Government Affairs Albany UpdateFebruary 8, 2008
- Issues Federal Priorities
- Workers' Comp Special Disability Fund Claims
- Assembly Speaker Selects Cahill as New Energy Committee Chair
- Property Tax Commission
- NYSDOT/Business Council Partner on 20-Year Needs Assessment Public Forums
- Washington Update
- H-2B Visas: Where Will the Workers Come From for Next Season?
- FERC Issues Final Rule: Mandatory Reliability Standards for Critical Infrastructure
In a meeting earlier this week with the New York Congressional delegation, the Governor outlined a number of key federal priorities he is supporting this year. Included among his priorities is support for equity and an increase in transportation funding for New York State; increased investment in rail transportation; increased funding for state homeland security grant programs; support for various federal programs and services which provide support to low-wage workers; federal funding for universal broad band; and support for an increase in H-1B visas to ensure global competitiveness and improvements for the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers. Governor Spitzer's federal priorities can be found here.
The Workers' Compensation Board has responded to a Business Council request for clarification on how last year's reform legislation would apply to requests for reimbursement from the special disability fund.
This week, the Board issued guidance (referred to as a “subject number”) that addresses and appropriately resolves an ambiguity contained in the reform legislation. Subject Number 046-223 is available on the Board's web site. This ambiguity concerned the new statutory deadline for filing reimbursement requests with Special Funds. T he reform legislation requires that the reimbursement request be made within one year from the date of payment or by March 13, 2008.
Our members noted that for some pending cases, special fund relief will be established by the Board after March 13, 2008 and that these cases may have more than one year of reimbursement due at the time that the claim is established for relief.
The Board had been interpreting the statute as saying that a carrier or employer could not file for reimbursement until such time as the case was established for relief, and the reimbursement request must be filed within one year from the date of payment even if the payment was made prior to special fund relief being established on the claim. As a result of this interpretation, it would be impossible for the carrier to receive reimbursement for payments made in 2004 to 2008.
We did not believe that this result was the intent of the statutory reform and we did not believe this result was required by the plain language of the new statutory provision.
The Business Council raised this issue with Board representatives at our November meeting of our Workers' Comp committee, and with follow-up discussions with Board Chairman Zach Weiss and staff.
This new Subject Number favorably resolves the statutory ambiguity and essentially adopts the position recommended by The Business Council.
In short, the Subject Number provides that a request for special disability fund reimbursement should also be deemed timely if made within one year from the date the claim was established for special fund relief. This approach will avoid the inequity of losing periods of reimbursement due to delays in establishing claims for relief - although not a common occurrence, it happens with some regularity and the reimbursement amounts can be significant. Our understanding is that Special Funds will now adopt the Board's Subject Number interpretation.
The Business Council supports this Subject Number and appreciates the Board's timely action on this issue.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has named Kevin Cahill chair of the Assembly Energy Committee. The committee has been without a chair since the departure of Assemblyman Tonko who became head of NYSERDA last summer. Assemblyman Cahill has served in the Assembly for twelve years and represents portions of Ulster and Dutchess Counties. Cahill has been invited to attend the meeting of The Business Council Energy Committee to be held at our offices on Washington Ave. on February 26 th at 10:00 a.m.
The Senate has not yet appointed a successor to Senator Jim Wright to chair the Senate Energy Committee.
As you know, Governor Spitzer has appointed a Commission on Real Property Tax Relief. The Commission's next meeting will be Tuesday, February 12, and will run from 11am to as late as 4pm. The meeting will be held at the State Museum Theater, Empire State Plaza in Albany. At this session, the Commission will be receiving "testimony" on an invitation only basis, and testimony may be limited to presentations by the Commission's "special advisors," which include Lisa Doner from the Center for Working Families; Elizabeth Lynam from the Citizens Budget Commission; Karen Scharff from Citizen Action; and Robert Ward from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Additional Commission sessions are being planned statewide. The tentative schedule is: March 5 on Long Island (a.m.) and Westchester County (p.m.); April 2 in Buffalo and Rochester; April 10 in Syracuse and Binghamton; and April 23 in Albany. Final dates, locations and times have yet to be announced.
The Commission's Executive Director is John Reid, Deputy Secretary to the Governor for State Operations. Additional staff support is being provided by the Office of Real Property Services and the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. They are in the process of setting up a public web site for distribution of information on meetings and other Commission-related material.
In addition, the Administration has created a new on-line newsletter on real property tax issues, the "Real Property Tax Monitor;" is available online here. It includes a number of items, including a listing of states with real property tax caps and a summary of real property tax administrative reforms included in the Executive Budget.
The Business Council is partnering with the state Department of Transportation to encourage local chambers and other business leaders to participate in the upcoming statewide 20-year Needs Public Outreach Forums.
The DOT's 20-Year Needs Assessment addresses the transportation challenges facing New York State during the next several decades and will make recommendations for new capital investment policies and strategies to better meet these challenges. The 20-Year Needs Forums will include a presentation by DOT about the upcoming federal transportation reauthorization; roundtable discussion with area and industry leaders; and a public comment period.
The Business Council is working closely with Governor Spitzer, and Commissioner Glynn to help build a broad coalition of business and labor leaders to secure the support we need from our elected representatives in Washington, D.C.
For a schedule of the 20-Year Needs Forums, formal submission of comments to Commissioner Glynn, and detailed NYSDOT reports please visit The Business Council Transportation Committee web site.
- H-2B Visas: Where Will the Workers Come From For Next Season?
In the absence of broad immigration reform, 90 members of Congress, including Congressman Tim Bishop ( D-Long Island), signed onto last letter this week urging the President to compel the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to work with Congress to ensure that small businesses throughout the county can keep their operations moving through the April-September season. US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced January 3 that it had reached the 66,000 annual H-2B visa cap for the fiscal year. The beginning of this federal fiscal year brought a statutory change in the H-2B program that no longer allows workers returning to a job that they filled in a prior year to be excluded from this cap.
The 90 members of Congress are seeking DOL and DHS to provide an extension of the returning worker program to allow businesses to fill their seasonal labor needs, while Congress works on legislative options. Congressman Bishop, along with New York Representatives Hinchey, McHugh, Walsh, Kuhl and Israel, are cosponsoring the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2007 (HR 1843) which would make permanent the exemption for returning H-2B workers from annual visa cap limitations.
- FERC issues Final Rule: Mandatory Reliability Standards for Critical Infrastructure
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its Final Rule on mandatory reliability standards for critical infrastructure effective April 7, 2008. The eight approved standards, submitted by the North American Electrical Reliability Corporation, require certain users, owners and operators of the Bulk Power System to comply with specific requirements to safeguard cyber assets. The full text of the Final Rule can be found here.