Weekly Wire Week Ending February 17, 2017
The County Perspective: Scaffold Law, Affordable Care Act, 30-day Amendments, more
New Videos on NYSAC TV
There are 8 new videos posted on the NYSAC TV YouTube channel. These include highlights from the NYSAC Legislative Conference and recordings of testimony on State Budget issues that NYSAC has presented to committees of the State Legislature.
State Legislative Update
The Legislature is not in session this week. They will reconvene on February 28, 2017.
Governor Releases 30-Day Amendments
Last week the Governor did release his 30-day amendments to his original Executive Budget submission. The vast majority of these amendments were technical changes. A couple of substantive changes of note include: $28 million funding for state owed ORDA ski areas including $20 million for Gore and Whiteface and $8 million for Belleayre. Also, $300 million was added in Capital Projects under the New York Works program for "...transportation infrastructure and facilities in the five-year department of transportation plan for 2015-16 through 2019-20..." - specific projects were not defined in the budget documents.
Scaffold Law in the Spotlight in New York's High Court and in the Legislature
On February 14, 2017 New York Court of Appeals heard arguments in O'Brien v The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the outcome of this case will further define liability parameters of Labor Law § 240(1), better known as the "scaffold law." In this matter a worker was injured on the construction site of the World Trade Center Freedom Tower. He slipped and fell down a temporary steel staircase that gave workers access to floors under construction. This outdoor staircase qualifies as structure within the scaffold law and the staircase was wet with rain when he fell. The scaffold law requires owners and contractors to provide scaffolding "and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection" to construction workers against elevation-related risks.
The High Court in this matter must determine if summary judgement should be granted to the plaintiff by ruling if the condition of these stairs wet with rain provided "proper protection." Also at issue is the significance of if someone within the chain of the construction project had notice of the hazardous condition. The Supreme Court granted summary judgement to the plaintiff whereas the Appellate Court reversed. NYASC will track this case and update our members on the court ruling.
Also on February 14, 2017 advocates from across the state gathered in Albany for the Scaffold Reform Lobby Day. The "scaffold law," Labor Law § 240 and § 241, imposes strict liability on employers/owners of buildings if a worker falls from any height.
The advocates of this lobby day encouraged the State Legislature to amend the law by removing the strict liability standard. This in turn should lower New York's insurance costs and make construction projects more viable throughout the state. The advocates voiced to the legislature by amending the scaffold law this will increase New York constriction projects and create more in-state jobs.
Assembly and Senate Introduce Legislation Supporting County DMV's and Provides Fiscal Aid to Counties
Assemblymember Anthony Brindisi and Senator Patricia Ritchie have introduced bipartisan legislation (S1908/A3397) that provides an equitable share of DMV generated revenue to counties. The State requires counties to operate and staff DMV's on their behalf yet the State retains 87.3% of all revenue generated from this county provided service. The costs of operating local DMV's only continue to increase while at the same time counties are required to operate under a property tax cap. This legislation seeks to fix the current broken system by increasing the county share of DMV created revenue from 12.7% to 25%. It is important to note, this bill does not increase the fees or costs to residents. Instead this bill will keep a resident's money local and will only help, not hurt, local residents. This increased funding will enable counties to continue providing quality local services as well as alleviate some of the State imposed property tax burdens.
NYSAC thanks Assemblymember Brindisi and Senator Ritchie for their continued effort to support county government as well as target policies that have created our State's property tax issues. NYSAC encourages our members to voice your support and encourage the State legislature include the language of S1908/A3397 into their one-house budget proposals.
Monroe Legislator Honored For Community Empowerment
Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell received Chairman's Award at the 2017 Annual Conference of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators held in Albany this past weekend. The Chairman's Award is presented to the individual whose energetic leadership has promoted greater community empowerment in the political arena. Flagler-Mitchell is serving his first term at the representative in the 29th District in Monroe County.
Congressional Republicans Release Blueprint for Repealing and Replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Late last week, Congressional Republicans released a broad-brushed plan on how they intend to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but the plan is short on details and timing. As has been the approach in prior Republican health insurance proposals, the new plan would rely heavily on providing refundable tax credits to help those without health insurance to buy it. It would also allow for the expansion of health savings accounts, coupled with high deductible health plans. While the plan mentions these items, it does not specify how much these new tax credits might be, but instead refers to existing federal health tax credit programs that might work as models, but those highlighted are highly specialized and limited to about 13,000 current enrollees with a total per-enrollee benefit of about $3800 on average. For the HSA changes no specifics are provided but the plan mentions prior Republican proposals that would allow for annual HSA contribution limits as high as $13,000 for family coverage.
The proposal also talks about eliminating the tax-preferred treatment that current employer-based health insurance plans receive, but does not reveal how that would work or if in fact it is part of the proposal. In 2016, about 155 million Americans received their health insurance coverage from an employer-based plan. According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, "Present law provides a broad exclusion from gross income for employer-provided health benefits, including insurance premiums and other employer contributions to provide coverage, as well as the payment or reimbursement of medical expenses not covered by insurance and contributions to certain health-related accounts. The exclusion applies with respect to health benefits provided to a current or former employee, including a retiree, and an employee's family members." The preferential tax treatment is viewed as a subsidy by Congress to help encourage employers to offer health insurance to their workers and in 2016 this tax subsidy was valued at about $323 billion.
The new proposal would retain keeping children up to age 26 on their parents plan and says it would provide protections to those with pre-existing conditions, but it does not define what that means.
The plan is described as repealing the individual and employer mandates to provide health insurance coverage immediately and repeals all taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act (the taxes raised fund the subsidies for health insurance premiums provided under the ACA). The plan also eliminates the minimum essential health insurance coverage requirements of the ACA and would allow individuals to buy less comprehensive and catastrophic coverages instead. The plan also indicates that the new tax credits would be portable and would not be income based (everybody would be eligible for the credits). The credit would be:
* Universal for all citizens or qualified aliens not offered other qualifying insurance
* Available for dependent children up to age 26
* Grows Over Time
Age-rated means that older Americans would receive higher tax credits because their insurance is expected to be more expensive (according to the plan, this higher cost is a function of eliminating the "over-subsidization" older and sicker people receive currently under the ACA).
The Medicaid expansion under the ACA is repealed, but provides a period of time that maintains the enhanced federal Medicaid matching rate for those states that did the expansion. However, this enhanced federal match will end, at which time states could keep the ACA Medicaid expansion population covered, but at their traditional federal Medicaid matching rate (for New York the federal match would drop from 90 percent to 50 percent). The proposal would also block grant Medicaid to states as a lump sum or per capita amount. The new plan also restores Medicaid disproportionate share (DSH) payments cuts enacted under the ACA.
High Risk Pools
The proposal also calls for state innovation grants that could be used to renew dormant high risk pools or for other purposes such as reduce out-of-pockets costs for certain high need populations. There is no amount delineated for how much funding would be available for these grants.