Summer Forecast: Part I. The Memorial Day holiday and the unofficial start of summer is a good time to take a look at what our elected (and unelected) policymakers in Washington, D.C., will be working on during the final six months of 2022. This week, the Buzz will discuss potential legislative developments in the U.S. Congress. Next week, we will check out the regulatory landscape (maybe the 2022 Spring Regulatory Agenda will be released before then?). Set forth below is the Buzz’s labor and employment policy legislative forecast for the summer and beyond.
Congress was out this week, but it returns the week beginning June 6 with a lot on its plate and legislative time at a premium. President Biden and the Democrats are looking for more legislative victories while they still enjoy a majority in Congress, but our lawmakers are currently scheduled to spend most of both August and October in recess. Time is running short. As in most years, work on must-pass legislation—such as funding for the federal government and the armed services—will occupy much of Congress’s time and resources. Congress will also be focused on issues such as the war in Ukraine, the renewed debate around gun policy reform, ongoing inflation, and continued supply-chain issues. Will there be any room for labor and employment legislation? Let’s take a look.
- Pregnancy accommodation. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1065/S. 1486) is waiting for a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The bill enjoys significant bipartisan support (ninety-nine Republicans voted for it in the U.S. House of Representatives!) as well as business community backing. Simply put, there should be enough bipartisan support to send this bill to President Biden’s desk before the year is up.
- Antidiscrimination. The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022, or “CROWN Act” (H.R. 2116), would prohibit discrimination on the basis of hair texture or hairstyles that are associated with a particular race or national origin. The bill passed the House in March 2022 with fourteen Republican votes in favor of the legislation. While passage of a related bill in the Senate may still be a challenge, the measure (S. 888) has a chance. Multiple local jurisdictions have passed similar laws.
- A congressional conference committee will be gathering to hammer out differences between two bills passed by each chamber to address U.S. competition and competitiveness: the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (S. 1260) and the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act of 2021 (H.R. 4521). Provisions in the America COMPETES Act would exempt applicants with advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields from annual green card caps. Pro-immigration advocates hope that this language can remain in a final bill. Note: The House bill also contains union organizing card check language that business groups are attempting to strip out.
- The Buzz will also be monitoring the status of the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2022 (S. 3720), as well as the Equal Access to Green cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3648). Versions of the former have languished in Congress for years, while different versions of the latter passed both chambers in the previous Congress. Between the two, the Buzz thinks the EAGLE Act has a great chance of soaring. Watch for potential activity during the “lame duck” gathering of Congress after the November 2022 midterm elections.
- Retirement. Making it easier for individuals to save for retirement is a concept with bipartisan appeal on Capitol Hill, so we could see further efforts this fall to expand on 2019’s Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. In March 2022, the House passed the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2022 (H.R. 2954) and just last week Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Patty Murray (D-WA) released a “discussion draft” of their effort on the issue, dubbed the “Retirement Improvement and Savings Enhancement to Supplement Healthy Investments for the Nest Egg (RISE & SHINE) Act of 2022. If the Senate passes the RISE & SHINE Act, differences between the two bills would need to be worked out in conference committee.
- Other employment-related legislation. Bills such as the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021 (H.R. 842), Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7), and Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act of 2022 (H.R. 963) (all of which passed the House), as well as the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act (H.R. 7701/S. 4174) (which cleared committee in the House), are unlikely to gain traction in the U.S. Senate. Bills that are not enacted by the end of this Congress (which will likely adjourn sometime near the end of the calendar year) would need to be reintroduced in the 118th Congress.
Congress: You Have Mail. Email came to Congress twenty-nine years ago this week. On June 2, 1993, Representative Charlie Rose (D-NC), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, announced the creation of a pilot “Constituent Electronic Mail System” for the U.S. House of Representatives. While Rose was known for championing North Carolina’s agricultural interests, he also played a significant role in bringing new technologies to Congress. For example, Rose was a proponent of televising congressional activities and bringing computers and fiber optics to Congress. Understandably, the House’s first foray into electronic communications with constituents underestimated how popular the use of email would become. Rather than providing an email address to each participating member, the pilot had one generic email address: Congress@HR.House.gov.
Stay tuned for the Buzz’s Summer Forecast: Part II, coming next week.