FRA Issue Update – 3/12/21


COVID Relief

As reported last week, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package passed the Senate last weekend, and changes to the bill were agreed to by the House earlier this week. President Joe Biden signed the measure yesterday. Payments to individuals are expected to start this weekend. As a reminder, the House-passed increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour was omitted from the final package.

One provision to note in the final bill concerns aid to farmers and forest landowners. Specifically, the provision provides $1.01 billion to assist socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, operators, and groups. Out of this account, the bill instructs that at least five percent of these funds should provide grants and loans to improve land access for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners.

Biomass Carbon Neutrality

FRA contacted Senator Susan Collins’s (R-ME) office this week and confirmed that the Senator will once again lead the effort in the FY 2022 appropriations cycle to reauthorize the FRA-supported provision that directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to recognize the carbon-neutral nature of forest-based biomass energy. FRA is working to secure bipartisan support for the provision in advance of the appropriations process, which will be starting later this year, likely in the May timeframe. Although the balance of our efforts will be directed at the Senate this year, FRA is reaching out to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, for her support.

DRIVE Safe Act Reintroduced

The FRA-supported DRIVE-Safe Act was reintroduced this week in a bipartisan fashion in both the House and the Senate. The legislation addresses the growing shortage of professional truck drivers forecasted to reach 160,000 drivers by 2028 if not addressed. Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire 1.1 million new drivers. Current regulations prohibit drivers who are 18-20 years old from crossing state lines. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow young drivers who are certified CDL holders to participate in a rigorous apprenticeship program designed to help them master interstate driving while also promoting enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce. FRA will be working with the DRIVE-Safe Act Coalition to advance the legislation. The DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced by Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Angus King (I-ME), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) in the Senate, and by Representatives Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN-9), Jim Cooper (D-TN-5), Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8), Jared Golden (D-ME-2), Troy Balderson (R-OH-12), Ashley Hinson (R-IA-1), Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), and Darin LaHood (R-IL-18) in the House.

Labor Union Organizing Legislation Passes House

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 842) by a 225 to 206 vote. Five Republicans voted to support the bill, while one Democrat opposed it. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. While the Senate companion bill (S. 420) has 44 cosponsors in the upper chamber, all are Democrats with no Republican support.

Among other aspects, the bill authorizes the following:

  • Removes the right to a secret ballot and institutes a “card check.” If a union claims that an employer committed an unfair labor practice during an organizing drive, the union can move to a card check election.
  • Removes Right to Work laws nationwide. Currently, 28 states have passed Right to Work laws which provide workers the right to decide where they spend their paychecks.
  • Shortens the timeframe of union elections, making it harder for workers to learn the merits of joining a union and restricting employers’ ability to seek legal counsel on complex labor matters.
  • Limits innovative business models that manufacturers are using by essentially eliminating the independent contractor model and making more companies joint employers of their business partners.
  • Requires employers to provide unions with employees’ home addresses, cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work shifts without the consent of employees.

FRA will continue to monitor the progress of this measure and will keep you apprised of developments.

House to Vote on Extending PPP Deadline Next Week

The House Small Business Committee leaders reached an agreement to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for an additional two months. The bipartisan deal would extend the loan application deadline to May 31. It is anticipated that the House will vote on the measure next week before members leave D.C. until mid-April. PPP has made available nearly $690 billion in relief as small business loans that can be forgiven if payroll requirements are met. The most recent report on the PPP can be found here.

Senate Approve Regan as EPA Administrator

The Senate approved the nomination of Michael Regan to be the EPA administrator on Wednesday on a 66-34 vote. Regan will play a critical role on the regulatory front in President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. Regan will also be a key influencer on whether the EPA will address the carbon-neutrality of forest-based biomass for energy through rulemaking. Regan previously served as the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.