January 2019 Government Affairs Update

Partial Federal Government Shutdown Ends as Second Shutdown Remains Possible

The partial government shutdown that began just before Christmas ended 35 days later on Jan. 25, 2019, when the president signed a continuing resolution. The stopgap budget measure keeps the Department of Homeland Security and eight other affected agencies operating through February 15 but includes no money to build new permanent barriers along the southern U.S. border.

The agreement to return roughly 800,000 federal employees to work and to pay them for the time they spent either furloughed or on the job without receiving paychecks includes provisions to establish a bipartisan committee of U.S. senators and representatives tasked with putting together a border security plan the president will accept. Donald Trump has already said he will consider closing down parts of the government again if he does not receive billions of dollars for border wall construction. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the just-concluded shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion. Of that total, $3 billion in economic activity is likely to be lost permanently.


Bills Aim to Prevent Future Government Shutdowns

Virginia’s senior Democratic senator, Mark Warner, has introduced the Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years, or Stop STUPIDITY, Act. S 198 calls for instantly defunding Congress and the Executive Office of the President while continuing to fund every other federal agency at previous year’s levels whenever a fiscal year concludes without a new budget being passed and signed into law.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the similar S 104, which would keep government funding steady for 120 days without a new budget. If new money remains unappropriated after three months, the federal budget would be reduced by 1 percent. Additional reductions of 1 percent would then follow each 90 days.


Drafts of Revised Overtime Rules Submitted to OMB

New salary limits for determining the eligibility of executive, administrative and professional employees to earn overtime pay are currently being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. The revised regulations were developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, and little is known about the current text. OMB reviewers face a mid-April deadline for approving the overtime rules or requesting further revisions.


House, Senate Dems Call for $15 Federal Minimum Wage

Two identical bills (H.R. 582/S. 150) would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.35/hour to $15/hour over the next six years. After reaching $15, the minimum wage would be indexed to median wage growth, rising as the pay of all employed Americans increased.

The federal minimum wage last went up in 2009. Currently, 29 states, the District of Columbia and some local governments require employers to pay minimum wages above the federal level.

While Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta predicts that raising the minimum wage would reduce employment, the House bill attracted nearly 200 co-sponsors and more than 30 senators have put their name on the Senate legislation.


Title VII Lawsuit Procedure Draws U.S. Supreme Court Review

Justices in mid-January agreed to hear arguments in Fort Bend County v. Davis. At issue in the case is whether an employee who claims discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a civil lawsuit.

Lois Davis had worked for the defendant county government as an information technology supervisor. She alleges that the information technology director sexually harassed and assaulted her and that her supervisor retaliated against her after an investigation into her harassment and assault claims led to the director’s resignation.

The retaliation claim stems from Davis’ termination after she filed charges with the Texas Workforce Commission and informed her supervisor that she could not work on Sunday due to a previous religious commitment.

Fort Bend County succeed in having the case dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ruled that Davis had not claimed religious discrimination before filing suit. Since the plaintiff had not exhaustive her administrative options for an investigation and resolution, the appeals court reasoned, her lawsuit was barred.

Federal circuits are split on the Title VII exhaustion rule. IPMA-HR will join an amicus brief to be filed by the State and Local Legal Center in support of the employer.

For additional information, please contact IPMA-HR Executive Director Neil Reichenberg at nreichenberg@ipma-hr.org.