State Legislature Wrapping Up Session

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

State House and Senate lawmakers are in Harrisburg this week as part of a busy two-week session period wherein they are expected to wrap up legislative action for the 2015-16 session. The PA Chamber remains focused on working with lawmakers toward getting a comprehensive public pension reform measure to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 1071, which has been sent to a yet-to-be-appointed legislative conference committee, could see action this week. Other business-related legislation that could potentially be considered includes proposed reforms to the state’s Unemployment Compensation system relating to seasonal workers, and a measure that would bring more transparency to the process by which state contracts are negotiated with private attorneys.

Business Coalition Urges Flexibility in Overtime Rule Mandates

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The PA Chamber led a statewide coalition of associations and industry groups last week in sending a letter to lawmakers on the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, urging their support for legislation that would help to mitigate the impact of federal overtime requirements – particularly as new, more challenging rules are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1, 2016.   Senate Bill 1360 was authored following a joint public hearing this summer, where employers and representatives from the nonprofit, health services and higher education communities all described how the rule will lead to higher costs. For some, this could mean converting employees from salary to hourly, more burdensome record-keeping, a tighter work schedule and fewer training opportunities. The bill aims to help employers manage federal overtime rules by allowing for accommodations to these requirements that are not yet covered under Pennsylvania law – e.g., letting employees maintain salary status through use of a “fluctuating work week,” offering flexibility in the definition of compensable “hours worked” and qualifying certain employees as exempt.

“The new rules will be effective soon and while there is nothing state lawmakers can do with respect to the federal rule itself, Senator Baker’s bill will help in a meaningful way those nonprofits, human service agencies, educational institutions and others in your district who will be impacted,” the coalition letter stresses.   In related news, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is leading a broad coalition of business groups in filing a legal challenge to the overtime rule, arguing that the Department of Labor exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the regulation and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

In addition to the private groups’ suit, a coalition of 21 states filed a challenge at the same time reinforcing the range of entities that will have severe problems complying with this regulation. “The [U.S.] Chamber is grateful to be joined by a coalition of states and state attorneys general who are committed to improving economic growth and career opportunity, and to defending the rule of law,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the U.S. Chamber.

911 Consolidation Expected to Save Costs and Improve Safety

Columbia and Montour counties are working toward the consolidation of 911 systems to save costs long-term and improve emergency response. As Montour County is implementing GIS mapping as part of the consolidation, some businesses and residences will have address changes. Despite this inconvenience and the possibility of associated costs, the Chamber Board supports the process.

The counties have been discussing consolidation for many months as a way to save costs associated with periodic equipment upgrades. In Montour County, the lack of GIS mapping can lead to confusion and delayed response time for emergency personnel, particularly in more rural areas. Considering the goal of improving response time and safety, the Chamber Board voted unanimously to support the consolidation last Tuesday.

Address changes are not anticipated to be implemented until at least April, 2017. Affected residences and businesses will be notified by the County. The Post Office will also recognize the old and new address for those impacted for a period of one year.

Employers Urged to Assess New Overtime Eligibility Regulations

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a final rule aimed at expanding overtime eligibility to millions of American workers. With an effective date of December 1, employers are left with little time to review the classifications of workers currently treated as exempt under the white collar exemption and communicate changes to employees. At the September Learn at Lunch held last Tuesday, Amy Britton and Marcia Cooney with Bucknell University provided an overview of the new rule and considerations for employers. A number of additional resources are provided in this article.

The DOL’s final rule increases the minimum salary employers must pay white collar workers to maintain their exempt status from $455 to $913 per week, but does not make any changes to the job duties test. The Chamber’s member benefits provider, ChamberChoice, has provided a summary of the key provisions of the new overtime rule. The DOL has held several webinars explaining the changes, including information specifically for non-profit organizations, which are archived for viewing. Guidance on calculating overtime is also available through the DOL website.

Bloomsburg Council Approves Saturday Parking Meter Enforcement

On Monday, Bloomsburg Town Council voted unanimously to begin enforcing parking meters on Saturdays in the downtown commercial district. The stated reason for adding Saturday enforcement is to prevent the “warehousing” of vehicles in public spaces. While The Chamber supports the goal of keeping parking available for customers, President Fred Gaffney asked for more careful consideration of the issue before implementing changes.

Council first considered changing enforcement times in December of last year. The Chamber was joined by dozens of local businesses in asking for additional data on the perceived issue of vehicle warehousing and the development of a more comprehensive strategy for managing Bloomsburg’s parking inventory. The issue was tabled and the Parking Sub-Committee created. As there wasn’t time to coordinate an additional study of downtown parking utilization prior to summer, no additional data has been collected to date. At the request of Council, the Sub-Committee recommended that parking meter enforcement be changed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

The Chamber conducted a poll of downtown businesses to gather their input on the perceptions of parking availability. Of the 36 businesses that participated, only seven felt that parking availability was most difficult on evenings and/or weekends. Twenty-nine of the respondents, representing 81 percent, were opposed to Saturday enforcement, and only 3 businesses were in support. The results of the poll were provided to Council prior to Monday’s meeting. Despite this input, Council voted unanimously to implement the changes.

Police Chief Roger Van Loan anticipates the changes will take effect in approximately six weeks after the information on the meters is updated.