PA Chamber Applauds Wolf Administration For Working to Reduce Regulatory Red Tape

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

On Friday, Jan. 26, Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference to announce that his administration was working toward making several positive changes to the state’s existing and cumbersome regulatory and permitting process – reducing permit backlogs, modernizing permitting processes and better utilizing technology to improve regulatory oversight and efficiency. This will include a request in Gov. Wolf’s budget of hiring more people within the Department of Environmental Protection.

Other efforts will include expanding the e-permitting system with several key development permits, to reduce paperwork between DEP and industry; creating a new analytics program to track permit times; releasing new review processes and registration practices to make application processes easier; and supporting legislation to bring permitting in line with the industry it is engaged with – for example, extending permit terms and allowing multi-well pad permitting.

Following the press conference, PA Chamber President Gene Barr issued a statement applauding the governor for taking steps toward reducing long-term regulatory burdens for the private sector. “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction to making it easier for job creators to operate in the Commonwealth,” Barr said. “We look forward to working with the legislature and the Wolf administration on additional steps to improve the state’s regulatory and overall business climate.”

Stopgap Funding Bill Makes Notable Changes to Affordable Care Act Deadlines

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

After a brief government shutdown, a stopgap funding measure was signed on Jan. 22 that also contains a few provisions that makes changes to the federal Affordable Care Act and will have a direct impact on certain employer plans. Among the notable changes are:

  • A two-year delay of the “Cadillac” tax – the ACA provision that levies a 40 percent excise tax on the cost of healthcare plans above specific IRS limits delays the tax an additional two years, setting its new effective date to 2022. According to financial consulting firm Conrad Seigel, the delay on the tax (this is the second time it has been delayed), coupled with bipartisan opposition to it has raised speculation over whether the “Cadillac Tax” will ever be fully implemented.
  • One-year suspension of the Health Insurer’s Tax in 2019 – Two years ago, Congress and the president issued a one-year suspension on HIT – a provision in the ACA that imposes a tax on health insurers. The delay was in place for 2017, so the tax became effective again this year.
  • Two-year suspension of the Medical Device Tax – A 2.3 percent excise tax on U.S. medical device revenues was delayed in 2016 and 2017 and under the new law will continue to be suspended through 2018 and 2019.
  • Restoration of federal funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program – The new stopgap funding bill provides an additional six years of federal funding for CHIP, following months of speculation about the program’s future after its budget expired on Sept. 30 of last year. The funding will assist states in providing health coverage to children and pregnant women in need.

ERISA Penalty Adjustments Announced

From ChamberChoice

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is the enforcement arm for the Department of Labor (DOL) as it relates to employee benefit plans. The EBSA enforces ERISA’s fiduciary, reporting and disclosure provisions. Civil monetary penalties can be assessed for compliance failures of any of these requirements. Penalties however, become less effective when they have not been raised to keep up with inflation. Therefore, based on the Inflation Adjustment Act, new penalty amounts are adjusted annually in January.

Increased penalty limits for 2018 are scheduled to be effective as of Jan. 2, 2018 when they will be published in the Federal Register. Employers need to be aware of these penalties as many are applicable to employee benefits they offer. 

At right is a brief table outlining some of the increases.

Although the DOL does not typically assess the maximum permissible penalty under the law, the looming penalties may spur plan sponsors and administrators to more closely scrutinize their compliance efforts.

State Grant Application Period Now Open For Popular Recreation Program

From State Sen. John Gordner

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will begin accepting applications for the latest round of grants for community conservation and recreational projects on January 22, 2018, according to state Senator John R. Gordner.

“This is a special year, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund,” said Senator Gordner. “Over that time, over 3,000 community park projects and over 12,000 miles in trail projects have been completed or maintained because of this essential program.”

In 2018, DCNR will again focus on grant awards that meet the priorities laid out in the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

“As usual, the priorities for the program this year include rehabilitation of trails and community parks, land conservation projects and improved access to Pennsylvania waterways,” said Senator Gordner.

The application period will remain open until April 11, 2018. Grants will be funded through a variety of sources, including the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund, the Pennsylvania Recreational Trails Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation staff is available to assist in helping applicants develop and submit a competitive grant application.  Detailed program information, access to the online grant application portal and more can be found here

Information on the Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan may be found here. Grant applications are available here.

PA Chamber Voices Support for Package of Regulatory Reform Bills at Press Conference

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Pennsylvania’s business community has long protested against an onslaught of regulations from bureaucrats at all levels of government that make it harder to start and complete projects and grow the economy. Last week, PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Kevin Sunday spoke at a press conference in support of a package of bills that aims to reduce regulatory burdens at the state level.

According to state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who organized the press conference, the bills were introduced in light of the “Regulatory Overreach Report,” which was compiled following a series of public hearings where employers, organizations and experts on regulatory policy all reiterated the negative impact that overzealous regulation has had on private sector growth and job creation. The package of bills would accomplish several reforms in terms of cutting through regulatory red tape, not the least of which would be ensuring that the General Assembly – not agency bureaucrats – have more authority to set regulatory policy. In addition, the bills would establish the Independent Office of the Repealer to review existing regulations; process and deliver recommendations to elected officials; require that lawmakers must approve any economically significant regulation (one with an impact of $1 million or more) for it to go into effect; and improve wait times for what is now a lengthy permit approval process.

At the press conference, Sunday stressed that regulatory policies carry the full weight of the law and should not be set by agencies with no stake in their outcome. He also applauded lawmakers for working to re-establish the legislative branch as the primary branch of government for policy making. In a statement issued the same day as the press conference, Sunday also urged Congress to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act and reduce regulatory burdens at the federal level.

“As federal mandates continue to place a major strain on both business and state and local governments, we also applaud Congress for its continued consideration of the Regulatory Accountability Act … to obligate agencies to take the most cost-effective regulatory path to achieve the state policy goals of the legislative branch and to bring more accountability and transparency to the rulemaking process,” Sunday stated.

The bipartisan Regulatory Accountability Act has already passed the U.S. House and has been reported out of a Senate committee; the PA Chamber is encouraging Senators Toomey and Casey to vote for this important legislation.