MN Hospitality Advocate

Minnesota Legislature Pace Slows

Posted in Elections, General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Lodging Issues, Resort Issues, Restaurant Issues, State Laws by hospitalityminnesota on April 14, 2010

The Minnesota legislature is in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Here’s the situation. State legislators facing a $900 Million budget shortfall have made cuts to achieve about 1/3 of the necessary savings. They are holding off on further action awaiting word on the impact locally of the federal health care insurance reform bill. The state is anticipated to receive some additional dollars as a result of changes in that legislation, but it’s unclear the full amount.

In addition, the party conventions are slated to take place in just a few weeks. Because so many current legislators in leadership are running for Governor, they are reluctant to take controversial stands on issues such as budget cuts prior to the nominating conventions. Much of the remainder of the session will depend on the outcome of the nominating process. We’ll be on top of it and keep you posted.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations and Hospitality Minnesota

Advertisements
Tagged with: , ,

Health Care Reform Isn’t Over Yet

Posted in Health Care Reform, Lodging Issues, Resort Issues, Restaurant Issues, Tourism Issues by hospitalityminnesota on March 24, 2010

While you might have thought the health care debate was over, it isn’t yet. Many potential steps remain before the final shape of this legislation is determined and its changes take effect. Today, the President signed the Senate-passed (and now House-passed) health bill into law. We now turn our full attention back to the Senate where Senators will begin tangling over the “fixer” or “reconciliation” bill (also passed by the House Sunday evening).

There are many concerns we have for the reconciliation bill, but below are some of the more troubling provisions for employers:

1. Employer mandate: The penalty for the “free rider” increases from $750 per employee to $2000 per employee if you don’t offer insurance for more than 50 employees. If you do offer insurance, but the employee share of premiums is “unaffordable” (greater than 9.5% of income), and that employee goes into the exchange and receives a tax credit, your fine is $3000 per employee!!

2. For the first time, it uses part-time employees when calculating how many full time employees for that determination of “over 50 employees”. The senate bill was silent on part-time workers.

3. A new 3.8% “Medicare” tax on non-wage income would be placed on high earners, income from interest, dividends, capital gains, and some profits from investments in partnerships and S-corporations. The revenues from the tax on unearned income would be credited to the Supplemental Medical Insurance trust fund. If the unearned income tax-and other proposed tax hikes on high-income individuals included in the President’s FY 2011 budget-become law, a high-income taxpayer could have an effective tax rate on capital gains and qualified dividends of 23.8 percent. Significantly, however, the effective tax rate on nonqualified dividends would be 43.4 percent.

4. The Cadillac tax on “high value” health plans is delayed from 2013 to 2018 – but it will now be only indexed to CPI inflation (Senate bill was CPI+1%). Since medical inflation is so much higher than CPI, this will, without a doubt, become the next Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and catch more and more plans every year.

5.  While stating they have removed the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the reconciliation bill also leaves in place special deals for Louisiana, Connecticut, the frontier states, and others, while adding in new special deals for states like Tennessee.

If the Senate makes any changes at all to the reconciliation package, it will have to go back to the House for yet another vote before going to the President for his signature.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations and Hospitality Minnesota

Health Care Reform Up in Air

Posted in General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Restaurant Issues by hospitalityminnesota on January 21, 2010

Facts on the MA Special Election

Massachusetts voters yesterday elected Republican candidate Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate by a 52%-47% margin.  The election results will be certified within 10-15 days.  According to Massachusetts law, election officials are provided with time to certify vote totals and count absentee ballots (due January 29th).  When the vote count is complete, the results will be presented to the Governor for certification, and the certification papers will be sent to the U.S. Senate.

Options for Health Care Reform

When Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, the Governor of Massachusetts appointed a Democrat to hold the seat until a special election was held.  This gave Democrats a 60-vote coalition in the Senate.  Sixty votes allows the majority to override any attempted filibuster. Last night, with the election of Republican Scott Brown, the partisan balance shifted from 60-40 to 59-41 – no longer providing Democrats the ability to override a filibuster once Senator Brown is seated.

Lacking the 60 votes necessary to override a filibuster attempt, Democratic leaders are considering several options to pass health care reform legislation:

  • The House could pass the Senate bill and send it to the President; this seems highly unlikely given public statements by many legislators today.
  • The House could approve the Senate version and also pass a “corrections” bill which could be considered under reconciliation – a process that requires only a simple majority of votes in the Senate.
  • House and Senate Democratic leaders could schedule a vote of a compromise bill before Scott Brown is sworn in while they still hold a 60-40 majority. This approach has garnered criticism from officials in both parties.
  • A scaled-back version of health care legislation could be advanced as a new bill or in reconciliation, which could take weeks or even months to develop.

What Does This Mean for Our Issues?

We will monitor the Congressional strategy as it evolves, but assuming momentum for a bill continues, we will press for the inclusion of the below items:

  • a part-time worker exemption,
  • the most robust exception for small businesses we can achieve,
  • a penalty-free waiting period for new employees to gain health coverage of at least 60 days,
  • a full-time worker definition based on hours worked in a quarter rather than a week, and
  • a provision to allow larger restaurant companies to offer a uniform health benefits package across state lines (ERISA).

Menu Labeling: in addition to pursuing its inclusion in health care reform legislation, we have been exploring other legislative vehicles for enactment, if that becomes necessary.

For more information about our key legislative issues, visit our website at www.hospitalitymn.org. If you are seeking travel or dining opportunities in Minnesota, visit our consumer site at www.hospitalitymn.com

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations

Association Designs Allergen Poster

Posted in City Council, General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Restaurant Issues by hospitalityminnesota on December 20, 2009

After months of negotiations, the St. Paul City Council passed a food allergy ordinance requiring every foodservice establishment in the city to display a poster regarding allergens. The Minnesota Restaurant Association and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a coalition that negotiated throughout the process on behalf of the industry. After pushing back an Allergen Information Handbook and an Allergen Action Plan, we agreed on a poster as long as we could have substantial say as to its content. The ordinance as passed called for the poster to be determined by the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections.

WE DESIGNED THE POSTER
Because of our extensive involvement in the process, we ultimately designed the poster in cooperation with the Association of Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Minnesota and the St. Paul Area Chamber. Through these efforts, the poster enhances awareness of the most common allergens and cross-contact, but does not increase restaurant liability.

While we modeled the poster on one developed by the national organization Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and a flier created by the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota (AFAA), we worked with AFAA to remove imperative language that we felt would increase restaurant liability. The poster now includes pictures of the eight major U.S. allergens and common items (cutting boards, utensils, etc.) that can cause cross-contact with allergens.  It is available for free download here.

GREAT PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPED
Once we gained the support of the council to create the poster, the process was swift and was absent of contention, since all parties agreed to the poster’s content. This was in contrast to earlier stages of the political process when we had concerns about poster language that could be construed to increase liability for restaurants.

“Thanks to the work of AFAA, we were able to show how seemingly at-odds organizations can work together on a solution that meets everyone’s needs,” said Molly Grove of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.  “Everyone came to the table ready to solve the problem, making this a very good experience for us all.”

VOLUNTARY ORDINANCE ALSO PASSED
The second ordinance, which passed 5-1 provides a 7% license fee discount for restaurants that view a training video provided by the City, and develop in-house procedures when an allergic customer orders food. Although we did not oppose this ordinance, we indicated that few restaurants would engage and wanted to go on record with concerns that the voluntary program could some day become mandatory.

INDUSTRY EFFORT UNDER WAY
We agreed during the process that allergens are a serious issue in the industry (the new FDA model food code just released in early November has a great deal more about allergens and more inclusion in the Certified Food Manager curriculum is anticipated). We also suggested that we would most support a voluntary effort to educate the industry on the issue. While we did eventually agree to this limited poster mandate, we also remain committed to voluntary efforts to raise the level of awareness in the industry.

Our plan now is to make this poster available to restaurants across the state through our publications and communications and the many entities we work with, such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Health Departments, Chambers of Commerce, AFAA and foodservice distributors. In addition, we will be talking to food safety instructors about incorporating the poster and information in their Certified Food Manager training and re-certification training.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations

Democratic House Leadership Releases Health Care Bill

Posted in General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Lodging Issues, Restaurant Issues, Uncategorized by hospitalityminnesota on October 31, 2009

House Democratic leadership released its new version of health care reform Thursday, with debate to begin on the House floor next week. A vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) is possible next Friday, Nov. 6, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has also advised representatives that votes could be possible on Nov. 7, 9 and 10.

The National Restaurant Association remains focused on a small business exemption, part-time worker exclusion, protection of ERISA, a 90-day grace period for new hires, as well as a favorable modification of the definition of a “full-time employee” from someone who works more than 30 hours per week on average, to someone who works more than 390 hours in a calendar quarter (13 weeks). We have developed a summary analysis of the new House bill which provides further information on these areas of focus.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent a public option provision to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring this week. It will take at least another week before he will receive a response and be prepared to release the Senate text. Leader Reid does not yet have 60 votes for a bill and conversations continue with moderate Democrats about the bill.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations