Legislative Landscape U.S. August 2020

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Sponsored by: West Texas National Bank 

This is Eric Wareham, Vice President of Government Affairs for WEDA. In this episode of the Legislative Landscape podcast we are discussing the fate of the federal phase IV relief package, the federal Trade Commission potentially looking into right to repair specifically for farm equipment, and the reinvigorated scrutiny being placed on sales tax exemptions across states.

The election is now a little more than two months out and the narrative in Washington is changing by the minute. In last month’s podcast we discussed breaking news about the phase IV relief bill introduced by the Senate and broke down some of the topline provisions contained in the bill that seemed fast tracked for passage. Thirty days later, Congress has recessed without sending a relief package to the President and the House reconvened briefly to pass a funding bill for the postal service, proving that in an election year the unexpected becomes the expectation.

Democrats and Republicans remain divided on the size and scope of another relief package with each chamber of Congress having passed their own versions of a phase IV relief package. It remains to be seen whether the two sides will pass something before the election fast approaching, though the prospects appear to be diminishing by the day. One reason the logjam may break is the cutoff of increased unemployment benefits. The President has diverted FEMA disaster money to provide $300 per week to the unemployed for states that apply. As of now, thirty-two states have applied for the Lost Wages Assistance FEMA program and only two states have started paying the additional unemployment, those states being Texas and Arizona. The program is temporary and will last at least three weeks and continue until the $44 billion in diverted storm disaster money from FEMA runs out. Congress will have to take action before then to allocate more money for states that are seeing their unemployment insurance trust funds quickly being depleted to zero, otherwise unemployment assistance may run out.

We now turn to our Right to Repair roundup where Senator Tester from Montana is making a push for the Federal Trade Commission to examine right to repair particularly for agriculture. After a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Senator Tester wrote a letter to the FTC requesting the agency look into right to repair for farm equipment, stating:

“Right now, dealer-certified shops have a corner on the market for tractor repairs, hurting the ability of both the farmer and local repair shops to fix equipment in the field.”

His letter also said that a right to repair policy should be carefully crafted to not be overly broad, but included access to software in his definition of what right to repair is. Senator Tester is from Big Sandy, Montana and runs a family farm there, making him the only farmer in the US Senate. WEDA will be closely monitoring developments at the FTC and working with Senator Tester and his staff on this issue.

To round out this episode we take a look at state governments where there is growing concern about the level of budget deficits states will need to address in 2021. Many states are already gearing up for budget talks by directing state agencies to conduct analysis of all tax exemptions. One example of this is in Idaho where the state Office of Performance Evaluations is currently undertaking an examination of all tax exemptions, including sales tax exemptions for farm equipment. Texas recently completed a similar study in preparation for the 2021 session. This is worrisome given that in past years when times have been good, states like Kansas and Oklahoma have already threatened to eliminate sales tax exemptions for farm equipment and could have been successful if not for strong advocacy efforts from WEDA and its members. We will certainly be watching closely as states clamor to find revenue to backfill deficits in the coming year.

Thanks for listening and enjoy the remainder of summer!


Podcast Host Eric Wareham

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