences on this issue.
"You each bring a unique perspective and I look forward to hearing about your experiences and thoughts on our legislation.
"Thank you for agreeing to testify."
“Every year, thousands of employers must turn to foreign workers, through the H-2B visa program, in order to meet their temporary, seasonal employment needs,” said Chabot. “Unfortunately, the number of available visas for seasonal workers is inadequate to meet the existing demand and is often exhausted in the first few months of the year, leaving many employers out in the cold and scrambling to find workers during peak periods. The SEASON Act would enact common-sense reforms that will increase the availability of seasonal work visas and make it easier for employers to meet the demands of the growing economy while encouraging foreign workers to follow our laws and play by the rules.”
Under current immigration law, the H-2B visa program is specifically designed to assist these employers by providing temporary visas for foreign workers who assist with seasonal workloads. By all accounts, this program works fairly well, and is popular with both employers and seasonal foreign workers.
However, as currently administered, the program’s annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is inadequate and often reached early in the year, leaving many employers unable to meet their seasonal employment needs.
The SEASON Act addresses this problem by adjusting the way seasonal workers are calculated under the H-2B cap. Specifically, the legislation will increase the availability of H-2B visas by not counting a foreign worker receiving an H-2B visa for a given year against that year’s cap if that worker received a visa in any of the three prior years. Rather than just indiscriminately raising the H-2B cap, this approach places the emphasis on encouraging successful participants to return to the program.
To protect American workers, H.R. 3918 requires employers to first attempt to hire domestic workers for seasonal positions. Specifically, before being approved to participate in the H-2B program, employers must certify to the Department of Homeland Security that they have attempted to recruit domestic workers for the position and that they offered the same terms and working conditions to the foreign worker that they offered domestic workers. Additionally, the legislation does not permit employers to improperly lay-off American workers and replace them with foreign workers.
The SEASON Act also streamlines the program by removing the Department of Labor from the regulatory process. Instead, the program will be administered solely by the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with immigration enforcement. Employers will still need to certify compliance with program rules and regulations, but they will only have to answer to one government agency. As it is now, employers are often bogged down in bureaucratic red-tape, routinely receiving conflicting answers from different agencies.
The legislation also contains important taxpayer protections, including a prohibition on temporary foreign workers receiving federal benefits, including Obamacare subsidies and refundable tax credits. Additionally, to ensure that the program is truly a temporary program, H.R. 3918 requires that any position being filled by a foreign worker will last no longer than one year and occur within a peak season.
Today, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce held a joint hearing with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to examine the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) verification program for veteran-owned small businesses (VOSB) and service-disabled veteran owned small businesses (SDVOSB).
This hearing follows up on a 2013 joint subcommittee hearing that examined the challenges facing SDVOSBs seeking federal contracts using both the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the VA contracting programs. GAO provided an update on its 2013 findings, which again identified several significant problems with the VA’s verification program, including an inefficient data system and lack of a long-term strategic plan for the program.
Following the hearing, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce said:
“In 2013, the VA told us that it would revisit the regulations and improve the verification process. Unfortunately, what we heard today was more of the same. It is still hard to do business with VA. While some of the verification process delays have been remedied, the process itself continues to lack a comprehensive organizational plan. The VA will be in court next week to argue that it shouldn’t have to comply with the Vets First law, and if I operated a veteran-owned business, I would think twice about spending the time and money necessary to be verified to participate in VA’s Vets First program. We owe it to our veterans to make things right, and Members of our Committees will be taking action on this issue in the very near future.”