President Obama signed the SMACNA-endorsed six-year reauthorization of the “Terrorism Risk Insurance Act” (TRIA) (Public Law 114-1). It ended a tortured Congressional negotiation process that saw the TRIA legislation expire at the end of the year as the 113th Congress came to a close.
SMACNA, construction, labor, and contractor allies joined a coalition to advocate enthusiastically for the program, which allows for the federal government to pay businesses after catastrophic terrorist attacks exceeding $200 million in damage.
For the SMACNA HVAC, sheet metal, and commercial-industrial construction industry, TRIA’s passage and extension was a major victory after an uncertain legislative process. SMACNA praised Congress and the President for cooperating to extend the legislation. It was a rare bipartisan House and Senate vote, indicating the program’s value to preserve economic certainty and provide economic resiliency in the face of a catastrophic event.
Pension Reform: Staff is already engaged in discussions on both the House and Senate side to discuss the next stage of pension reform, including new plan design. The discussions also center on the additional funding needed for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and the potential for another increase in the PBGC premiums and any negative effect on contractors or plans.
Davis-Bacon/Project Labor Agreements: SMACNA is meeting with some of the new Republican members of Congress and their staffs to discuss labor-management and other issues from the union contractor perspective before issues get to a floor or committee vote. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has introduced “The Government Neutrality in Contracting Act” (S. 71) to prohibit Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Currently the legislation, which SMACNA has opposed in past sessions of Congress, has no cosponsors.
Energy Efficiency: The SMACNA endorsed “Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015” (S. 128) has been adopted as an amendment to legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline. The legislation, which Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) authored with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), would establish a voluntary, market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption, would boost energy efficient “benchmarking” to require federally-leased buildings without Energy Star labels benchmarks, and disclose their energy usage data and meet minimum standards of efficiency.
These provisions passed the U.S. House last Congress with overwhelming support but were blocked by parliamentary maneuvers as Congress adjourned, so it did not become law. The legislation also passed the Senate. President Obama has said he will veto the bill if it does come to his desk.
Currently the controversial pipeline is tied up in legal and environmental disputes in Nebraska and in the State Department review. In the coming weeks, Portman and Shaheen will also reintroduce their comprehensive and SMACNA endorsed energy efficiency legislation, “The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC).”
Tax Reform: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, have announced the formation of five policy working groups to develop comprehensive tax reform this Congress. The groups will begin to examine key tax code sections of importance to the construction industry. These working groups include: Individual Income Tax, Business Income Tax, Savings and Investment, International Tax, and Community Development and Infrastructure. Each group will be co-chaired by a Republican and a Democrat. SMACNA staff is scheduling meetings with these key players to provide an industry voice and role in this vital process.
The House Ways and Means Committee used working groups to develop their highly controversial GOP tax reform plan introduced the final days of the 113th Congress. New Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said House Republicans would use that work as the basis for their reform agenda should tax reform advance in the 114th Congress.