House Education & Workforce Committee
In passing the Every Student Succeeds Act last year, we took important steps to support and encourage greater school choice for students and their families. These reforms empower parents to do what’s best for their child’s education, and help ensure that all children are able to receive the excellent education they deserve—regardless of their family’s background, income, or zip code.
Helping students escape failing schools so they can pursue a brighter future is an important priority, and that’s exactly what the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program does for children in our nation’s capital.
For more than 10 years, the program has enabled thousands of students to pursue the quality education necessary to excel both in the classroom and later in life. And excel they do. In fact, last year, 90 percent of 12th graders who received a scholarship through the program graduated from high school, and nearly 90 percent of those students went on to pursue a college degree.
These are impressive results that speak volumes about the importance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. They’re also a big reason this program has long enjoyed bipartisan support. Sure, there are critics who argue these vulnerable children shouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue a better education. But, fortunately, a strong majority in Congress remains committed to supporting this program. This bill will renew that commitment to the students and families the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program serves.
The legislation also authorizes support for D.C. public schools and will provide critical resources for D.C. public charter schools. In my home state of Minnesota—the birthplace of charter schools—we have seen the many benefits of providing parents an alternative public school option that better meets their child’s needs. The bill will help the District of Columbia continue to do the same for its students.
Together, these measures will make a positive impact in the lives of students across the District and create much-needed education opportunities for children who might not otherwise have them. I’d say that is a very worthwhile investment. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.
Kline Statement: Markup of H.R. 4843, the Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act
Today, the committee will take an important step in preventing the abuse and neglect of infants born with opioid addiction. As we all know, an opioid epidemic has swept across the country. This epidemic is destroying communities; it is destroying families; it is destroying lives; and perhaps most tragically, it is destroying the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act has long provided grants to states to help prevent child abuse and neglect, as well as identify, assess, and treat the victims. In order to receive federal funding, states have to provide some basic assurances about their child welfare policies. For example, states have to assure there are policies in place to notify child protective services when a newborn is identified with the symptoms of illegal substance abuse, as well as policies for the development of a safe care plan for the newborn. Sadly, an unwillingness to follow and enforce the law is leading to tragic consequences.
In 2015, Reuters spent a year investigating cases of infants born to parents struggling with opioid addiction. As is often the case with addiction, the parents’ struggle had repercussions for those around them, including their newborns. According to Reuters, more than 130,000 babies born in the United States in the last decade entered the world addicted to drugs. That is a startling statistic on its own, but even more startling are the stories of those infants who, after suffering through the pain of withdrawal, later suffered deaths that should have been prevented.
Of the fatalities the report examined, more than 40 children died of suffocation. Thirteen others died after swallowing toxic doses of opioids. Some of the stories are simply too painful and disturbing to mention, and again, the saddest part of this all is that these tragedies should have been prevented.
Needless to say, this report raised a number of red flags. It prompted us to write to the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to better understand the process for reviewing and approving state applications for federal funds. It’s fair to say that the response we received was disappointing, suggesting that changes to the law somehow absolve the department from its enforcement responsibilities. Regardless of any changes to the law in recent years, it was never Congress’s intent to cut a blank check to states who fail to follow the law.
These parents and their children deserve better. Fortunately, efforts are underway to provide real help and hope to these families. Programs like Lily’s Place, an infant recovery center in West Virginia, are not only helping to wean children off of the drugs they are born addicted to, but also teaching mothers how to care for infants suffering through withdrawal. This is just one of a handful of similar programs across the country and an excellent example of the work being done to address the country’s growing opioid epidemic.
While these community efforts are vitally important, there are also steps we in Congress can take to help ensure these vulnerable women and children no longer slip through the cracks. The Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act is part of that effort.
This commonsense measure will require the Department of Health and Human Services to better ensure states are meeting current child welfare requirements. It makes clear the department’s responsibilities in confirming states have policies in place to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect, particularly infants exposed to illegal substances before birth. The bill also includes provisions that will improve accountability and help states develop plans to keep infants and their families healthy and safe. In short, it strengthens the current system and helps address a real, immediate need.
I want to thank Representatives Barletta and Clark for their leadership on this issue and for working together to deliver the bipartisan proposal under consideration today. I’m confident their work will be an important part of the House’s larger effort to combat the country’s growing opioid epidemic. Too many American families are struggling with the consequences of this national crisis, and it’s time we, as policymakers and as a nation, said, “Enough.”
Barletta Statement: Markup of H.R. 4843, Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act
Substance abuse is a problem that afflicts millions of Americans, and it is something that I consistently hear about when I am back home in Pennsylvania. While its damaging effects are felt across our society, the most tragic cases are those involving newborns. Children who are exposed to illegal substances before they’re born are helpless in avoiding the pain and suffering caused by addiction, and so many infants enter this world without even a fighting chance.In fact, every 25 minutes in this country, a baby is born having already been exposed to drugs and suffering from opioid withdrawal. These children will pay the price for something they had absolutely no control over—something they were defenseless against. That’s why it’s so important we do everything we can to prevent these heartbreaking situations and ensure all children have the protection and care they need. This priority is one that reaches across party lines, and it’s the reason we are here today.
Federal policies have long supported state efforts to identify, assess, and treat children who are victims of abuse and neglect. One of those policies is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA. Enacted in 1974, CAPTA provides states with resources to improve their child protective services systems—provided they assure the Department of Health and Human Services that they have put in place certain child welfare policies. Those policies include requiring health care providers to notify state child protective services agencies when a child is born with prenatal illegal substance exposure, as well as requiring the development of a “safe care plan” to protect these newborns and keep them and their caregivers healthy.
That’s unacceptable, and it’s why Representative Clark and I—along with a number of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle—introduced the bill before us today, the Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act. This proposal demands that HHS do better when it comes to enforcing policies meant to protect children from abuse and neglect. It requires the department to review and confirm states have put in place policies required by CAPTA; it strengthens protections for infants born with illegal substance exposure; and it improves accountability related to the care of those infants and their families. It also includes provisions to provide states with best practices for developing plans to keep infants and their caregivers healthy and safe and to encourage the use of information made available through other child welfare laws in verifying CAPTA compliance. Finally, the bill will prevent HHS from adding new requirements to state assurances and plans.
The substitute amendment I am offering today is the product of discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders to provide additional clarification and make technical changes to the underlying bill. These changes would clarify that the HHS secretary should provide states information on safe care plan requirements, that substance use disorder treatment needs should be considered as part of those plans, and that states should monitor their use. The amendment would also make it clear that the secretary cannot create new requirements for states under CAPTA and change the title of the bill to the Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act. I urge my colleagues to support the substitute, as well as the underlying legislation.
Roe Statement: Hearing on "The Persuader Rule: The Administration's Latest Attack on Employer Free Speech and Employee Free Choice"
I’d like to start by saying that we are now in the seventh year of the economic recovery—the slowest recovery in our nation’s history. Although we’ve made progress over the years, we have a long way to go for the economy to reach its full potential. Millions of Americans are still stuck in part-time jobs when what they really need is full-time work. Too many working families are struggling with stagnant wages, and the workforce participation rate is at its lowest point since the 1970s.
These are very real challenges facing middle-class families, and advancing responsible solutions to address them should be the top priority of this administration. Unfortunately, this administration has spent more time advancing the interests of Big Labor at the expense of American workers and employers, and the Department of Labor’s “persuader” rule is the latest example. This new regulatory scheme may boost union dues, but it will do absolutely nothing to boost our economy or expand opportunities for the middle-class.
Under the guise of promoting fair and democratic union elections, the persuader rule upends over half a century of labor policy by changing the interpretation of the well-established “advice exemption” of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. When it enacted the law in 1959, Congress wanted to ensure employers were able to receive basic legal advice on union-related matters in order to protect the ability of workers to hear from both sides of the debate. Now, over fifty years later, the administration is attempting to rewrite the law through executive fiat.
There are far-reaching consequences for this dramatic change in long-standing labor policy. First, this extreme and partisan rule will chill employer free speech. Union elections are complex matters, with a host of legal issues to navigate and understand. Many employers, acting in good faith, seek outside advice to ensure they’re in compliance with the law when communicating with their employees about union elections. But under the “persuader” rule, they’ll face onerous, costly, and invasive new requirements that will force them to report virtually all contact with advisors and undermine their ability to communicate with workers during union organizing campaigns. Adding insult to injury, union bosses remain exempt from the same requirements.
As the American Bar Association has expressed, this is an attack on the fundamental right of employers to seek legal counsel. We are fortunate to have Bill Robinson, former president of the American Bar Association, with us today to discuss this concern in more detail. It’s a concern shared by State Attorneys General across the country.
As is often the case with this administration’s flawed policies, small businesses will bear the brunt of the burden. Large businesses have teams of in-house attorneys to make sense of a confusing and complex set of labor rules. But small businesses don’t. With far fewer resources, small businesses will struggle to navigate the maze of federal labor rules and requirements. Some will become tied up in bureaucratic red tape and mistakenly run afoul of the law while trying to do what’s best for their employees.
But let me be clear. America’s workers will be hurt the most. Union elections aren’t just complex legal matters, they’re personal matters. The decision to join or not join a union is an important one that has a direct impact on the livelihood of millions of families—their paychecks, their benefits, and their work schedules. It’s critical that workers are able to hear from both sides and receive all the information they need to make a fully informed decision. But this rule will stifle debate and restrict worker free choice—with the sole purpose of stacking the deck in favor of organized labor.
As I alluded to earlier, the real shame in all of this is that the administration’s priorities are completely out of step with the needs of the American people. It’s time for the administration to focus on creating jobs and growing the economy instead of playing politics with the policies that shape our nation’s workforce. And with that, I yield to Ranking Member Polis for his opening remarks.
I would like to begin by thanking our colleague, Dr. Roe, for his leadership on this very important issue. Since 2011, he has served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. Throughout his service as chairman, he has helped lead the fight for responsible policies that would strengthen the retirement security of working families.
In fact, Dr. Roe has led our efforts to hold the Department of Labor accountable for its attempt to rewrite the rules governing investment advice. We have spent a lot of time in recent years focusing on this issue because it is vitally important to millions of low- and middle-income families; it is vitally important to our small business owners and the men and women they employ; and it is vitally important to the health and well-being of our nation’s future.
Since this regulatory process began roughly six years ago, we made it clear that we believe there should be greater protections for those investing and planning for retirement. We also made it clear that we would not support a regulatory regime that restricts access to affordable financial advice and makes it harder for working families to save for retirement. Unfortunately, that is precisely what we have today.
Despite the significant concerns of policymakers on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, the department charged ahead with an extreme, partisan regulation. The final rule does include some modest changes that will no doubt appease a few detractors, but make no mistake, the rule is still fundamentally flawed and harmful to those saving for their retirement.
The department’s final rule will still encourage frivolous litigation and drive up costs for those who can least afford it. The rule will still limit the educational information people with IRAs can receive. The rule will still hinder access to certain options individuals have to plan for their retirement. And the rule will still make it harder for small businesses to provide retirement options to their workers.
This has become ObamaCare for retirement planning: Dramatic change imposed on the lives of working Americans that will drive up the cost of retirement advice and force people to lose access to their trusted advisors. Regardless of the rhetoric we hear about the rule and why it’s necessary, it will be low- and middle-income families who are hit the hardest. The wealthiest Americans won’t feel a thing. They will continue to pay high-priced advisors to manage the details of their investments and retirement portfolios just like they did before this rule.
Wealthy Americans can afford to pay for this level of financial assistance, low- and middle-income families, on the other hand, cannot. As is often the case, the very men and women we want to protect will be hurt the most.
The fact that this all could have been avoided makes it even more unfortunate. There is broad, bipartisan agreement we need to strengthen protections for those saving for retirement. Republicans and Democrats even agree financial advisors should be required to serve their clients’ best interests. Again, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Roe, Congress has put forward a responsible, bipartisan alternative that would strengthen protections without hurting middle-class families and small businesses.
This bipartisan consensus should have been the basis for meaningful, responsible reforms. Instead, the administration took the old “my-way-or-the-highway” approach, in spite of the costs and consequences. That is why we are here today. Congress should not accept a flawed, partisan rule when there is a responsible, bipartisan alternative. More importantly, Congress should not stand by and allow a federal regulation to create this much havoc in the lives of the American people.
Since the department began its rulemaking in 2011, this committee has kept an open mind in the hopes that the department would get this right. Ultimately, our response to the final rule is based on a simple question: Will it make it easier or harder for working families to save for retirement? Because the final rule is too expansive, too complex, and too restrictive, there is little doubt that it will be a significant obstacle to the retirement security every family deserves.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution so we can block a harmful rule, keep working toward a responsible, bipartisan alternative, and protect hardworking men and women saving for retirement.
For years, we pointed to the serious consequences of the department’s fiduciary proposal. We warned the rule would make it harder for low- and middle-income families to save for retirement. We explained how it would restrict the ability of individuals to receive some of the most basic financial advice. We cautioned that it would create new hurdles for small businesses wanting to offer their workers retirement options. And we made a commitment—to families, small business owners, and all Americans trying to plan and save for the future—that we would not sit idly by while the administration advanced such a flawed proposal.
In fact, at the very first congressional hearing on the department’s proposed fiduciary rule in 2011, I said that we should never lose sight of the real world impact proposed changes could have on the investments and long-term retirement security of workers and retirees. I also said that we need to challenge any proposal that could make it harder for working families to plan and save for retirement. And that’s exactly what we have done.
Through letters, hearings, and other oversight efforts, we encouraged the department to withdraw its misguided proposal and go back to the drawing board. Eventually, they did—only to release a similarly flawed proposal last year. Since then, we have continued our efforts to draw attention to the consequences of the latest fiduciary proposal and encourage the department to pursue a balanced approach. We even advanced a responsible legislative alternative, which I was proud to introduce. Our bipartisan solution, unlike the department’s proposal, would both require financial advisors to act in the best interests of their clients and ensure low- and middle-income individuals have access to quality, affordable retirement advice.
Unfortunately, this time around, the department chose to ignore many of the serious, bipartisan concerns related to their proposed rule. Instead, they finalized a rule last month that will create consequences working families and job creators cannot afford.
That rule is the reason we’re here today—to make good on a promise we made years ago to do everything we can to ensure all Americans can retire with the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. Reasoning with the department simply hasn’t worked, so it’s time to utilize another tool in the box: the Congressional Review Act. This law allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to prevent, with the full force of the law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or issuing a substantially similar rule without congressional authorization. The resolution we are considering today is the next step in fulfilling our commitment to deliver the kind of retirement security this country needs.
We also agree that federal policies play a role in meeting that shared goal. This hearing is timely, because next week marks 45 years that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has helped keep America’s workers safe. As part of this committee’s oversight efforts, we were pleased to have Assistant Secretary Michaels join us last October to discuss what more can be done to promote safe and healthy working conditions.
The question before the committee then and today is whether the workplace rules and regulations coming out of Washington serve the best interests of employees and their employers. Are they practical, responsible, and fair? Are they created with transparency and enforced effectively?
These are important questions, because the strongest health and safety rules will do little to protect America’s workers if the rules are not followed and enforced—or if they’re too confusing and complex to even implement in the first place. I hope we can have a thoughtful discussion today that addresses these points, particularly as they relate to OSHA’s new silica standard.
In March, OSHA issued a final rule that significantly reduces the permissible exposure limit to crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common element found in the Earth’s crust, and a key component of manufactured products and construction materials. But exposure to high concentrations of silica dust can lead to a dangerous, debilitating—and even life-threatening—disease. We have witnessed important progress in recent years, but we know there’s more that can be done to keep workers out of harm’s way.
That is why this committee has pressed OSHA to use the tools at its disposal to enforce existing standards. Unfortunately, the agency has failed to do so.
OSHA itself admits that 30 percent of tested jobsites have not complied with the existing exposure limit for silica. This is an alarmingly high figure. But instead of enforcing the rules already on the books, the department spent significant time and resources crafting an entirely new regulatory regime.
The department’s first priority should have been enforcing existing standards. If OSHA is unable—or unwilling—to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?
Related to enforcement, some have raised concerns about whether the new standards can be responsibly enforced. It has been suggested that silica cannot be accurately measured at the reduced limit prescribed in the new rule, because many labs don’t have the technology necessary to provide reliable results. Will employers—acting in good faith and trying to do the right thing—be held accountable for an enforcement regime that isn’t feasible or practical?
These are important questions about enforcement, but there are also serious questions concerning implementation. Can these new rules be effectively implemented on the ground and under the timeframe prescribed by OSHA? Employers may lack the time and resources necessary to adjust their workplaces to the requirements of the new rule. Others may find new controls simply unworkable.
This is especially true for small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, this rule will cost workplaces more than $7 billion each year. These costs will be borne by consumers and taxpayers in the form of higher prices for homes, bridges, and roads. And these costs will be borne by workers in the form of fewer jobs. These are significant consequences for a rule that may do little to enhance worker health and safety.
We are fortunate to have a second-generation home builder and owner of a small family business with us who can speak more to this today. They will also speak to the fear of unintended safety consequences stemming from these new rules. In trying to address significant health and safety concerns, we must ensure federal policies do not in any way create new hazards in America’s workplaces.
Hundreds of thousands of workplaces nationwide will be impacted by these new rules. We owe it to our nation’s job creators to provide the clarity and certainty they need to expand, hire, and succeed. And, just as importantly, we owe it to workers and their families to promote smart, responsible regulatory policies that are implemented and enforced in a way that serves their best interests. The workers with us today—and those working on countless jobsites across the country—deserve more than our good intentions, they deserve good policies that lead to good results.
I know that we can work together to protect the health and well-being of the hardworking men and women of this country. I look forward to today’s discussion, and will now yield to Ranking Member Wilson for her opening remarks.
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The U.S. Department of Labor is preparing to release a rule, likely in the next 90 days, that would more than double the salary threshold at which workers are exempt from overtime requirements. In addition, the salary level would increase or decrease automatically over time. This would qualify an estimated additional 20 million workers nationwide for overtime pay. On the surface it’s hard to see why this proposed rule could be a bad thing.
As longtime advocates for human rights here in Minnesota, we applaud the intention of this rule. We also have serious concerns about its potential impact on already underfunded nonprofit and publicly funded agencies and organizations. Contrary to popular misconception, many nonprofits will not be exempt from this rule, and instead will be held to the same standard as large for-profit corporations. Unlike most businesses, we cannot adjust our pricing in order to cover these new expenses.
While we support raising wages for workers, it is important that the government recognizes the devastating impact that implementing this rule will have on nonprofits like Living Well Disability Services and all Minnesota providers of community-based services for people with disabilities. Living Well Disability Services provides essential services in people’s own home, their family’s home, or in group homes to allow people to live as independently as possible. These services by definition are to be less costly than institutional alternatives and are funded almost entirely by state and federal Medicaid dollars.
This public funding is essential and it creates unique constraints. Unlike many businesses, complying with this rule will not be as simple as adjusting the price of goods sold to cover increased staffing costs. The state establishes the rate that is paid for each unit of Home and Community Based Services and, with the county, determines how many hours of care will be provided. In Minnesota these service reimbursement rates have failed to keep up with inflation and there is no plan to increase funding commensurate with the costs created by this new rule.
If the salary threshold of this rule is implemented as proposed, Living Well Disability Services’ salary expense would increase by approximately 10 percent. This investment in wages would not address our priority to maximize the compensation of our lowest wage workers who provide exceptional direct services. These employees currently struggle to meet their basic needs on the wage supported by the reimbursement rate. In order to comply with the new rule and with no additional reimbursements, providers will be forced to make significant changes that would negatively impact our ability to effectively manage our workforce and provide quality services to the people we serve.
We urge Congress and the Department of Labor to balance the equally important priorities of ensuring adequate compensation for all workers with adequate funding necessary to comply with any revision to the overtime rule. If they do not, the rule will have significant unintended consequences and it will be the most vulnerable populations who may pay the price.
Roe Statement: Hearing on “Innovations in Health Care: Exploring Free-Market Solutions for a Healthy Workforce”
Our vision is clear: It’s time to modernize our health care system so we can empower every American with affordable coverage, provide more choice, promote quality care for all patients, and strengthen health care security for retirees. Finally, as we will discuss today, we want to encourage innovation and harness the power of new technologies in order to foster lower prices and better treatment for patients.
As a physician with more than 30 years of experience, I’ve personally seen the need for commonsense reforms to strengthen our health care system, a system that is too costly and bureaucratic. As an elected official, I constantly hear from families who are struggling to access the care they need or keep up with premiums that rise year after year.
Unfortunately, the president’s government takeover of health care is making these problems worse. Health care costs are going up, not down. Americans are seeing higher premiums and a lower quality of care. Families are losing access to the coverage they like and the doctors they trust. Small business owners are being forced to choose between providing costly, government-approved health insurance and hiring new workers, and they’re struggling to navigate a web of burdensome mandates and regulatory requirements.
The American people cannot afford this fundamentally flawed law, and that’s why House Republicans are determined to deliver meaningful reform. We have a responsibility to put our health care system on a better course—one that is patient-centered, not government-driven. As part of that effort, we need to understand the vital importance of employer-sponsored coverage—which insures roughly 155 million Americans—and take a closer look at what’s being done in the private sector to improve care.
Employers have played a critical role in driving health care innovation. Despite unprecedented uncertainty in the health insurance market and drastic changes in employer-sponsored coverage, employers of all sizes are still developing creative strategies to help control costs and meet the changing needs of the workforce.
These strategies include employee wellness programs, which are now an essential tool to help control costs and encourage healthy lifestyles. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2015 that 50 percent of employers offering health benefits also offer wellness programs. That same year, I joined Chairmen Kline and Walberg and introduced legislation that would eliminate regulatory hurdles to implementing these programs, and I look forward to hearing from experts today on how we can make that goal a reality.
Some employers have responded to costly mandates and rigid reporting requirements under current law by putting in place private exchanges. This tool helps rein in costs through competition, and unlike public exchanges, serves individuals and both large and small employers. Accountable Care Organizations are another concept employers have adopted in recent years to improve the health of their employees and make coverage more affordable. ACOs improve the patient experience by coordinating care between doctors and hospitals and focusing on prevention and management of chronic diseases. Employers are also incorporating telemedicine into their health insurance plans, providing patients more access to care at lower costs and greater convenience.
We are here today to examine how innovations in employer-provided coverage are improving health care for workers and their families and how federal policies can support—rather than discourage—free-market solutions. I hope our conversation will bring us one step closer to achieving the responsible reforms the American people desperately need.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement after the Department of Labor released unemployment data for March 2016:
It’s encouraging that hiring is improving and more Americans are back to work, but we still have a long way to go. Millions of workers are still looking for full-time jobs, and millions more are so discouraged by meager job prospects that they’ve given up on their search for work entirely. Too many working families are being left behind in this anemic economy. Instead of changing course, we are being bombarded with new regulatory schemes that will make it harder for small businesses to thrive and for families to achieve the economic security they deserve. For those individuals and their families, we have to do better. That’s why we will continue to fight against failed policies that are holding our workforce back, and instead, pursue a pro-growth agenda that will lead to the success and opportunity Americans need.
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Walberg Statement: Hearing on “The 21st Century Workforce: How Current Rules and Regulations Affect Innovation and Flexibility in Michigan’s Workplaces”
I don’t have to tell you, that in this economy—which is still struggling to recover—a lot of Americans continue to face significant challenges. Millions of men and women are struggling to find jobs. Millions of others are working part-time jobs when what they really need and want is full-time work. Family incomes across the country remain flat. People are hurting, and as policymakers, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help. One important way we can do that is by taking a close look at the rules and regulations governing our workplaces.
For almost 80 years, the Fair Labor Standards Act has been the foundation of our wage and hour standards. The law plays an important role in the lives of millions of working Americans. The problem is that a lot has changed in our workplaces over the 80 years, and federal wage and hour rules have not kept up.
Today, the regulations guiding the law’s implementation are rigid, outdated, and simply not working for the 21st century workforce. Millennials are now the majority of the workforce, and they—like most in the workforce—do not want a flawed regulatory structure that constrains flexibility and innovation by creating confusion and uncertainty in today’s workplaces. Unfortunately, the current law raises more questions than it provides answers.
That’s why Republicans have long supported improving and updating the rules surrounding federal wage and hour standards—modernizing them to account for advances in technology and to better reflect the innovative, flexible economy we have today. We remain willing and ready to work toward that goal. However, we also remain insistent that we do so responsibly. It’s not enough to simply change the rules. We have to improve them. And we have to do so in a way that does not place additional burdensome requirements on small business owners, does not stifle job creation and wages, and does not limit opportunity and flexibility for workers.
Unfortunately, the administration is taking a different approach to updating workplace rules and regulations. In fact, the Department of Labor is in the process of finalizing an overtime rule that is anything but responsible. Instead of making changes to address the complexity of current regulations, the proposal will impose significant burdens on employers, limit workplace flexibility, and make it harder for workers to advance in their careers. The administration’s regulatory proposal will ultimately hurt the very people who need help.
There are better ways to update and modernize current rules and regulations, and we owe it to the American people to explore them. That’s the purpose of today’s hearing. We want to hear about your experiences and better understand your concerns. What’s working? What’s not working? What changes need to be made to ensure federal policies support—rather than discourage—the economic growth our nation desperately needs? How can we help you and others in our communities pursue the personal opportunity you’re working to achieve?
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Bishop Statement: Hearing on “The 21st Century Workforce: How Current Rules and Regulations Affect Innovation and Flexibility in Michigan’s Workplaces”
In fact, when it comes to updating rules and regulations related to workforce protections and wage and hour standards, having the opportunity to hear your perspectives and experiences are particularly important. Because when we’re talking about these issues, it’s not just public policy—it’s personal.
It’s personal for the worker who needs the flexibility to care for a loved one. It’s personal for the parent who wants to make it to their child’s school play or little league game. It’s personal for the working mom or dad who is also helping an aging relative. Workplace flexibility is incredibly personal and important to a lot of people.
It’s also personal for the low-wage worker trying to seize opportunities to move up the economic ladder. At a committee hearing last year, we heard from one witness, Eric Williams, who worked his way up from a crew member at a fast-food restaurant to become the chief operating officer of a major U.S. corporation. On top of that, he also owns and operates several restaurants of his own. That is the American Dream. It’s also what’s at stake if we miss the mark when it comes to updating regulations related to wage and hour standards.
As Chairman Walberg said, the rules and regulations guiding the implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act are too complex, burdensome, and outdated. They no longer provide the kind of protections and opportunities they could—and should—for workers and employers. I think that’s something Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Where we seem to disagree is the best way to update them.
During the same hearing in which Eric Williams shared his inspiring success story, he also raised some troubling concerns with the consequences one of the administration’s recent regulatory proposals—the Department of Labor’s overtime rule—will create for workers and small businesses. He explained how the rule will be detrimental to workplace flexibility, how it will negatively impact pay and bonuses, and how it will “severely limit hardworking, talented Americans from realizing their dreams.”
Workers and small businesses are not the only ones concerned about the administration’s proposal. Those in higher education worry the rule could have unintended consequences for them as well, leading to higher costs and forcing schools to restrict hours for certain employees. Here in Michigan, we’re very fortunate to have an abundance of incredible universities that serve students from our state and from states across the country. Two of our witnesses are joining us from some of them: the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Under no circumstances should we be making it harder and more costly for students at these universities—or any university—to receive a quality education
Americans deserve better than changes that lead these kinds of consequences. That’s why we will continue our efforts to promote and encourage reforms that clarify current rules and regulations, modernize them, and make them better—reforms that won’t stifle innovation, flexibility, and opportunity. These things are essential in allowing our workforce to grow and change to better meet the needs of workers, job creators, and consumers; and they will continue to help us push the limits of what we are able to accomplish.
I look forward to hearing from all of you about how we can best accomplish those goals.
Kline Statement: Hearing on “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students”
Education research has long played an important role in our nation’s classrooms. States and school districts use research to identify teaching and learning strategies that improve classroom instruction and those that don’t. Education research also provides parents, teachers, school leaders, and policymakers with the information they need to determine if federal programs are delivering real results for students and taxpayers.
For more than 40 years, the federal government has partnered with the private sector and state and local leaders to help facilitate this research. The partnership was reaffirmed in 2002 when Congress passed the Education Sciences Reform Act. The law established the Institute of Education Sciences to take the lead on gathering information about educational progress, conducting research on teaching practices, and evaluating the quality of federal programs. The institute has helped provide greater transparency and accountability and has helped implement successful education practices in countless schools.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas for improvement. In fact, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has cited several weaknesses Congress needs to address, including duplicative research and a failure to disseminate key information in a timely manner. Fortunately, because of the work of this committee, we are well on our way to reforming the law. In the spring of 2014, the committee passed – and the House later adopted by voice vote – the bipartisan Strengthening Education through Research Act.
The legislation included a number of important reforms, such as streamlining the federal education research system, requiring regular evaluations of research programs, and strengthening the autonomy of federal researchers to ensure they are not subject to political bias and interference. Many of us were disappointed the Senate was unable to push the bill across the finish line in the last Congress. However, we’re pleased the Senate has taken action on nearly identical legislation this Congress, and it’s my hope we can complete this work this year.
Now, any effort to improve education research should also strengthen student privacy protections. New technology has made it easier to analyze student information and develop new ways to improve learning, but it has also left parents and students more vulnerable to the misuse of student information. To make matters worse, student privacy protections are woefully outdated.
Long before online learning tools and cloud-based computing systems were the norm, Congress passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. The intent of the law was to safeguard student privacy and give parents the peace of mind that their children’s academic records and personal information were safe and secure. But that was 1974, and a lot has changed since then. More student information is being collected and shared than ever before, often without the knowledge of parents and school officials.
A proposal introduced by Republicans and Democrats will bring the law into the twenty-first century. Among other reforms, the Student Privacy Protection Act will provide greater clarity and transparency over what information schools can use, collect, and share for educational purposes. The legislation will also strengthen the right of parents to prevent the sharing of their children’s information and enhance communication between parents and school leaders.
Both proposals – the Strengthening Education through Research Act and the Student Privacy Protection Act – reflect the hard work of members from both sides of the aisle, particularly the ranking member of the K-12 subcommittee, Congresswoman Fudge, our former colleague from New York, Carolyn McCarthy, and last but certainly not least, Congressman Todd Rokita, the chairman of the K-12 subcommittee, who remains a strong leader on these vital issues.
Improving education remains a leading priority for our committee, and it’s my hope we can take additional steps to improve education by enhancing education research and strengthening student privacy protections.
This is a responsibility we take seriously, especially at a time when many working families and small businesses are still struggling to get by. There is no question the economy has shown signs of modest improvement, and we certainly welcome every new job that’s created. But there’s also no question many Americans feel they are slipping further behind in an economy that isn’t meeting its full potential.
At an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, former President Bill Clinton referred to the president’s recent State of the Union address and said, “Millions … of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted, and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives.” We don’t agree on a lot of things, but President Clinton has rightly summed up the frustration many Americans feel.
Month after month, we exceed low expectations, and that simply isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for the tens of millions of workers still sitting on the sidelines; it’s not good enough for the nearly six million Americans who need full-time jobs but can only find part-time work; and it’s not good enough for those families whose incomes remain flat. We need to do better, and there are opportunities to do better. However, those opportunities will be lost if the department continues to push an extreme regulatory agenda.
For example, we both agree federal overtime rules need to be changed. The committee has held numerous hearings with witnesses who testified that these rules are so convoluted that well-meaning, law-abiding employers often get tied up in red tape and run afoul of the law. The overtime rules are also outdated, denying men and women the ability to balance work with their personal or family needs.
We have said repeatedly we want to partner with the department in a serious effort to streamline and modernize overtime protections. Unfortunately, the department is pursuing an approach that will do nothing to provide employers more clarity and certainty. To make matters worse, the department’s proposal will actually stifle workplace flexibility and make it harder for lower-income Americans to move up the economic ladder. These and other consequences will unfold in communities across the country, in local retail stores, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and community colleges. The very places that can least afford it will be hit the hardest.
In addition to overtime, there is also broad, bipartisan agreement we need to strengthen policies governing retirement advice. Of course, there are also strong, bipartisan concerns with the department’s fiduciary proposal. As Dr. Roe suggested at a hearing last year, if we applied the same regulatory regime on the medical profession, patients would have less access to trusted physicians, and the same will be true for those seeking retirement advice.
Because of the rule, many low- and middle-income families will have less access to affordable retirement advice and fewer small businesses will offer retirement plans. Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Roe and others, there is a bipartisan alternative that would protect access to affordable retirement advice and ensure advisors serve their clients’ best interests. This legislation is a strong foundation to address a shared priority if the department will abandon its flawed, partisan proposal.
Mr. Secretary, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and build bipartisan consensus in these and other important areas. The department’s my-way-or-the-highway approach will not deliver the lasting, positive change working families and job creators need to move this country forward. The only way to do that is for the administration to work with members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans. I would also encourage the department to renew its focus where bipartisan consensus has already delivered results, such as workforce development and multiemployer pensions.
The president noted recently the importance of providing new skills to those searching for work, yet the department has failed to implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in a timely manner. A new report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office confirms the consequences of the department’s inaction, and we hope the implementation process will conclude without further delay. Finally, Mr. Secretary, you played an integral role in our efforts to reform the multiemployer pension system. Your continued leadership is needed to solidify the gains we’ve made and to modernize the system for future generations of workers and retirees.
Our success in these areas demonstrates what’s possible when extreme policies are set aside and we work together in good faith toward a common goal. In the coming months, I hope we seize the opportunities we have in order to make a real difference in the lives of America’s workers and employers.