Beltway Buzz, March 15, 2019
New Shimmer’s a Floor Wax and a Dessert Topping!
The Buzz couldn’t help but think of this memorable Saturday Night Live bit this week upon the release of the administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget proposal on March 11, 2019. This is because the budget is really two things in one: yes, it’s a budget in the normal sense of the word, but perhaps even more so, it is a political statement reflecting the administration’s policy preferences. Sure the budget contains some interesting labor and employment-related matters, such as proposals on paid parental leave and increases in H-1B fees, but in the sausage-making world that is federal government appropriations, it really is an insignificant document. The FY2020 budget proposal: Tastes terrific! And just look at that shine!
On March 13, 2019, a bicameral and bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced the Equality Act of 2019, which would amend multiple civil rights laws (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Jury Selection and Service Act, among others) to expressly add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. The bill also would ensure that these protections extend to public accommodations and services, as well as federally funded programs. The Equality Act enjoys significant support from a variety of stakeholder groups—including many in the business community—so it should have no problem passing the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the chances of the bill passing the U.S. Senate are slim.
Federal Contractors and “Ban the Box.”
On March 12, 2019, the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing on the Fair Chance Act (H.R. 1076). The Fair Chance Act is bipartisan legislation that prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Testifying in support of the bill were its original Senate cosponsors, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Importantly, the bill would apply only to applicants who perform work related to a federal contract; it would not apply companywide. There are also exceptions for positions that involve law enforcement or national security. With many states having already “banned the box,” this issue could have some momentum in Congress.
Paid Leave Proposals Introduced.
There were more developments on the paid leave front as two proposals were reintroduced in Congress this week.
First, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed the CRADLE Act, which allows new parents to draw on their Social Security benefits in exchange for delaying receipt of those benefits upon retirement. Readers may recall that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed similar legislation last summer. That bill was met with concerns about its potential to undermine the Social Security system. We’ll have to see if the CRADLE Act is similarly received.
Second, on March 14, 2019, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Healthy Families Act. The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide workers with up to 7 paid days off to address their own medical needs or those of a family member, or to engage in specified activities related to or resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
On March 13, 2019, the Senate confirmed former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) administrator, Neomi Rao, to be a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Rao will fill the vacancy that was created when Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. As the Buzz has mentioned previously, Rao’s confirmation is of interest for several reasons:
First, with her administrative law experience (in addition to Rao’s role at OIRA, she previously founded the Boyden Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University), Rao could play an outsized role on a court that rules on many administrative law and regulatory matters.
Second, Rao’s departure from OIRA leaves associate administrator Paul Ray as the new acting administrator for OIRA. As the regulatory gatekeeper, OIRA will be a key cog in the development of the pending U.S. Department of Labor overtime and joint-employer regulations, as well as Unites States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ H-4 EAD regulation, among other proposals. Will Rao’s departure impact the substance or timing of these pending proposals?
Finally, Rao will be the first Indian American woman to serve as a federal appellate court judge.
Two weeks ago, for Black History Month, we profiled Hiram Revels, the first African American senator and member of Congress. Now that we are in the middle of Women’s History Month, the Buzz thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge Jeannette Rankin, who made history in 1916 when she became the first woman to be elected to Congress, specifically the House of Representatives. Born and raised in Montana, Rankin was a college-educated social worker, suffragette, pacifist, lobbyist, farmer, and politician who was elected to represent the Treasure State in 1916 and again in 1940. While in Congress, Rankin led the effort that culminated in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last,” Rankin noted upon her election in 1916. While Rankin was correct in speaking about Congress as a whole, she wasn’t so prescient in terms of her home state: Rankin is the first, last, and only woman to represent Montana in the Senate or House of Representatives.