As we approach the end of summer, here’s a look at just a few of the national policy matters related to fiscal deadlines, cybersecurity, patent reform, energy, and overtime rules that small business owners can expect to be discussed and examined in the coming months.
The first deadline awaiting action from policymakers will come on September 30, which is when Congress needs to pass a funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. A stop gap measure will likely be passed in the short-term to extend current funding levels. Come October, however, spending caps that were put in place to raise the nation’s debt ceiling will also be a big part of the discussion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that the United States will likely hit the $18.1 trillion debt limit by mid-November or early December.
Why does this matter if you own a small business? For starters, consumer confidence dropped drastically back in 2011 – as Congress allowed its debt ceiling debates to drag on until nearly the last minute – meaning Americans were less inclined to spend and businesses were less willing to hire.
Could a broader fiscal deal be struck to address these issues long-term?
Will Congress choose to renew the Export-Import Bank’s charter, a separate deadline that passed on June 30, or will they continue to kick the can down the road?
Stay up-to-date on small business priority issues like these by signing up today for a free electronic newsletter from the National Small Business Association (NSBA),
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) was introduced in the spring to help facilitate the exchange of cyber-threat information between the private sector and government. Supporters of the legislation say it would give small businesses extra legal protections and prevent adverse effects from threats. While many believe the threat of cyber attacks needs to be addressed immediately in this country, those opposed to this specific bill worry that it would create a flow of data on private citizens to government intelligence agencies.
The road to final legislative action on this topic is fuzzy, but one thing is certain: there are serious, growing concerns over cybersecurity issues and the burdens they pose to America’s small business owners. For example, NSBA’s Year-End Economic Report reported that half of the small businesses surveyed have been the victim of a cyber-attack (up from 44% in 2013). Of those, 61% say an attack had occurred within the last year. And, the cost of dealing with cyber attacks for small firms are at an average cost of $20,752 per attack, up from $8,699 two years ago.
Lawmakers have an opportunity move forward on establishing streamlined cybersecurity guidelines and protocols. Given the facts, COSE also believes Congress should take care not to place a disproportionate burden on our nation’s smallest firms.
Since passage of the America Invents Act in 2011, the U.S. has seen an increase in so-called patent trolls – those that do not come up with new products or ideas, but buy up patents, argue others infringe on those patents, and then threaten litigation (remember unsolicited fax scams in the 2000s?).
In response, some Congressional members had appeared to be moving closer to passing patent reform legislation that could actually worsen the system for America’s smallest inventors. Although both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have passed their respective and National Small Business Association-opposed bills, the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) and PATENT Act (S. 1137), neither bill has yet been voted on by either chamber in full. Opposition to these bills from small business and technology advocates has become more vocal and this legislation was pulled from the July vote schedule.
No clear timeline has been identified for Congress to revisit the patent issue, but two other pieces of legislation have been introduced which would address interference from patent trolls and not cause harm to individual inventors, the STRONG Patents Act (S. 632) and the TROL Act (H.R. 2045). These alternatives would improve the current patenting system by limiting abusive demand letters and ensuring small patentees can protect their intellectual property.
Contact your lawmakers today and urge them to support S. 632 and H.R. 2045.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan climate rule for power plants, which was made final in early August, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s electricity sector by forcing power plants to cut their carbon emissions 32% by 2030. The directive requires states to develop and implement plans that ensure the power plants in their state – either individually, together or in combination with other measures – achieve the interim CO2 emissions performance rates over the period of 2022 to 2029 and the final CO2 emission performance rates, rate-based goals or mass-based goals by 2030.
Ohio will have until September 2018 to create a plan, two years longer than last year’s proposal called for – that is, unless the courts rule otherwise. Craig Butler, director of the Ohio EPA, said in a recent statement that the President’s plan raises legal questions about the federal government’s authority under the Clean Air Act. Ohio and 14 other states have since asked the D.C. federal appeals court to block the U.S. EPA from putting its Clean Power Plan into place until the courts decide whether the U.S. EPA can legally force states to limit CO2.
The President has stated that his plan would allow the average household to save $85 a year on energy costs, while dramatically reducing the types of greenhouse-gas emissions that lead to harmful climate change. Opponents are concerned that the mandate would actually drive up electric costs for small business consumers. In addition, a study conducted by NERA Economic Consulting claims Ohio would see average annual electricity rates increase by 12% due to the rule.
COSE believes government initiatives, like the Clean Power Plan, must foster growth, minimize hardship on the businesses that drive our economy, and allow for flexible compliance that does not add to already burdensome rules or regulations for small business owners.
On July 6, the Administration proposed new overtime rules which would massively increase the salary threshold below which all employees must be paid overtime. Perhaps even more concerning, the Department of Labor (DOL) is seeking public comments on the so-called “duties test”, opening the door to changes to be adopted in a final rule.
Since the announcement of the proposed rule, COSE has heard from many of our members that they are very concerned about its impact on their operations and their HR policies. Small business employers are challenged for time – especially when you consider that they lack the kinds of policies, legal support, and HR staff that larger businesses enjoy. And, the current deadline for public comment on DOL’s proposal makes it challenging for small businesses to analyze the materials provided by the DOL in the rule’s publication and to make accurate assessments of the impact the proposed rule would have.
In light of the importance of the proposed rule COSE, along with our partners at the National Small Business Association (NSBA), have requested that DOL extend the public comment period for a minimum of 90 days.
Interested in learning more on this topic? On August 13, NSBA held an issue briefing teleconference to discuss the proposed overtime regulations; click here to download the podcast of this call. Tell us what you think today at firstname.lastname@example.org.