Endangered Species Act: The U.S. House of Representatives passed five bills to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The 40-year-old law has produced few tangible results beyond road and trail closures, restrictive land-use designations, and lawsuits. While millions of acres of land have been set aside to protect threatened and endangered animals and plants, more money has been spent on lawyers and court expenses than on wildlife management. Among other changes, the legislation would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider the economic impact of adding a species as endangered or threatened when the agency makes listing decisions. The FWS would also have to make all data that is used as the basis for an ESA determination to be made available to impacted states. Billing rates awarded to lawyers and expert witnesses in ESA lawsuits would also be limited to $125 an hour. The legislation has been sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
California Cleaning Product Labeling Law: Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation into law to require cleaning-product manufacturers to disclose all ingredients and “contaminants of concern” on the product label and the manufacturer’s website. The Cleaning Products Act defines “cleaning products” as “any product used primarily for commercial, domestic or institutional cleaning purposes, including an air-care product, automotive product, general cleaning product, or a polish or floor maintenance product.” In addition to requiring manufacturers to disclose a list of ingredients, the law mandates pictographic images on the label to communicate potential health impacts of toxic chemicals present. The law differs from California Proposition 65 because it requires cleaning-product manufacturers to provide ingredient information, expands disclosure to allergens as well as toxic chemicals, and does not create a private cause of action. The online disclosure requirement for the Cleaning Products Act takes effect on January 1, 2020, and product labeling takes effect on January 1, 2021.
Healthcare Coverage: President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to take action to increase healthcare competition and choice. The order is a first step intended to offer employers more options when providing health coverage and to expand the types of plans available by eliminating some requirements mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is more commonly known as Obamacare. The changes are not immediate, since agencies must first issue corresponding regulations. President Trump’s order directs the agencies to:
- Expand association health plans (AHPs). These plans allow employers and individuals who are part of a common group (such as a trade association) to join together to offer health care in a single plan. The order seeks to expand the availability of AHPs and allow the plans to be comprised of groups and individuals across
- Expand short-term, limited-duration plans. These plans have traditionally provided health insurance for individuals transitioning from one insurance plan to another. They are not subject to the same requirements as individual health insurance coverage for the purposes of the ACA rules. The length of time individuals can stay on such plans would be expanded from the current three-month limitation.
- Expand the rules for health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). Allows health care premiums to be paid through HRAs along with other changes. Under existing rules, most HRAs cannot be used to reimburse premiums for individual health insurance plans (although there is an exception to that for certain types of small-business HRAs).
National Monument Designations: The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee passed SEMA-supported legislation that would limit the president’s authority to unilaterally designate national monuments. The bill would limit the size of future national monument designations, require approval of state and local government bodies for larger monument designations, cap the size of designations at 85,000 acres, and narrow the criteria used to determine national monuments. The bill would specifically require a National Environmental Policy Act review for smaller monuments, along with an environmental assessment for larger sizes. The county, state and governor would need to approve even larger sizes. The issue is consequential since national monuments automatically prohibit new roads or trails for motorized vehicles and require that a new land-
management plan be drafted that could lead to more road closures.
Estate Taxes: The U.S. Treasury Department reversed a 2016 proposal to limit family-owned businesses’ use of minority and marketability discounts when calculating the estate tax under Section 2704 of the Internal Revenue Code. SEMA joined with many other organizations in opposing the 2016 proposed rule. The regulation threatened to raise the estate tax for a family-owned business by 30%–50%. The minority interest and marketability discounts recognize that family beneficiaries usually can’t sell the inherited income at the valued rate when it is a family-controlled business. For 2017, the lifetime exclusion against the federal estate tax is $5.49 million ($10.98 million for couples), with a maximum tax rate