FRA Issue Update - 6/21/19

House Spending Package Includes H-2B Visa Provision

On June 20, the House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2020 spending package that includes funding for the Department of Labor. The bill would allow for H-2B visas to be allocated proportionally on a quarterly basis, as opposed to the current semi-annual process. The quarterly allocation allows for more visas to be made available during the spring and summer months when demand for non-immigrant workers is greater.

The House will now begin debate on the spending bill that includes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding. The DHS spending bill has the language that would provide authority to the DHS to release an additional 63,000 H-2B visas in Fiscal Year 2020. This language has bipartisan support in the House.

Legislation Introduced in Senate Allowing Forestry Access to the H-2A Visa Program

On June 18, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Paperwork Reduction for Farmers and H-2A Modernization Act (S. 1887). This legislation would allow forestry, as well as other businesses in the capped H-2B program, to apply for visas in the uncapped H-2A program as an option. Anyone that would like to remain under the H-2B program may do so. Additionally, the bill simplifies and expedites the application process for returning workers, develops an online application process, and requires the government to promptly provide a reason for a denial or delay to the employer.

FRA has additionally provided language to a House member on this issue. The House language would also allow forestry to participate in the H-2A visa program. We are hopeful that the House legislation will be introduced soon. Both bills provide meaningful reform to the seasonal non-immigrant worker availability issues faced by forestry. FRA will follow and continue to provide updates on both the House and Senate bills as they advance in the respective chambers.

Northern Long-eared Bat Litigation

Earlier this month, Judge Sullivan issued an order that sets a status conference for October 4 in response to the plaintiff's motion for substitution of parties named in the lawsuit. David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, is substituted as federal defendant in his official capacity for Ryan Zinke. Margaret Everson, Principal Deputy Director Exercising the Authority of the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is substituted as federal defendant in her official capacity for James Kurth. This action is pro forma and updates the record with current officeholders in the Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

House Debating Forest Service Funding

The House continues to debate a spending package that includes funding for the Forest Service. Several amendments were adopted by voice vote, most notable is an amendment by Representative LaMalfa (R-CA-1) that would increase the Forest Service timber program by $10 million. Amendments by Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR-1) and Congresswoman Hill (D-CA-25) passed on a recorded House vote. The Blumenauer amendment prohibits funding for timber sales or road building on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska (243 yeas, 139 nays). The Hill amendment provides an increase in hazardous fuels preparedness and fire suppression (355 yeas, 55 nays).