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Some Fear Unemployment Benefits Keep People from Returning to Work

With millions of Americans losing work as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, some elected officials and experts are worried that expanded unemployment benefits are making the jobless problem worse.

 

As part of the coronavirus aid package, the federal government has increased unemployment benefits by $600 a month. This has led to a situation where some workers make more money with these benefits than they do at their jobs. As Congress considers whether to extend this higher payment, some are worried that doing so will hamper an economic recovery. After all, these critics of the program say, why would someone return to work if he or she can make more money being unemployed?

 

It is unclear how many people are deciding not to return to work as a result of the higher unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week reminded people that they could lose their benefits if they refuse to go back to work if their company can re-hire them.

 

The increased unemployment benefits end this summer. Some Democrats in Congress want to extend this program through next year. Republicans argue that the government should not make it more attractive to remain without work than it is to go to work. They say that this will slow down an economic recovery and hurt business owners who need workers to return. Democrats counter that this program is desperately needed by people who are jobless through no fault of their own.


Democrats are pushing for quick passage of a new coronavirus aid bill that could include these extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. Republicans want a slower process.

 

Do you think that paying an extra $600 in unemployment benefits per week gives people an incentive not to return to work?

Some Want Rent Cancelled During Coronavirus Outbreak

With many working losing their jobs or seeing their hours cut, some activists and politicians are calling on states and the federal government to suspend or even cancel rent or mortgage payments. Critics, however, say this policy is short-sighted and will cause big problems in the long-run.

 

Politicians across the political spectrum are proposing that government step in and suspend or cancel rent payments. Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida wants federal action to postpone rent payments for 60 days if a renter has an income under $75,000. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution unanimously asking Washington Governor Jay Inslee and President Trump to cancel payments for rent and mortgage. The city council in Alexandria, Virginia, may also consider a similar resolution.

 

Under these plans, either the state or federal government would suspend or cancel the payment of rent or mortgages for as long as the coronavirus emergency lasts. There has been no action on these proposals yet, but state and local governments have imposed moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.

 

Supporters argue that with so many people losing jobs, it would be unfair to expect them to pay rent during this time. They say that failing to stop rent payments could lead to a wave of homelessness. They note that many people who are paying rent have lower incomes, so they are especially hard hit by the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

 

There are many people who are pushing back against this idea, however. They point out that there is little legal authority to cancel the payment of either rent or mortgages, even in an emergency. They also note that canceling these payments would cause harm to either the owner or the rental property or the holder of the mortgage, which could have severe ripple effects throughout the economy.

 

Do you support canceling the payment of rent and mortgages during the coronavirus crisis?

Trump Administration Alters Obama Fuel Efficiency Rule

The Department of Transportation today announced that it is changing the federal regulation requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency. Under the new rule, car manufactures must increase fleet fuel efficiency by 1.5% every year. That is a change from the standards set under President Obama, which mandated a 5% yearly fuel efficiency improvement.

 

This announcement affects the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, a federal mandate on carmakers. Under this requirement, car manufacturers must increase the fuel efficiency of their entire fleet by a certain amount. Not every model of car needs to be more efficient year-after-year, but the average for the fleet must improve.

 

The Trump Administration defends its actions, pointing out that overall fuel efficiency will still increase, just not by as much as mandated under President Obama. The President notes that this will make cars more affordable, saving consumers money – something he says is especially important given the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.


Critics, however, say this is a step backwards in terms of environmental policy. They argue that this will hurt efforts to fight climate change. They also contend that consumers will be worse off, since they will be spending more money on fuel over the long-term.

 

Environmental groups are preparing to challenge the rule change in court.

 

Do you support reducing the federal mandate on automakers to produce vehicles that are more fuel efficient?

Ban on Gay Discrimination Faces Uphill Battle in Nebraska

A business coalition is pushing Nebraska legislators to enact a law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislators and the governor are cool to the idea, however.

 

The business owners supporting this bill say it will help the state attract workers. They argue that in a world where businesses are competing for employees in a tight labor market, such a law would bolster the state’s reputation. That, they argue, will draw new workers.

 

Gov. Pete Ricketts is skeptical, however. He notes that many states with high-performing economies do not this type of anti-discrimination law. His spokesperson also said that such laws can be used to attack businesses whose owners have faith-based objections to performing certain transactions.

 

Legislators seemed more aligned to Gov. Ricketts’ position than the stance being taken by business groups. As in past sessions, there is a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And, just like in past sessions, it seems destined to be voted down. In previous years, however, there has not been a push by the statewide chamber of commerce or business groups in favor of the bill.

 

There are 25 states that have laws banning anti-gay discrimination.

 

Do you think that it hurts a state’s economy if that state does not have a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

NY Plastic Bag Ban Takes Effect

Starting this week, shoppers can no longer expect to receive single-use plastic bags from New York stores.

 

A statewide ban on these bags took effect on Sunday. Proponents say it is a good step towards cleaning up the environment. Opponents argue that it will do little to help the environment, but a lot to hurt small businesses and consumers.

 

Legislators passed the ban on plastic bags last year, but delayed its effective date. State officials had been ramping up a public education campaign about the ban in the weeks leading up to its implementation. On Sunday, restaurants and stores were supposed to stop offering these bags to consumers.

 

Instead of single-use plastic bags, consumers are now expected to use multi-use tote bags. A state program provides such bags for some low-income families. The plastic bag ban is not absolute, since they can still be used for some items, such as pharmaceuticals or uncooked meat.

 

Those who supported this ban say that plastic bags end up in landfills or as litter. They say that prohibiting their use will cut down on this pollution that causes environmental problems. Opponents counter that these bags make up a very small amount of either landfill use or litter. They also note that this new law will be a large burden for businesses that must now change how they serve customers.

 

Two other states also have statewide bans on single-use plastic bags, while others are looking at such prohibitions.

 

Do you support banning single-use plastic bags?

House to Vote on Flavored Tobacco Ban

Vaping has been under attack in Washington, D.C., and state capitals recently. This week, the House of Representatives will take another shot at vaping and the tobacco industry when it considers a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products.

 

This is how VoteSpotter describes HR 2339, sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ):

 

To ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vaping products and chewing tobacco. The bill also bans the sale over the Internet of tobacco and vaping products and mandates graphic warnings on cigarettes, among other things.

 

Those who support this bill contend that flavored vaping liquid is used to hook children on tobacco, leading to health problems. They say that the tobacco industry uses flavored tobacco products as a way to lure kids into an addictive habit. They argue that banning these products will reduce youth smoking.

 

Opponents, however, point to studies that indicate that adults use flavored vaping products as a way to quit smoking. They say that this ban will harm efforts to move people from cigarettes to vaping. They point out that vaping is far less harmful to one’s health than smoking, so this bill will actually hurt public health.

 

Over the past year, states have enacted bans on vaping products in response to concerns over the health effects of this practice. Congress also inserted a provision into the annual spending bill that increases the smoking age from 18 to 21. This legislation is a continuation of those efforts.

 

Do you think that the federal government should ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as flavored vaping liquid?

Collective Bargaining for Government Workers May Be Coming to Virginia

Only three states do not allow government workers to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and benefits. Virginia legislators are moving to reduce this list to two states.

 

State senators have passed a bill that would permit government employees to collectively bargain, something the law currently prohibits. This is something that has been sought for years by public employee unions, especially teachers’ unions.

 

Those who are backing this bill argue that government employees deserve the same right as private sector employees to join unions and negotiate collectively. They say that this is essential to them obtaining higher wages and better benefits. Teachers’ unions also say it will help improve education in the state.

 

Opponents counter that such a move will be costly for taxpayers. They also argue that government workers are not the same as private sector workers, since they have the ability to vote and campaign for and against the elected officials in charge of negotiation. These opponents also dismiss the idea that collective bargaining improves school quality.

 

Governor Ralph Northam has said he will consider both sides of this issue if this bill passes the legislature, which is likely. Most observers expect him to sign it.

 

If Virginia enacts this law, only North Carolina and South Carolina will bar public sector collective bargaining.

 

Do you think that government employees should be able to collectively bargain for wages and benefits?

Arizona Legislators Consider Banning LGBTQ Discrimination

This year’s legislative session in Arizona features two bills that would place legal limits on state residents’ ability to refuse service to gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals.

 

Currently, the state does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some cities in the state have anti-discrimination laws, but a recent decision by Arizona Supreme Court established that business owners do not have to provide services for same-sex weddings. This has prompted statewide supporters of an anti-discrimination law to renew their efforts in the legislature.

 

Under the bills being considered, it would be illegal for business owners to refuse service to individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in many circumstances. Under this bill, an employer could not fire an employee due to that employee being gay or a landlord could not refuse to rent to a transgender person.

 

Supporters say this bill is necessary to help ensure that Arizona law protects all Arizonans. They also argue that businesses will be attracted to the state because of it. Opponents counter that this could infringe upon the rights of religious Arizonans to conduct their businesses in line with their beliefs.

 

There have been anti-discrimination bills considered in previous legislative sessions, but none have advanced. It remains unclear what the prospects of this year’s legislation will be.

 

Do you think the law should prohibit business owners from discriminating against gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals?

South Dakota Set to Ban Plastic Straw Bans

Some cities and states are banning the use of plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. South Dakota legislators want to go in the other direction – they are considering prohibiting cities from imposing such bans.

 

South Dakota senators are likely to approve legislation that would stop local governments from banning single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, and other types of packaging. This would pre-empt local bans that have occurred in cities in other states, though not in South Dakota.

 

Activists have increasingly attacked single-use plastic bags and straws due to concerns about plastic pollution. Supporters of these bans argue that they are necessary to protect wildlife, reduce litter, and save landfill space.

 

Legislators in South Dakota disagree, however. They note that such bans affect small businesses, making it more difficult for them to offer the products that consumers want. People with disabilities also contend that such bans hurt individuals who need to use straws because of mobility issues. There is also skepticism about how much such bans do to reduce plastic use.

 

While there have been efforts in cities and counties to ban the use of these plastic products, this has prompted some states to consider pre-emption laws similar to what’s being proposed in South Dakota. Fourteen states have passed laws that take this power away from local governments.

 

The legislative session in South Dakota lasts through March 30.

 

Do you support banning businesses from providing plastic bags and straws?

Senate Passes Mexico-Canada Trade Pact

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) this week. The House of Representatives passed the USMCA last year, and President Trump has long pushed for this agreement.

 

By a vote of 89-10, this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed the Senate with broad support from Democrats and Republicans. These are some of the major changes that USMCA made to NAFTA:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

One Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined Democratic Sens. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, Reed, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, and Whitehouse in voting against USMCA. T

 

In the 1990s, Presidents Bush and Clinton shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, over the objections of critics like Ross Perot. This agreement came into being after years of negotiation between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. 

 

President Trump has long been a supporter of high tariffs and skeptical of free trade and trade agreements. He claims that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Free trade supporters note that evidence clearly shows that trade has wide benefits for the economy, with both consumers and workers experiencing benefits overall. 

 

The House of Representatives vote in favor of USMCA was also overwhelmingly bipartisan. The trade agreement now goes to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

House Passes Trade Deal with Mexico, Canada

In a final vote before leaving town for the holiday recess, the House of Representatives passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Passage of this agreement has long been a priority for President Trump.

 

By a vote of 385-95, a large bipartisan majority passed this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some of the key aspects of this agreement are:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico negotiated NAFTA in the 1990s in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. This agreement mostly leaves this deal in place, but it does update some key parts, as described above.

 

President Trump has long been skeptical of deals that lower tariffs and move the U.S. towards free trade. He has even called himself “tariff man.” He says that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Critics of his approach argue that trade has wide benefits for the economy, from consumers to workers. They say it lowers the cost of goods and helps create jobs in more industries.

 

The Senate has yet to vote on the USMCA.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

House Reauthorizes Federal Export Support Agency

In the midst of impeachment hearings, the House of Representatives also conducted legislative business this week. The main legislation under consideration was a bill to reauthorize a controversial federal agency that provides loan guarantees for U.S. businesses. Supporters say it is essential to supporting American exports, while critics argue that it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

 

The House passed H.R. 4863 by a vote of 235-184. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To renew the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to operate through 2029 and expand its lending authority from $135 billion to $175 billion. The Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that gives loans and loan guarantees to companies purchasing U.S. exports. These loans are backed by the federal government, meaning if borrowers default the government pays them.

 

The reauthorization and staffing of the Export-Import Bank’s board has been a long-running controversy in Congress. While the agency has bipartisan support, there is also strong opposition to it on the left and the right who see it as a taxpayer giveaway to large corporations. This reauthorization legislation is aimed at ending the efforts to kill the agency.

 

Independent Rep. Justin Amash spoke out forcefully against reauthorization, tweeting:

 

The Ex-Im Bank is inherently corrupt. It unfairly forces Americans to subsidize foreign entities that buy things from well-connected corporations—particularly Boeing. This corporate welfare program expires next week, yet the House is voting Friday to reauthorize it. Let it die.

 

And:

 

Ex-Im puts taxpayers on the hook for loans to foreign governments and corporations to buy things from well-connected companies (especially Boeing), which is unfair to the vast majority of Americans who don’t benefit from Ex-Im yet are assuming the financial risk for the loans.

 

There was bipartisan support for reauthorizing the agency, however, as well as a large coalition of interest groups pushing for this legislation. Linda Dempsey of The National Association of Manufacturers spoke for many of these supporters in defense of the agency:

 

As the United States’ official export credit agency, the Ex-Im Bank is a critical tool to support American jobs through exports. It has become increasingly vital in the face of more than 90 countries that operate more than 100 foreign export credit agencies (ECAs) around the world. From China and Germany to Canada and Japan, other countries are working to boost their farmers, manufacturers and workers and win foreign sales.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.

 

Do you support reauthorizing an agency that provides federal loan guarantees for companies that purchase U.S. exports?

 

 

House Votes to Bar Binding Arbitration

This week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would affects a contract provision signed by tens of millions of workers – binding arbitration agreements.

 

For many workers, a condition of their job is their acceptance of what businesses call “alternative dispute resolution.” Instead of suing over certain issues if an employee alleges a problem at work, these agreements require the employee and employer to go through binding arbitration. This is a less formal, less expensive means of settling a dispute. However, opponents of binding arbitration say that it deprives employees of their rights to sue over harassment, discrimination, and other issues.

 

By a vote of 225-186, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1423. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To make unenforceable provisions in contracts that require the parties to pursue arbitration first on disputes over employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights issues. The bill also prohibits agreements that limit class action lawsuits.

 

As noted in this description, it goes beyond merely prohibiting binding arbitration for certain issues. It also prohibits employers from requiring employees to waive their rights to join in a class action lawsuits over employment practices. A 2018 Supreme Court case ruled that current law allows employers to request that employees sign such contracts.

 

Backers of this legislation say that it’s necessary to restore the rights of employees to sue over what they consider abuses by employers. They argue that binding arbitration usually works in favor of employers. Opponents counter that lawsuits are expensive and, at times, frivolous. They say that banning the use of binding arbitration will lead to more lawsuits, with the result being higher costs passed to consumers and fewer people hired.

 

While some Republicans in the Senate have signaled support for curbing binding arbitration, the House legislation passed with only two Republicans voting in favor of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not schedule this bill for consideration in that body.

 

Do you think that employers should be able to ask employees to sign binding arbitration contracts?

Arizona Court Rules Against Forcing Artists to Work Same-Sex Wedding

Where does speech end and commerce begin? That is a key question in the debate over what legal protections should apply for business owners who participate in same-sex weddings.


Yesterday the Arizona Supreme Court held that two calligraphers and artists could not be forced to produce work for a same-sex wedding. The court’s decision concluded that calligraphy and artist expression was speech, and that a business owner could not be compelled to produce speech that contains a message the person disagrees with.

 

The case involved business owners who refused to produce wedding calligraphy for a same-sex wedding. The couple getting married sued, arguing that this refusal constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court disagreed, saying that this type of activity was not mere commerce, but also involved “pure speech.”

 

The issue of whether business owners who think same-sex marriage is sinful can be compelled to provide services to these types of marriages is one that has emerged in states around the nation. Often, the issue involves anti-discrimination laws fit with constitutional protections for religion and speech.  

 

In its 4-3 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court decided that the principle of free speech was paramount:

 

[The business owners'] beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some. But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone. After all, while our own ideas may be popular today, they may not be tomorrow.

 

However, the court also noted that this was a limited decision focused on the calligraphy business in question. It did not hold that all business activities could be shielded from ordinances that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

 

Do you agree that business owners should not be compelled to produce artistic items for same-sex weddings or other activities that violate their religious beliefs?

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


Supporters of the “Fight for 15” achieved a victory yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

 

By a vote of 231-199, the House passed H.R. 582. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. This legislation would also end the ability of nonprofits to offer work paying below the minimum wage to people with disabilities and end the different minimum wage rates for tipped and newly-hired employees.

 

This legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over 7 years. Ever year during that time, the minimum wage would automatically go up. Then, after the seventh year, the Department of Labor would increase the minimum wage based on the increase in the median hourly wage for all employees.

 

In addition, this bill would end the ability of employers to pay lower waged to tipped workers and younger workers who are new hires. The federal program that allows some nonprofits to pay wages that are based on productivity but are below the minimum wage to people with disabilities would also end.

 

Supporters of this proposal say that workers should be paid a “living wage,” and that $15 an hour will help accomplish this. They also argue that this boost in wages will put more money into the economy, helping businesses. Opponents counter that this higher minimum wage will boost the pay of some workers, but will destroy the jobs of others. They contend that businesses will be hurt with the new burden of paying higher wages, since they will face the choice of raising prices or letting people go.

 

A recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $15 minimum wage would increase the wages of 17 million workers while eliminating the jobs of 1.3 million workers and reducing business income.

 

This legislation now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unlikely to schedule it for a vote.

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cost Jobs, Study Finds

The “Fight for 15” is a popular idea within the Democratic Party and progressive political circles. A study released yesterday concluded that hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would indeed give some people a wage boost, but it would cost others their jobs.

 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at three options for raising the minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 an hour. The three wage levels it looked at were $10 an hour, $12 an hour, and $15 an hour. Here’s what the CBO concluded about what the effects of a $15 an hour minimum wage would be:

 

In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million.

 

The CBO also concluded that a $15 minimum wage would have impacts on family income:

 

  • Real earnings for workers while they remained employed would increase by $64 billion,
  • Real earnings for workers while they were jobless would decrease by $20 billion,
  • Real income for business owners would decrease by $14 billion, and
  • Real income for consumers would decrease by $39 billion.

 

This study points to the trade-offs that would come from a minimum wage hike. Some workers would see an immediate wage hike, but other workers would lose jobs. Businesses and consumers would also be affected by such a hike. With this issue likely to be a part of the 2020 presidential race, the CBO’s study gives more information on the effects of a minimum wage increase to inform the debate.

 

Do you think that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15? Is the trade-off of higher wages for some workers worth it if other workers lose their jobs?

Big Tech Facing Antitrust Action in DC

Millions of people use the services Twitter, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies. The dominance of these companies has raised the ire of some politicians and regulators, however. Yesterday both the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice signaled they are looking at antitrust action against big technology firms.

 

The legislative front against these companies will be spearheaded by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Chairman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, held hearings yesterday examining the impact of tech companies on the news media. He contends that these companies harm the news industry.

 

During the hearing, there was bipartisan support for some legislative changes aimed at helping the news industry compete in the changing technology landscape, but there were differences on how far Congress should go in pursuing antitrust action. Some Democrats have suggested breaking up companies like Google on antitrust grounds.

 

The antitrust path is something the Trump Administration is considering, as a speech by a top Justice Department official yesterday indicated. He laid out principles by which the department could pursue legal action against Facebook, Twitter, and others, saying that federal antitrust law could deal with the issues posed by these companies. He noted that antitrust law has many aspects, including consumer harm and harm to competition.

 

It is unclear if any legislation will emerge from Congress with a bipartisan consensus on this issue, just as it is unknown what the Trump Administration will do in the courts. However, there does appear to be growing desire to act in the executive and legislative branch.

 

Do you think that large technology companies like Facebook and Google should be broken up under antitrust law? Are consumers harmed by these companies? Does Big Tech stifle competition?

“Equal Pay Day” Brings Debate

It’s “Equal Pay Day,” and you’ll probably be seeing statistics about how women are paid less than men and statistics debunking that stat. Regardless of how you interpret these statistics, one thing that may be overlooked today is that the House of Representatives passed a bill last week aimed at addressing this issue.

 

By a vote of 242-187, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, on March 27. This bill has a variety of provisions that are aimed at reducing what the sponsors view as a gender wage gap. It would:

  • Narrow the factors by which employers can justify gender-based pay disparities to only apply to “bona fide” factors such as education, training, or experience
  • Prohibit employers from punishing employees who discuss their pay
  • Ban employers from considering salary history when considering hiring someone

 

Sponsors of this bill have been trying for years to see it pass the House. With the Democrats now in charge, they finally succeeded. No Democrats voted against it, while 7 Republicans voted for it.

 

Those supporting this bill say it is necessary to address persistent discrimination against women in the workforce, as evidenced by the gender pay gap. Opponents say that the pay gap is not due to discrimination, but to personal choices made by women – such as leaving the workforce for motherhood. They argue that this bill will only tie up businesses in more red tape.

 

The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration, where it is unlikely to receive a vote.

 

Do you think that the gender pay gap is due to discrimination that needs to be addressed by stronger federal laws? Or is the gender pay gap due to choices that individual men and women make in the workforce?

Family Leave Tops Gillibrand’s Presidential Platform

Kristen Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator, is running for president. She is betting that paid federal family leave is her key to gaining the White House.

 

Getting ready to announce her candidacy on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert,” Sen. Gillibrand previewed her campaign platform. One of her highest priorities is a federal policy of mandatory paid family leave, something that she has championed while in the Senate.

 

Under Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal, a new federal program would pay workers who take up to 12 weeks of family leave in a year. This leave could be used to deal with health conditions, pregnancy or childbirth, and caring for family members. The federal government would pay 66% of the parent’s monthly wages, financed by a tax on both individuals and businesses. A new federal agency, the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, would be created to administer the program.

 

Supporters of this idea argue that this would promote people entering the workforce who are of child-bearing age, since they would be guaranteed income if they have children. They also note that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without such a leave guarantee, so it is time that we join the rest of the world in helping working parents. Opponents point out that this would involve a large tax hike on both workers and businesses. They also say that it would hurt smaller businesses who would lose employees when they are needed for work.

 

Sen. Gillibrand’s family leave legislation never received a hearing in the Senate when she introduced it in the previous session of Congress.

 

Do you think the federal government should impose a tax on employees and employers to pay for a federal paid family leave program?

Congress Takes Aim at Google

As the lame duck Congress moves towards adjournment, members of Congress still have many unfinished issues. Grilling Google is one of them.

 

Lawmakers have concerns about a variety of issues, ranging from how Google treats conservatives to the company’s privacy protections, and they aired them at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) chaired this hearing, which featured Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

 

There have been repeated complaints from President Trump and Republican elected officials that Google discriminates against conservative voices. This hearing offered Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues an opportunity to air these concerns and Pichai to respond. “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai testified. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”

 

Google is also under fire for a recent security breach that affected over 50 million users. In addition, the company is working with China to develop a search engine that complies with that country’s censorship. Both of these issues are troubling for some lawmakers.

 

This hearing was an opportunity for members of Congress to air their grievances against Google. What steps they may take in response is unclear, however. Some have floated the idea of treating social media companies like public utilities, subject to strict government rules on how they operate. Others have called for investigations.

 

When the new Congress convenes in January, there will likely be multiple bills filed that deal in some way with the issues raised in today’s hearing.

 

Do you think that the federal government should impose more regulations on Google and social media companies?

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