Policy Matters – Government Relations

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ASTM moves toward a broader tip-over standard

A voluntary safety standard meant to prevent accidental tip-overs may cover more furniture soon.

The ASTM International’s Furniture Safety Subcommittee recently recommended that safety standards should apply to furniture clothing storage units 27 inches high and taller, a drop from 30 inches. The proposal next must be considered by the organization’s larger Consumer Products Committee when it meets on March 11. If it accepts the recommendation, any objections would have to be addressed by the subcommittee in May before the new standard could be finalized.

ASTM International was formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. It publishes thousands of voluntary safety standards for products, systems and services used around the world.

The Home Furnishings Association supports the voluntary furniture stability standards, which were first adopted in 2000, as well as an awareness campaign by the Consumer Products Safety Commission called Anchor It!

Webinars will help explain new formaldehyde regulations

Two federal agencies are offering webinars to explain new requirements for imported composite wood products and component parts and finished goods that contain formaldehyde.

The one-hour webinars are scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time on Feb. 26 and March 6. Participants should register for the Feb. 26 webinar at here and for the March 6 webinar here. They are offered by the Environmental Protection Agency and Customs and Border Protection.

One portion of the webinar will discuss general rule requirements for importers of regulated composite wood products and component parts/finished goods, for which the compliance date began on June 1, 2018. Another portion of the webinar will discuss the TSCA Section 13 import certification requirements, which go into effect on March 22. These two webinars are intended for importers, import brokers and other interested TSCA Title VI regulated stakeholders who may import products into the customs territory of the U.S. that are, or contain, TSCA Title VI regulated composite wood products. The webinars will also include time for questions and answers at the end of the presentation with staff from the EPA and Customs and Border Protection.

The final rule and guidance materials can be found here. If you have any questions about the formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products regulatory program, please contact Todd Coleman at coleman.todd@epa.gov or (202) 564-1208. 

Sen. Doug Jones

Error in tax-cut bill could harm HFA members

Sen. Doug Jones (above), the Democrat who upset Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s 2017 special election, didn’t take his seat in time to vote for or against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. But he does want to fix it.

There have been plenty of political arguments about the effect of the tax cuts, Republicans’ signature legislative accomplishment during the Trump administration. But there’s no dispute about a provision that all but wiped out a tax break for businesses like furniture retailers that expand or renovate their property:

It was a screw-up.

The bill writers meant to create a better depreciation allowance. Instead, a drafting error changed the language to make it worse. As a result, the recovery period for a normal business expense was extended from 15 years to 39 years, far beyond the reasonable life of any business improvement.

The inadvertent change makes it much less feasible for a furniture retailer to renovate his or her showroom, warehouse or distribution center, which discourages growth, employment and other economic benefits – just the opposite of what was intended.

You can read a good overview on this snafu here.

So, a “technical correction” bill was written last year to fix this and other flaws in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In all the end-of-year chaos of the government shutdown, however, the corrections didn’t pass.

Well, it should be easy to try again this year, right?

“Should be,” maybe. But we’re talking about Washington, D.C., with more than the usual level of dysfunction and partisan warfare.

Democrats now control one-half of Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives. They opposed the tax cuts bill in the first place, and some of them look at this problem as one that’s owned by the Republicans. They have little interest in helping the Republicans fix it.

Petty? You bet. The Democrats should be ashamed. For the sake of partisan advantage, they may not address an issue that could mean a lot to small businesses in the districts they represent.

On the other hand, there’s no arguing the fact that the Republicans had an entire year to deal with this error and didn’t. Why not? Some observers say they didn’t want to acknowledge such a stupid blunder, let alone make it right.

Well, whatever the explanation, the problem remains. The question is whether anyone can rise above partisan politics and do something about it.

Which brings me back to Jones, a Democrat who represents a very conservative, and normally Republican, state. He aims to introduce a bill in the Senate to correct the error and is trying to enlist a few fellow Democrats to sign on. Several are needed, because a Senate bill must get 60 votes to clear a preliminary hurdle and earn a final vote on the floor.

This is a matter of real importance for Home Furnishings Association members, so the HFA has joined a coalition of business groups pressing for a correction. The coalition has targeted several moderate Democratic senators and is organizing lobbying efforts to urge them to support Jones’ bill when it emerges. They include Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Gary Peters of Michigan, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Angus King of Maine (who’s technically an independent).

So far, word within the coalition is that Manchin and King will support Jones’ bill. Others may be favorably inclined as well.

It’s pretty much assumed that all GOP senators would favor the bill, which Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania likely will co-sponsor with Jones.

The HFA’s Government Relations Action Team will ask HFA members in key states to call on their senators and urge their support. If a bill can pass the Senate, maybe it will have a chance to advance in the House – although some Democrats there indicate they likely would attach it to something that would be unpopular among Republicans. Darn politics!

This is the sort of government-relations work the HFA does on behalf of members. I am privileged to serve as the staff liaison for the GRAT, working with our Washington lobbyists at Dutko GR.

We are planning our annual Washington Fly-in, which will be May 13-15, and we hope to see some of the important players on this issue while we’re there. If you’d like to go, please give me a call or shoot me an email.

It’s a shame that it’s become so difficult to get even simple, beneficial things done in Washington, but we can’t accomplish anything if we don’t try. Your participation, and your voice, can only make us stronger and more effective.

Doug Clark is content manager and government-relations staff liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org. For more on government relations, go to the Policy Matters blog and read government relations articles in RetailerNOW.

Ann Marie Buerkle

President re-nominates Buerkle to chair CPSC

President Donald Trump in January re-nominated Ann Marie Buerkle to serve as chair of the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Buerkle, a former member of Congress from New York State, has served on the CPSC since 2013 and has been acting chair since February 2017. Later that year, Trump formally nominated her for that post, but the Senate never acted to confirm her.

“The business community has been very supportive of Ms. Buerkle’s nomination,” the National Law Review reported Jan. 24. “As Acting Chair, Buerkle has worked hard to secure funding for the agency and has shown a relatively light hand in making policy and personnel changes. She has also repeatedly stated her interest in working collaboratively with all stakeholders to advance consumer product safety. Acting Chair Buerkle has voiced a strong preference for voluntary over mandatory standards, which the business community sees as a more flexible and adaptable approach.”

One area where the CPSC has shown a preference for voluntary safety standards is furniture stability. ASTM, formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials, publishes standards to reduce the risk of tip-over accidents, and it is in the process of considering changes that would extend the standards to more home furnishings products.

In a statement to the Home Furnishings Association in December 2018, Buerkle said: “Furniture tip-over prevention is a critical safety issue, and I strongly support the voluntary standards activities underway to address this ‘hidden’ hazard. I very much look forward to hearing more of the standard’s development, including clothing storage units 30 inches and under. While this important work is underway, I urge consumers to visit AnchorIt.gov and Anchor It! Tip-overs are preventable by properly attaching or anchoring TVs, dressers and other furniture to a wall.”

HFA strongly supports the voluntary standards and CPSC’s Anchor It! campaign. HFA encourages furniture retailers to offer products that meet the voluntary safety standards.

The CPSC staff in October released a report attributing 542 deaths to furniture, television and appliance tip-over in the United States from 2000 through 2017. More than 80 percent of the victims were 14 years old or younger. Most of those incidents involved televisions or televisions and furniture, such as a television placed on top of a chest, bureau or dresser. Thirty percent, or 165 deaths, involved only furniture.

Buerkle was a registered nurse before earning a law degree from Syracuse University. She was an assistant New York attorney general until her election to Congress in 2010.

Trump nominated her to a seven-year term on the CPSC, but she’ll have to step down later his year if she isn’t confirmed by the Senate.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

California employers must provide sexual harassment training in 2019

The clock is ticking for most California employers to provide sexual harassment training for employees.

The Golden State enacted several new laws covering sexual harassment in the workplace during 2018. The most sweeping requires businesses with five or more employees to conduct at least two hours of training for supervisors before Jan. 1, 2020, and at least one hour for other workers. This training subsequently must be administered for new hires within six months of their starting date and must be renewed every two years for all employees.

The law, SB 1343, specifies “classroom or other effective interactive training and education.” Employees must be given definitions and examples of sexual harassment and informed about steps they can take to report it.

The law directs California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing to provide online training. Attorneys, human resources specialists and other professionals trained in sexual harassment also can offer the required training.