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Legislators Look at Homesharing

 

Have you ever used an app like Airbnb to rent a room for a night? Or have you used the app to rent out your house when you were away on vacation?

 

Americans are increasingly turning to Airbnb and other homesharing platforms for short-term rentals, and government officials are starting to notice this trend. While in most places home sharing is largely unregulated, there are efforts across the country to impose new rules on this practice. Many of these regulatory efforts are coming from local government officials.

 

Proponents of regulation contend that homesharing through apps deprives consumers of government oversight to ensure quality. It also deprives states or local governments of room rental fees. Opponents of regulation counter that consumers determine the quality of the rental unit and that government has no business prohibiting people from renting their homes out for a night or two.

 

These are several proposals about homesharing that state legislators could be debating this year:

 

Virginia: a bill in this state would allow local governments to ban short-term (fewer than 30 days) rentals. If local governments allowed these rentals, the homeowner would have to notify neighbors, seek permission from the local government, pay taxes on room rentals, and carry $500,000 in insurance.

 

Massachusetts: separate legislation is being considered in the Bay State to regulate short-term rentals. One bill would separate rental-unit owners into separate categories depending on how often they rent rooms and tax them at different rates. Those renting rooms would face state inspections and insurance requirements. Local governments could also impose additional restrictions on rentals. Another bill, backed by Gov. Charlie Baker, would impose taxes on individuals who rent out rooms for more than 150 days a year.

 

Indiana: under legislation approved unanimously by a House committee, local governments would be prohibited from imposing restrictions on short-term rental units as long as the owners rent them out fewer than 180 days a year.

 

Idaho: legislators will consider a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning short-term rentals, or restricting them from certain neighborhoods. These rentals would still be subject to local rules regarding the fire code, nuisances, and noise.

 

Florida: legislators in Florida will also consider a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning short-term rentals. This legislation would pre-empt the bans that are already in place in some Florida towns and prevent future actions by cities or counties.

 

Do you think that states should impose stricter regulations on renting through Airbnb? Or do you support state laws that prevent local governments from banning short-term rentals?

 

Missouri House Bill 91: Adopt a "Right to Work" Law

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Missouri, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your legislators voted.

 

House Bill 91, Adopt a "right to work" law: Passed 100 to 59 in the state House on January 16, 2017

 

To prohibit employers from requiring employees to join or financially support a labor union as a condition of employment.

 

Right-to-Work Laws Likely to Expand in 2017

While there wasn’t much attention paid to labor issues in the 2016 race, voters in a handful of states decided contests that could have a big impact on union membership.

 

These measures mainly involved right-to-work statutes, which ban contracts that force workers to pay labor organizations for representation. Two states voted on placing right-to-work provisions in their state constitutions. Alabama voters approved their state’s measure by 70%, while 54% of Virginia voters rejected their state ballot question (Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who had expresses support for right-to-work previously, campaigned against the measure). With both Alabama and Virginia already states that have right-to-work legislation on the books, the success or failure of these measures do not change anything for workers. The move to put them in the state constitution was simply an effort to give right-to-work a stronger status as state law.

 

South Dakota voters also faced a ballot measure that was related to union membership. Eighty percent of the state’s voters rejected Measure 23, which would have allowed unions to charge non-union workers a fee for representation.

 

These ballot measures were not the only election results that affected right-to-work laws. Because of changes in which party controls the governorship or state legislature, three states could enact right-to-work laws in 2017:

 

Kentucky – prior to the 2016 election, Kentucky’s governor and state senate supported right-to-work legislation. The state’s voters gave Republicans control of the other chamber of the state legislature, so that means it is likely that Kentucky will see a successful push to enact a right-to-work law in 2017.

 

Missouri – legislators in Missouri have passed right-to-work legislation, but Governor Jay Nixon vetoed it. With the election of Republican Eric Greitens, however, there is a clear path to enacting right-to-work in 2017.

 

New Hampshire – similar to Missouri, legislative attempts to enact right-to-work in New Hampshire have been blocked in recent years by a Democratic governor. The state’s voters chose Republican Chris Sununu to be governor in 2017, however, which means likely success for a right-to-work bill.

 

Do you think that these states should enact right-to-work laws?

Right to Work in the States

Should workers be compelled to pay a union as a condition of employment?

That is the question at the heart of the debate over “right to work” laws. The federal government enacted legislation in 1947 allowing states to prohibit employment contracts that mandate employees join or pay an agency fee to a union. As of 2016, there are 26 states with such laws.

 

Proponents of right to work laws say they are necessary to stop coerced unionization. They contend that people should be free to take a job without being forced into paying a labor organization with which they disagree. Opponents of the concept say that unions bargain for benefits and pay increases that go to all workers, so it is unfair to have only some workers join.

 

Legislators and governors are the ones who ultimately decide whether a state is a right to work state or not. There has been some action in recent years to enact such laws:

 

Wisconsin – Legislators passed a right to work bill in Wisconsin in early 2015, with Governor Scott Walker signing it into law in March. A state judge invalidated the legislation in April 2016, but that ruling was overturned. As of now, Wisconsin’s right to work law is in effect, but legal challenges to it continue.

 

West Virginia – In February 2016, West Virginia’s Republican legislature passed a right to work bill that Democratic Governor Earl Tomblin vetoed. The legislature overrode Tomblin’s veto, and the bill became law. Much like in Wisconsin, there have been legal challenges to the law. In West Virginia, however, the law is on hold until the legal issues are resolved.

 

Virginia - the legislative effort around right to work took a different form in Virginia, which has been a right to work state since 1947. In the 2015 and 2016 sessions, legislators approved a measure to place a question before voters on whether they want to see right to work placed in the state constitution. Proponents of this measure said that it was necessary to ensure that it would be immune from future legislative repeal. Having this as a constitutional amendment would also foreclose the possibility that the attorney general could refuse to defend it in court. Opponents contended that it was unnecessary because right to work was already state law.

 

Legislators have also introduced right to work bills in other states, but West Virginia is the last state to enact such a law. In Pennsylvania, legislators introduced a set of bills that would make the commonwealth a right to work state, but none has advanced through committee. There have been efforts in Ohio to enact a right to work law, but Governor John Kasich has said that he wasn’t focused on this issue. In that state, one of the bills would allow government workers to opt out of a union, but would not apply to private sector workers.

 

The recent trend has been for one or two states to enact right to work laws every few years. There have been no successful efforts to repeal these laws once they are in place. It is likely that we will see the number of right to work states edge up towards 30 before the end of the decade.

 

Depending on how you stand on labor issues, this is either an advance for worker freedom or a blow to workers’ rights. What do you think about right to work laws?

*Updated 12/13/16: A previous version mistakenly used "join" instead of "pay"

 

Should Virginia’s Constitution Protect Right to Work?

 

Election Day is fast approaching, and Virginians are being asked to vote on a variety of offices and measures. One of those measures would enshrine in the state constitution the prohibition on mandating union membership as a condition of employment.

 

This provision, known as “right to work,” is already state law, so approval of this ballot measure would not change business practices in the commonwealth. However, if placed in the state constitution this measure could not be overturned by legislators in the future. Rep. Richard Bell, who sponsored the bill to put this question to a vote, said it is important to give the right to work constitutional protection. According to him, “we are protecting it from the whims of the legislature and thus ensuring it can remain in place for generations to come.”

 

Others, such as Senator George Barkers, disagreed, saying, “This amendment is downright unnecessary. Right to work laws have been on the books in Virginia for over 70 years. It is ironic that Republicans frequently accuse Democrats of government overreach, and yet they feel it appropriate to reflect in the Constitution something that has been practice for so long.”

 

If approved by voters, this section would be added to Virginia’s constitution:

 

“Any agreement or combination between any employer and any labor union or labor organization whereby nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, or whereby such membership is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or whereby any such union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any enterprise, is against public policy and constitutes an illegal combination or conspiracy and is void.”

 

The first resolution to place the measure on the ballot passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 64-29 and the Senate by a vote of 21-17. However, legislators must pass resolutions in two successive years to place a question on the ballot. The final resolution to do so passed the Senate by a vote of 21-19 and the House of Delegates by a vote of 64-34.

 

Do you support amending the state constitution to ban mandatory union contracts?

Do Banking Regulations Need Reform?

 

In the wake of the Wells Fargo scandal, banking regulation has become a top issue in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. Senator Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, plays a large role in setting the rules governing how banks handle our money and overseeing regulations on banks. His challenger, Katie McGinty, has been denouncing the senator’s actions in these areas.

 

One of the key points of disagreement is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency established by the Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the Great Recession. According to McGinty, “Toomey has been working overtime to bust not the banks but the protection bureau. I think those priorities are a little upside-down, and I don't think we're going to take it anymore.”

 

The basis for this attack is Senator Toomey’s support for changing the way the CFPB operates. He has backed amendments and legislation that would change the funding mechanism for the agency. Currently, the CFPB receives funding through an independent account in the Federal Reserve. Other federal agencies are funded through the appropriations process, whereby Congress and the president allocate money on a yearly basis for their operations. The CFPB is exempt from this process, and Congress has no authority to review the budget set by the CFPB’s director.

 

Senator Toomey would like the CFPB to be treated like any other federal agency – Congress and the president set the agency’s budget. The Heritage Foundation points out that “the bureau’s independence from congressional appropriations or budgetary review prevents Congress from exercising its key means of oversight: the power of the purse.”  Critics of congressional control of agency funding say that this is a means to weaken the agency: “This would not only give Republicans an opportunity to slash the bureau's funding, but to leverage its budgeting control to pressure the agency against cracking down on lenders.”

 

The structure of the CFPB has also come under attack by Senator Toomey. He would like to replace the director of the agency with a bipartisan board to govern it.

 

As you may expect, Senator Toomey disagrees with McGinty’s characterization of the issue. He contends that his reform proposals will make the agency operate better. “The CFPB is completely unaccountable,” he said in 2015. “It is unique among enormously powerful regulators in having no accountability to Congress. It has exceeded its authority in part because it's not subject to congressional oversight. And it's frankly outrageous that they are able to operate with the budget that they have and with the latitude they have without having to come to Congress for this oversight.”

 

Do you agree with Sen. Toomey that the CFPB is in need of reform and should be overseen by Congress? Or is Katie McGinty right that these reform proposals are designed to weaken the agency?

The End of “Minimum Markup” in Wisconsin?

A Wisconsin law that mandates higher prices may be on its last legs.

At least, that’s what the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty hopes. They have filed suit to overturn the Unfair Sales Law, perhaps better known as the “minimum markup” law.

What does this law do? According to the MacIver Institute:

“The law requires that alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel are marked up 3 percent at the wholesale level, 6 percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco, and 9.18 percent at the retail level for motor fuel. It also forbids retailers from selling most other products below cost.”

In essence, this law forbids businesses from selling certain products at prices lower than what the state thinks is proper.

Proponents of the law claim that it helps small businesses fight off competition from bigger companies. Larger businesses, in their view, can offer discounts that their smaller competitors cannot, so the law is needed to ward off “unfair competition.”

Opponents of the law say that it hurts consumers, who are unable to benefit from lower prices that businesses may otherwise be willing to offer. The law, in their view, artificially drives up prices and protects entrenched businesses from competition.

Two bills that would have repealed this law, SB 371 and AB 452, failed to pass the legislature this year.

What do you think? Do small businesses need the state to protect them from price competition? Or should businesses be free to offer products at prices below a state-mandated minimum?

Sen. Mark Warner: How Brexit Threatens American Trade

According to Virginia Senator Mark Warner, “Regardless of the Brexit vote, global trade remains essential to America’s economic durability and leadership in the world.” But he also says that the government should do more to assist those negatively affected by trade. What do you think? Is global trade a net win for the U.S.?

http://time.com/4382313/brexit-american-trade/

 

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