Seeking Long-Term Flooding Solutions for Businesses

Among the areas that experienced flash flooding this summer was a portion of South Centre Township, Columbia County, which impacted homes and several major employers. Among them, Chamber members SEKISUI SPI and J.M. Smucker were forced to shut down for days to deal with unprecedented flooding. Efforts are underway to reduce or eliminate the future risk to these businesses and residents.

Representatives from PennDOT, DEP, North Shore Railroad, the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, Columbia County, and South Centre Township, as well as Chamber president Fred Gaffney, representative David Millard, and senator John Gordner recently met with the affected businesses to discuss the issues that may have contributed to the flooding. The Township has already worked with DEP to address a stream bed, which was believed to be a major contributor. Agency representatives pledged to review their areas of responsibility to ensure that drainage systems are working properly. Senator Gordner and representative Millard are working with DEP and the Township to pursue funding for a storm water management study for the area, which has not been done since the early 1970s. Such a study could identify other long-term solutions for dealing with runoff and drainage.

The businesses expressed their appreciation to the various entities helping to ensure that the hundreds of jobs and business investments will be safe from future risk of flooding.

Bloomsburg Ordinance Change Seeks to Increase Parking Availability

Bloomsburg Town Council recently approved an amendment to its zoning ordinance with a goal of increasing the amount of public parking available for people who visit and work in the downtown. The changes, approved by Council at its December 10th meeting, require that any new residential development in the downtown commercial district provide private parking. The ordinance allows parking, including multi-level parking structures, to be developed within the district subject to certain criteria. Commercial uses and existing residential uses are not required to provide parking.

The changes had long been considered to reduce the strain on public parking without discouraging the development of housing.  Decades ago, the Town eliminated the need to provide parking for residential development to encourage a higher density of people living in the downtown. With the success of such development, the demand for permit parking increased and has impacted adjacent residential areas. While future demand should not be increased by new residential development, by providing greater flexibility for creating private parking, some of the current demand could also be reduced.

The Chamber and Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. worked with the Town on this ordinance over many months. These changes are an important step forward in Bloomsburg’s management of parking in the downtown. We look forward to discussing further improvements to parking management in 2019.

PA Chamber Signs Letter Urging Federal Passage of “Prisons to Paychecks Bill”

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last week, the Justice Action Network – a national coalition of chambers of commerce, corrections programs and business associations – sent the legislative leaders of the U.S. House and Senate a letter urging passage of the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act, which will help address a skills gap within the nation’s workforce and provide incarcerated persons a second chance.

The legislation aims to provide job training, treatment and rehabilitation programs to those who are currently cycling in and out of America’s jails and prisons.  It provides tools for business and trade associations to implement their own job training programs behind prison walls to help incarcerated people learn skills that are tailored to jobs employers have difficultly filling and can help them transition successfully from “prisons to paychecks.”

In making the case for the bill’s passage, the coalition letter lists some of the industries that could benefit from the FIRST STEPS Act, including trucking, construction and manufacturing.  One example provided was the National Association of Home Builders, which is experiencing labor shortages in all specialties and trades and has 300,000 unfilled construction jobs nationwide.   Likewise, the manufacturing sector will need to fill 3.5 million jobs over the next decade – 2 million of which are expected to go unfilled due to a lack of skilled candidates.

“That is why chambers of commerce and business leaders in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have strongly supported state criminal justice reform efforts that break down barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, and why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone one step further by endorsing the FIRST STEP Act, which will help ensure that incarcerated people are job-ready before they take their first steps of freedom,” the coalition wrote.

The PA Chamber supports this legislation as a good step toward addressing Pennsylvania’s workforce development challenges.  Last session, we supported “Clean Slate” legislation. This bill, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, is a first of its kind program to provide a mechanism for individuals with low-level, non-violent criminal offenses to have those records sealed from public view and give them a better chance at securing housing and a good job.

Report Offers Options for Keeping Nuclear Power Viable

A recently-released report from the state legislature’s Nuclear Energy Caucus details possible policy solutions that could reduce the risk of premature closure of nuclear power plants in the state. A coalition that works to educate Pennsylvanians about the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy and the industry’s positive impact on local communities applauded the report. The Columbia Montour Chamber is a member of the Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania coalition.

NPP thanked Caucus leadership, including Co-Chairs, Senators Ryan Aument and John Yudichak, and Representatives Becky Corbin and Rob Matzie. In total, nearly 80 lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, from both the House and Senate, are members of the Nuclear Energy Caucus.

“This bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus is the first such caucus anywhere in the United States – and the release of this report is a critical step forward for the 16,000 men and women whose livelihoods rely on Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry,” said Martin Williams, NPP Co-Chair and Business Manager of Boilermakers Local 13 in Philadelphia. “The members of my union and of this coalition would like to see our state government properly recognize the clean-air attributes of nuclear energy and level the playing field with other clean technologies, like wind and solar. By creating this report and now sharing it with their colleagues in the state House and Senate, along with Gov. Wolf, it is our hope it will set us on a path toward identifying solutions that will protect thousands of good-paying jobs and keep the air we breathe clean.”

“Over the course of the five hearings held by the Caucus, members heard from witnesses who detailed the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy and the industry’s positive impact on local communities throughout the Keystone State,” said Fred Gaffney, Chamber President. “We know that nuclear power is an important part of Pennsylvania’s energy mix. We encourage all lawmakers to read the Caucus report and to recognize the tremendous value of nuclear energy across the state.”

Pennsylvania today ranks second in the nation for nuclear power generating capacity. Nuclear energy is the single greatest contributor to Pennsylvania’s energy generation portfolio, representing 42% of the mix, while accounting for more than 90% of the Commonwealth’s clean power. However, that production is threatened with news that at least two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear plants are preparing for premature closure without a legislative remedy. Three Mile Island in Dauphin County and Beaver Valley in Beaver County are slated for closure in 2019 and 2021, respectively. According to an April 2018 report from The Brattle Group, should those two plants close, along with two nuclear plants slated for closure in Ohio, it would reverse environmental benefits equal to 25 years of wind and solar development.

The report is available online

HIPAA Laws: What Employers Don’t Know Can Hurt Them

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

When it comes to the issue of privacy concerning employees and their health care benefits, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is one of the most misunderstood and miscommunicated laws for both employers and employees alike.

“HIPAA can seem unclear, and when coupled with an employer’s health care plan, it can further create confusion and frustration for employers, HR managers and employees,” says Keith Kartman, client advisor at JRG Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Kartman about what employers need to understand regarding privacy laws and health benefits.

What is HIPAA?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, establishes national standards to protect medical records and personal health information. It applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers that conduct certain health care transactions electronically. Specifically, the rule requires appropriate safeguards to protect personal health information privacy, and sites limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made with this information without patient authorization.

In addition, the rule provides for patients’ rights concerning their health information, including the right to examine and obtain a copy of their health records, and to request corrections. The types of patient health care information that must be disclosed to be considered ‘protected’ by HIPAA includes date of birth, full name, diagnosis and medical record number.

How does HIPAA affect employee benefits?
As an employer, you are considered a health plan if you pay for a portion of the cost of medical care. If you pay for a portion of an employee’s health plan or have a self-funded medical insurance plan, you fall under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and compliance.

HIPAA mandates how a health plan or covered health care providers disclose protected health information to an employer, including managers or supervisors. As an employer, you have access to health care information that falls under HIPAA, such as benefit enrollment, benefit changes, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) and any wellness program information. Conversely, employees who pay for a portion of the total cost of an employee health insurance plan are also required to comply with HIPAA.

Under HIPAA, employees must first provide authorization to health care providers before they can disclose any health care related information to an employer. This is why employees must complete Family Medical Leave Forms authorizing the release of their health care information before granting them FMLA leave.

Under HIPAA, how are employers required to protect an employee’s health information?
Employers are required to protect sensitive health care information and changes to benefit paperwork and any associated plan changes that include any information that comes from an electronic health record.

Employers are also required to protect Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and wellness program information. This means program administrators and other involved employees are provided with HIPAA training to ensure employee health care information is protected.

Occupational Health Records concerning employee physicals, workers’ compensation or workplace injury under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also required to be protected under HIPAA. This information should be stored in a secure location. As an employer, you should provide on-going HIPAA training to any and all employees who may have access to sensitive employee health information.

Lastly, employers are required to display HIPAA privacy laws in the workplace and notify employees of any company-specific privacy policies. As an employer, you should have a clearly defined privacy violation policy that outlines the process for notification and investigation of any potential privacy violations.

HIPAA laws regulating the privacy of protected health information are complicated and ever-evolving, so employers need to stay up to date on the latest developments and seek the guidance of knowledgeable benefits professionals or their legal counsel to ensure compliance.