Regulatory Wrap-Up
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Regulatory Wrap-Up: Taxes in the spotlight

BY HBSDealer Staff

Wages

Vermont: A legislative study committee voted along party lines to recommend an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. The committee failed to specify a timeline but those details will be debated during the 2018 session.

Las Cruces, N.M.: Both businesses and city council members were surprised by an automatic increase in the city’s minimum wage due to a cost of living escalator effective Jan. 2018. The 2014 ordinance called for set, annual increases through 2019 but the language also allows for annual cost of living adjustments beginning in 2018. The city’s elected officials have stated they will revisit the issue prior to the 2018 increase.

Minneapolis, Minn.: The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is suing the city in an effort to stop the $15/hr minimum wage increase that became law in June. The law called for an increase to $15/hr by 2022 with the first increase to $10/hr beginning Jan. 2018 for businesses with 100 or more employees. The suit is similar to the unsuccessful litigation the chamber brought against the city’s paid leave ordinance.

St. Paul, Minn.: Newly-elected Mayor Melvin Carter re-committed to pursuing a $15/hr minimum wage when the council convenes next cycle. Mayor-elect Carter championed the issue when he served as a councilmember.

Montgomery County, Md.: The county council voted unanimously to increase the minimum wage to $15/hr and the county executive indicated that he intended to sign the legislation into law. Unlike previous versions that failed to pass, this bill lengthens the timeline for large and small businesses. Employers with over 50 workers must comply by 2021, those with 11 to 50 employees must comply in 2023 and employers with fewer than 10 employees have until 2024. The wage level will be adjusted annually for inflation, starting in 2022.


Paid Leave

New York City, N.Y.: The mayor signed legislation to expand paid sick leave eligibility to victims of human trafficking, domestic violence or sexual assault, allowing them to attend health appointments, legal proceedings or other necessary services.


Pay Equity

Illinois: The Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have prohibited employers from asking job applicants questions regarding their salary history.


Scheduling

New York: Governor Cuomo announced the release of long-awaited regulations establishing scheduling rules for employers. The rules call for 14 days advanced notice of schedules and four hours of penalty pay for changes made less than 72 hours in advance. The new statewide rules are expected to preempt similar local ordinances passed earlier this year in New York City.


Labor Policy

NLRB: The U.S. Senate confirmed Peter Robb as General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB General Counsel is independent from the board and is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of unfair labor practice cases and for the general supervision of the NLRB field offices in the processing of cases. Many expect Robb’s management-side legal experience to inform his approach.

Illinois: For the second time in as many weeks, the legislature failed to override the governor’s veto of legislation that prohibits local governments from enacting right-to-work zones.

Seattle, Wash.: The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department filed amicus briefs in support of Uber and Lyft in their ongoing litigation against the city ordinance that allows ride-share drivers to unionize. The federal government cites potential antitrust and price fixing concerns in the brief.

Seattle, Wash.: The SEIU-backed Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance secured commitments from the incoming mayor to support a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” within her first year of office. The commitment includes establishing a city commission to focus on issues like portable benefits and protecting worker’s rights to organize into unions.


Joint Employer

U.S. House: The U.S. House passed the Save Local Business Act by a vote of 242-181. The industry-supported legislation is designed to bring clarity to joint employer liability, in effect limiting labor and employment law liability across affiliated, independent businesses. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate where it needs the support of at least eight Democrats to have a chance at becoming law.


Swipe Fees

Visa:  In court filings, Visa and Walmart made public the settlement of their respective claims following the $7.25 billion class action settlement announced in 2012. That settlement was ultimately rejected by the majority of the plaintiffs, including Walmart, at the time and details of the agreement between the two entities were not included in the court filings.


Taxes

Tax Reform: On a party line vote, the House Ways and Means Committee passed tax reform legislation with nominal changes setting up a floor vote as early as next week. The Senate Finance Committee unveiled their version of tax reform legislation which differs slightly from the current U.S. House version. Most notably, the U.S. Senate version delays the corporate tax rate cut until 2019 and does not eliminate the estate tax but doubles the exemption for federal inheritance taxes.

Massachusetts: In a win for retailers, the Department of Revenue issued a ruling that implementation of a Accelerated Sales Tax Remission (ASTR) system is not feasible or cost effective at this time. A previously adopted budget law instructed the Department of Revenue to assess whether a system for ASTR, which would facilitate real time sales tax remittance to the state, would be cost-effective to implement by June 1, 2018. The agency determined it would not.

New Jersey: Following the victory of Governor-elect Phil Murphy (D), the Senate President has indicated that the “millionaires tax” will be one of the first policies pursued by the majority party next session. Previous legislation, vetoed by former Governor Chris Christie (R), would have increased the tax rate by 1.78% on income above $1 million, netting approximately $615 million in revenue for the state.

South Carolina: The Department of Revenue filed a motion in administrative law court alleging that Amazon has not remitted sales tax from all sales, including third-party transactions, that have taken place through its website over the past two years. The state estimates non-payment at close to $57 million. Amazon has disputed the motion, stipulating that the third party vendors are the responsible party for collection.

South Dakota: Thirty five states and the District of Columbia, along with several members of Congress and a variety of business interests, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up South Dakota’s landmark online sales tax case seeking to overturn the 1992 “physical nexus” precedent for sales tax collection obligations. The court will determine what cases may be heard during the 2018 term in the coming months.


Ports

Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif.: Both port commissions released their joint Clean Air Action Plan update which mandates the use of zero-emission terminal equipment by 2030 and trucks by 2035. It also sets targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80% by 2050. Analysts have forecasted the cost of the plan to be nearly $14 billion.


Data Security

New York: Citing the massive Equifax breach, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his support of recently introduced data security legislation. New York-based companies are currently subject to data breach laws only if they collect a consumer’s social security number. The proposed legislation expands liability to any company that holds a state resident’s personal information, including username and password combinations among other data points.


Key Takeaways

  • The left-of-center coalition, including the labor community, will be emboldened by this week’s election results and will feel as if they have a mandate from voters to pursue a progressive agenda at the state and local level. Employers obviously will have to contend with potentially harmful proposals being introduced in jurisdictions were activists gained seats but additionally, policymakers in states and cities that didn’t hold elections may also feel vindicated by Tuesday’s results and encouraged to continue pursuing employer mandates. As the 2018 election season begins to gear up, this dynamic may only intensify at all levels of government.
  • The results will shake up the political dynamics within the U.S. Congress. At the very least, the ten Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2018 in the states that Trump carried will be more comfortable rebuffing Trump’s request for support for tax reform and other priorities. House Democrats will strengthen their belief, and rhetoric, that they can take over the House in 2018 in a repudiation of Trumpism, and will be less likely than ever to negotiate on any Republican priorities. Efforts to reform healthcare, which have been on life support, are likely dead for the same reason, particularly considering that Republicans from states that Clinton won also may be less willing to align with Trump. Republican Congressional leadership will certainly feel pressure to deliver in advance of 2018, but other than tax reform it’s unclear what could realistically be accomplished.

Legislature Status for Week of 11/13/17

  • The United States Senate is in session this week
  • The United States House is in session this week
  • The following state legislatures are in session year round: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • The following states are currently in special session: Alaska, Connecticut and Oklahoma.

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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for Nov. 10, 2017.

Western: regional species perimeter foundation
Southern: regional species slab construction

Crow's Market Recap: A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow's Weekly Market Report.

Lumber

Demand for SPF remained solid, exacerbated by limited volumes available for timely shipment. Western mills often reported order files well into next month. Producers wanting more control over order files offered limited volumes. Quotes raised aggressively to cover final duty amounts essentially removed those volumes from the market.     

  • Southern Pine lumber sales activity remained solid, affording mills an opportunity to clear excesses and build order files. Upward price volatility was limited. Buying was measured, as yards considered seasonal market influences.
  • Coastal species producers were forced to lower #2&Btr Doug Fir prices in both green and dry. Meanwhile, good demand on the back of strong SPF pricing kept upward pressure on Hem-Fir prices. Inland lumber offices have been skeletonized by the NAWLA Meeting in Chicago this week, but few expect any softening of either demand or prices in the quieter end of the week. Neither Fir-Larch nor Hem-Fir prices wavered much from recent published levels.
  • Stud pricing across North America was narrowly mixed, with little upward or downward pressure applied from the demand or supply side.
  • Radiata Pine lumber from New Zealand has been significantly more abundant this year, but less so from Chile. Prices have been very stable all year.
  • Ponderosa Pine industrials are still difficult for some buyers to access in the volumes they seek. Some producers have not had consistent volumes for the cash market this summer, which has heightened the sense of tight availability. Ponderosa Pine 4/4 Selects and Commons show very little change in price levels, although availability is “Still pretty tight,’ according to one source.
  • The annual exodus to the NAWLA Traders Market took place this week, taking many Western Red Cedar traders away from their desks. With many buyers covering their needs prior to the week, sales activity ticked down a notch at sales offices.

Panels

OSB pricing took another week of big tumbles as the market continues to come off from lofty levels. A few sources said they feel stabilization may be a week or two away, while others find the current trend unpredictable. Prices in some regions range broadly.        

  • Sales activity in the Southern Pine plywood market picked up after a slow start, prompting producers to report a modestly improved week of sales overall. Buyers purchased for shipment in the week of November 20, although quicker shipping volumes did remain available.
  • Price weakness persisted in the Western Fir plywood market. Mills lowered CDX quotes and negotiated off those levels to stay ahead of production. Order files extended into the week of November 20, but quicker shipping wood was available.
  • Canadian plywood markets continued their firming trend this week after a recent sharp drop in pricing. Activity is serene but steady, and producers pushed order files out again, with most into the weeks of Nov. 27 through Dec. 4. One producer is out to Dec. 11.
  • Little change appeared in either Particleboard or MDF markets. Activity for both products remained lackluster at the mill level. Typical seasonal slowing was blamed for the modest pace.

For more on RISI, click here.

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USG to acquire maker of specialty ceilings products

BY HBSDEALER Staff

USG Corporation, the Chicago-based building products giant, reported that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Ceilings Plus, a leading manufacturer of specialty ceilings products.

Upon closing, USG said it will pay approximately $52 million in cash, on a cash-free and debt-free basis. The pending transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to close by the end of 2017.

“The addition of Ceilings Plus is expected to further expand USG’s product portfolio, accelerate innovation and enhance our presence in the high-growth Specialty Ceilings market,” said Jennifer Scanlon, president and CEO of USG Corporation. “I believe this acquisition will increase our penetration into architectural specifications and enable cross-selling opportunities for USG’s existing tile and grid ceiling products.”

Ceilings Plus employs more than 150 people at two facilities in California and Georgia and is forecast to generate 2017 sales in excess of $45 million. Company founder and president Nancy Mercolino will continue to lead the business and be based in Los Angeles, USG said. 

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