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Legislative Update

Legislative update from State Senator Mark Obenshain

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We’re officially past the halfway mark of Session that we call “Crossover” where all bills that originated in the Senate cross over to the House to be debated in Committee and vice versa.

Every year around this time, I like to take a step back and take stock of what we’ve seen so far. The bills I’ve introduced have had varying amounts of success in terms of getting through the Senate but overall, I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from my Senate colleagues on my bills.

I’m particularly thankful for the support for my two good government bills that passed and are headed to the House. In light of the recent Warren County EDA scandal, I introduced SB 701 and SB 703 to ensure government transparency and accountability by requiring Executive Directors and members of Economic Development Authorities (EDA) to take ethics training and submit Statements of Economic Interest (SOEI). EDA’s provide critical economic initiatives for our communities in the Valley and around the Commonwealth and the citizens deserve their trust and confidence. These bills seek to ensure they will have it.

In addition, I’m honored to have carried a bill that passed the Senate dealing with protecting child victims of human trafficking. Oftentimes in these horrific instances of trafficking, whether for sex or labor, it is the parents or legal guardians who are unfortunately the ones participating in the illegal activity. My SB 706 is a Virginia State Crime Commission proposal and allows for local departments of social services to interview victims without the consent of and outside of the presence of such victims’ parents, guardians, or legal custodians.


These bills and the others of mine that passed the Senate are headed to the House where our counterparts will hear them in Committee and then on the floor of the House of Delegates if they are voted out of Committee.

Unfortunately, a number of other bills that will significantly and detrimentally affect Virginians have passed the Senate as well. The new Democrat majority in Richmond has advanced a startling number of liberal bills that will impact every single Virginian. It was almost as if they couldn’t stand the success Virginia has experienced over the past 20 years, and they were eager to make the same mistakes as California and Maryland have made.

When their litany of bills become law and go into effect on July 1, it is going to cost your family a lot more to live in Virginia than it does today.

The Democrats have a new transportation scheme that raises the gas tax by 15-cents per gallon over the next two years in most of the state. Those living in the areas where higher gas taxes are already in place because of the 2013 transportation tax hike will see their gas taxes rise a little less since they’re already paying higher taxes. But, most of Virginia will see an 86% increase in the gas tax over the next two years. And, the tax will continue to automatically increase every year thereafter.

They also approved a “Green New Deal” energy bill that will result in higher prices on electricity. The plan is to have consumers pay more in their monthly electric utility bills to finance “renewables” like wind and solar. The estimates of what the average family will pay for this range from $23 to $50 on their power bill per month.

In addition to the gun control bills that will severely limit our Second Amendment rights which I have covered in-depth in previous updates, Democrats in the Senate have passed numerous pieces of legislation that will hurt small business owners and impact the pocketbooks of every hardworking Virginian family.

On Tuesday – the last day to hear Senate bills that actually concluded at 12:50 AM on Wednesday – the Democrat majority in the Senate flexed its newfound majority power to pass priorities like prevailing wage legislation and collective bargaining for public employees.

Despite touching on this last week, I want to highlight again how damaging these bills will be to Virginia.

Because of the prevailing wage legislation that requires construction companies and other trade jobs to meet a certain level of wages and benefits, we will see fewer schools, fewer affordable housing units, and fewer wastewater treatment facilities. Did you know that in 2018, Richmond discharged more than 3.4 billion gallons of raw sewage into the James River? With construction companies having to pay a prevailing wage that is 10% – 25% more than the market rate for construction workers, local governments like Richmond are going to have less money to pay for needed sewage system upgrades. Other localities will have less money available to pay for school construction.

This new prevailing rate is really just an attempt by out of state contractors to win Virginia construction contracts that were out of reach because their union pay scales kept them from competing with Virginia businesses.

Another bill we saw pass on Tuesday was the minimum wage bill. If I listed all the negative impacts that this will have on young people entering the workforce, small business owners, mom, and pop retail shops, etc., this weekly blast would turn into a short novel.

But to name just a few… requiring employers to pay a minimum wage will raise unemployment levels, depress wages, make it harder for young people to find an entry-level job and it will significantly hurt the cash flow of our small businesses.

The sadly ironic reality of proponents of minimum wage legislation is that it will end up harming the very people that they want to help. Sure, workers may make more money hourly but when an employer is strapped for cash and capital because of the mandate to pay more in wages, they are going to end up cutting their workers’ hours.

Generally speaking, when it comes to liberalists, California/New York-style economic policies like collective bargaining for public employees or forced union membership that comes from repealing or gutting Right to Work, these policies truly end up creating more economic hardship for those in our communities for which they are trying to raise economic prospects.

Not to mention that the left has done a good job claiming the moral high ground on these issues. Proponents seek to paint economic conservatives as heartless, money-grabbing capitalists in the pockets of big businesses. And this attempt to claim the moral high ground on economic issues again only seeks to create less economic prospects for the families in our community who have the most potential to grow economically.

We will continue to hear debates on these important issues and more until our time here in Richmond concludes on March 7. My staff and I welcome the opportunity to see you if you are visiting the General Assembly. My office is Room 502E in the Pocahontas Building. I appreciate hearing your views on pending legislation. We have received thousands of emails this session already and hundreds of calls. Thank you for your advocacy on issues that are important to you. You can always let me know your views on any of the issues before the General Assembly by emailing me at mark@markobenshain.com or filling out my survey at https://www.markobenshain.com/2020-survey/. Or if you prefer to call, my district office in Harrisonburg is 540-437-1451 or my General Assembly Office in Richmond is 804-698-7526.

More updates coming soon!

 

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – May 30, 2021

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As Memorial Day approaches, our community expresses our profound gratitude for those who gave their lives in defense of our Nation. I am looking forward to joining Veterans and Gold Star Families across the Sixth District in remembering the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause greater than self. While in the District this past week I also had the opportunity to visit with student-athletes in Luray and attend the Rotary Club of Amherst’s 49th Annual Pancake Day. Further, despite being home in Virginia, the legislative work does not stop. I questioned Dr. Fauci regarding the origins of the COVID virus and NIH funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as well as wrote to the Government Accountability Office asking for an update on their investigation into President Biden’s unlawful freezing of appropriated funds for border wall construction. It was a productive week, and I always appreciate the opportunity to serve on your behalf.

Mask Mandate:
With 4,648,449 Virginians having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which accounts for 54.5% of the Commonwealth’s population, it is time to fully reopen our economy, get folks back to work, kids back in the classroom, and reclaim the freedoms that have been impacted over the past year. While I am thankful that the Governor lifted most COVID-related restrictions this week, there are still conflicting state orders that leave employers and employees in limbo. Earlier this year, Virginia’s Health and Safety Codes Board issued permanent workplace safety standards.

The standards set requirements for companies related to COVID-19 to include cleaning, environmental changes, training, mask-wearing, testing, isolation, return to work, and reporting requirements. In order to remove or revise these requirements, the Health and Safety Codes Board must meet, but it can only do so following the lifting of the Governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency declaration, which does not expire until June 30. Therefore, despite lifting the mask mandate, any business that allows its employees to work without masks while in close contact with others will be in violation of the Board’s standards. Thus, I call on the Governor to rescind the Commonwealth’s emergency declaration to ensure no business or employee faces repercussions for not wearing a mask.

COVID-19 Origins:
For the past year, Dr. Fauci and the experts have rejected the idea that COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan Lab, but now the medical community is backtracking. In a recent interview, Dr. Fauci, when asked about whether the virus originated naturally, said, “I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.”


Further, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said, “we have to understand how COVID-19 surfaced, we have to understand how it spread so we can try to make sure we are prepared for next time” and “[a] COVID origins study must be launched…to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak.” This comes after The Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 around November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.

Time and again we have learned that the Chinese government downplayed the pandemic threat for several critical weeks and have covered up vital information. That is why I joined my colleagues in writing to the Speaker urging her to direct the appropriate committee chairs to immediately join Republican calls to hold the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accountable for its role in causing the global COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally this week, Dr. Fauci confirmed to me in an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the National Institutes of Health earmarked $600,000 for the Wuhan Institute of Virology over a five-year period to study whether bat coronaviruses could be transmitted to humans. This revelation makes clear that the United States must be overly cautious when determining when and if to send research dollars overseas.

Biden’s Budget:
On a Friday, President Biden released his budget for Fiscal Year 2022. This $6 trillion proposal is a roadmap of where he wants to take the country, but sadly, it leads right off a fiscal cliff. This socialist nightmare will explode the deficit and lead to skyrocketing inflation rates while harming our families and our small businesses in the process. The plan shows a lack of respect for the American people and would take money out of the pockets of working-class folks through tax hikes and a higher cost of living. In 2022 alone, “Biden’s budget projects a $1.8 trillion deficit, half of the record $3.6 trillion deficit expected for this year. In the following years, that would fall to a range of $1.3 to $1.6 trillion, higher than all but a few years following the Great Recession.”

Further, “By 2030, the cost of servicing the debt alone would become the largest contributor to the deficit, growing to $914 billion by 2031 — 11.1 percent of total spending and 58 percent of the total deficit.” To make matters worse, there is no mention of the word ‘border’ in the proposal despite the worsening immigration crisis, and it fails to include Hyde protections that prevent taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions. The plan is a slap in the face to our economic recovery from COVID, and American families will pay the price. Our country cannot afford this Administration’s runaway spending.

Building the Wall:
Early in the Biden Administration, one of the key acts that fueled the current border crisis was the unlawful suspension of congressionally appropriated funds to finish the border wall. This violation of the Impoundment Control Act has effectively led to an open border. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the House Budget Committee that they began looking into the President’s decision to freeze funding of the border wall in January, and now their report and findings from the investigation are long overdue.

I had joined more than 100 of my colleagues in requesting a legal opinion from the GAO by March 2021, a similar time frame for past GAO opinions. As we head into June, Congress has still not received detailed information nor a specified timeline for when the GAO will release its opinion. This delay is concerning especially considering the GAO issued a legal opinion on a similar executive use of congressionally appropriated funds during the Trump Administration within a matter of two months. That is why this week members of the Budget Committee and I wrote to Comptroller General Dodaro demanding answers. President Biden must uphold the Rule of Law, secure the border, and release congressionally appropriated funds for the wall. To read the full letter, click here.



Luray Bulldogs:

This week, I continued to make my rounds throughout the District to recognize the accomplishments of our region’s high school student-athletes. On Monday, I visited with the Luray High School Lady Bulldogs to present them with a copy of the Congressional Record honoring their Class 2 state championship victory. This win capped off a perfect season for the Bulldogs, and I offer my congratulations to the players, coaches, and staff. Hard work truly does pay off.

Rotary Club of Amherst:
Rotary International describes itself as a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in their communities, and in themselves. I recently enjoyed the opportunity to join the Rotary Club of Amherst for the organization’s 49th Annual Pancake Day. Portions of the money raised from this event will be donated to local charities, as well as used to fund scholarships for graduating high school seniors throughout Amherst County. I commend the Rotary Club of Amherst for their continued efforts to help our community.

 

Memorial Day:
The word hero often gets misused, but when it comes to those who have given their lives in service to our Nation, there is no other word that more accurately describes the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Tomorrow, as we observe Memorial Day, we remember the patriots who have laid down their lives while wearing our Nation’s uniform in defense of the American Ideal.

Every Memorial Day, I remember the words President Lincoln spoke during the Gettysburg Address:

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

May God continue to bless our Nation and produce those willing to stand in the gap and sacrifice for those they never met but are bound to through a shared American heritage all in the name of freedom.

COVID-19 Update:
As of May 30, 2021, Virginia has had 675,392 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The current death toll in the Commonwealth stands at 11,173. Further, according to the VDH’s COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, as of May 30th, 4,648,449 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 3,753,299 people are fully vaccinated.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.

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Legislative Update

$20 million in federal funds go to Northern Virginia for COVID-19 measures

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On May 26, 2021, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that two emergency projects across Northern Virginia will receive a combined reimbursement of $20,902,666.81 in federal funding in response to COVID-19 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funding will cover costs associated with the communication of COVID-19 warnings and guidance to Virginians, as well as medical supplies and equipment to combat the virus.

“We’re pleased to see these federal dollars go towards managing, controlling, and reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia,” said the Senators. “It’s important for folks to have the necessary tools and procedures to tackle this health crisis.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

• Valley Health will receive $3,786,140.24.
• Fairfax County will receive $17,116,526.57.


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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – May 25, 2021

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For nearly two weeks Israel had been bombarded by rockets launched from the Iranian-funded terror group, Hamas. However, I am hopeful that the currently negotiated cease-fire holds, giving the region much-needed peace. In a potential victory for life, the Supreme Court agreed to review Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in their coming fall session, which will decide the authority of a state to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks. Legislatively, last week was productive as I joined my Democrat and Republican colleagues in introducing bills to protect consumers and expand rural access to broadband respectively. I also had the opportunity to recognize the athletic accomplishments of two high school teams from the Staunton-Augusta area. As the House heads into Committee and District Work Weeks, I am looking forward to getting home and spending time in Virginia’s Beautiful Sixth District.

Defending Life:
Last week, I was pleased that the Supreme Court agreed to review Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in their coming fall session. In 2018, the Mississippi Legislature passed the Mississippi Gestational Age Act, a law that prohibited doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of gestation except in medical emergencies or in case of severe fetal abnormality. Unsurprisingly, pro-abortion groups challenged the law in federal court. By reviewing this case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to Stand for Life and ensure protections for the unborn.

Standing with Israel:
When I visited Israel, I saw firsthand the proximity of the danger Israelis face on a daily basis. With the Gaza Strip controlled by the Iranian-funded terror group, Hamas, rockets are always pointing at the Jewish State – and it is estimated that the militant group has more than 30,000 rockets and mortars at their disposal. And for the past two weeks, Israel and its people had been bombarded by more than 3,000 rockets launched from within Gaza. Fortunately, the Iron Dome, a defense system that the United States has helped fund, saved countless lives by intercepting thousands of enemy rockets. While some attempt to draw a moral parallel between Hamas and Israel, there is simply no comparison to be made. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “you cannot equate a democracy that values life, with a terror organization that glorifies death.” While I am thankful that there now is a negotiated truce in the region, Israel retains the right to defend itself from further attacks. I pray for peace and stability in the region.

Expanding Access to Broadband:
Despite numerous Federal and State-level efforts to deploy broadband infrastructure, at least 19 million Americans remain without access to any form of reliable broadband service. An overly burdensome regulatory environment and the risks of deploying broadband service to higher-cost areas have only exacerbated the challenges for providers and communities. It is crucial we create more opportunities for providers to expand America’s broadband infrastructure and ensure every American has access to these important services. That is why I joined my colleagues in introducing the Gigabit Opportunity (GO) Act in order to encourage the expansion of broadband service into these long-neglected, primarily rural, areas. The GO Act will provide tax incentives to encourage providers to invest in broadband infrastructure in Gigabit Opportunity Zones. Under the GO Act, the FCC will provide guidance to States on how to designate Gigabit Opportunity Zones, with requirements that zones include low-income rural and urban areas that currently lack broadband service at minimal speeds. The GO Act seeks to cut red tape and encourage private investment to bridge the digital divide and help ensure that communities like ours have access to this important service.


Protecting Consumers:
Additionally, this week, I joined the House Judiciary Committee Chairman in introducing the Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (SHOP SAFE) Act to stop the online sale of dangerous counterfeits. As online retailers continue to grow and increasingly work with unverified third-party vendors, Congress must take steps to protect American consumers from both physical and financial harm. This bill will help ensure consumers get the product they paid for and protect them by curbing the flow of counterfeit products, many of which come from China. It would also aid in dismantling revenue sources for terror organizations that rely in part on the sale of fake goods to fund their operations. The text of the bill can be found here.

Specifically, the legislation would:
• Establish trademark liability for companies who sell counterfeits that pose a risk to consumer health and safety.
• Require online platforms to establish best practices vetting sellers to ensure their legitimacy, remove counterfeit listings, and remove sellers who repeatedly sell counterfeits.
• Call for online marketplaces to take steps necessary to prevent the continued sale of counterfeits by the third-party seller or face contributory liability for their actions.

Honoring A Local Veteran:
Last week I took to the House Floor to honor the life and legacy of Roanoke native and World War II Navy veteran, Suttie Economy, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 95. While Economy was proud of his service and the time he spent on the USS English in the South Pacific, he never forgot his fellow Veterans who didn’t make it home. Economy made it his life’s mission to honor the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who gave their lives for the cause of American freedom. Known for his efforts to maintain the Roanoke War Memorial, driving around town in his red, white, and blue Yugo, and handing out Juicy Fruit gum, Economy made an impression wherever he went. In 2008, he said one of his proudest moments was having marble flower vases added to the Star City’s War Memorial and urged folks to, “never forget those Veterans.” His daughter said his work was never about him, but rather it was always about the Veterans who served and gave their lives. With traffic stopped, a police officer standing at attention, and members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association serving as pallbearers, Economy was laid to rest with the respect he deserved. I wish Suttie Fair Winds and Following Seas.

State Champions:
Author and avid golf fan, P.G. Wodenhouse once remarked, “Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” Fittingly, last week, I recognized Grace Christian School of Staunton whose golf team won its first Virginia Association of Christian Athletics state championship. The Warriors shot an 18-hole total of 355 in the championship tournament at the Club at Ironwood to overcome its closest competitor by 32 strokes. Caleb Maas led the Warriors with an impressive 86, while Preston Fitzgerald and Maddie Helmick each shot a pair of 87s, with Isaiah Farlow carding a 95. Maas, Fitzgerald, and Helmick were also named to the all-state team for their performances throughout the season. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet these student-athletes this week, and present them with a copy of the Congressional Record honoring their accomplishment.

I was also pleased to present a copy of the Congressional Record to the Athletics staff of Riverheads High School in Augusta County. Two weeks ago, I recognized the Gladiators’ football team on the House Floor for winning their fifth consecutive state championship. Athletics play an important role in the development of children, and I always enjoy highlighting the accomplishments of students to further instill in them the value of handwork.

COVID-19 Update:
As of May 23, 2021, Virginia has had 673,028 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The current death toll in the Commonwealth stands at 11,106. Further, according to the VDH’s COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, as of May 23rd, 4,521,093 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 3,610,884 people are fully vaccinated.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.

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Legislative Update

Warner introduces bicameral legislation to shed light on workforce management and development

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With more and more businesses rooted in service and intellectual property, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) reintroduced legislation on May 25, 2021, to require public companies to disclose crucial workforce management metrics, including investments made in skills training, workforce safety, and employee retention.

“In our information-based economy, workers are easily one of the most valuable assets that a company can have. However, there continues to be too much variability among public companies when it comes to disclosing human capital metrics,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will help provide a clearer picture of how public companies are managing, supporting, and investing in their workers – factors that significantly influence a company’s ability to innovate and compete.”

“Over the past century, we’ve seen businesses become less reliant on physical assets and more reliant on their workers, but the public disclosures we ask of our businesses don’t cover the investments they’re making in their employees,” said Rep. Axne. “We expect our public companies to disclose their holdings and their balance sheets – but in an economy that needs people in order to be productive, we must keep that same transparency to make the U.S. a leader in helping investors understand the long-term prospects of the companies they’re investing in. The COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized how important this information is, especially when it comes to workplace health and safety or the ability to work from home.”

In 1975, more than 80 percent of the S&P 500’s market value was in companies’ tangible assets, such as real estate holdings or purchased equipment. By 2015, tangible assets accounted for less than 20 percent.


The Workforce Investment Disclosure Act would require public companies to disclose basic human capital metrics, which have an increasingly high value across industries in our 21st-century economy. These metrics include workforce turnover rates, skills and development training, workforce health and safety, workforce engagement, and compensation statistics. This legislation would build on existing disclosure requirements, which do not currently provide sufficient information for potential workers and investors looking to evaluate modern businesses.

“This bill takes disclosure on every company’s most valuable asset, People, out of the shadows and into the light. Every public and private company should be sharing these metrics in their public disclosures.” Jeff Higgins, founder, and CEO of Human Capital Management Institute.

“We know that human health, safety, and well-being are material to businesses’ bottom line, and human-centered policy interventions are critical to improving employee health, engagement, and productivity,” said Rachel Hodgdon, President, and CEO of the International WELL Building Institute. “We commend Representative Axne and Senator Warner for their continued leadership and introduction of the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act. This bill, which takes a significant step forward on driving transparency and incentivizing investment in the workforce, will help ensure businesses prioritize the overall welfare of their most valuable asset – their people. By simply compelling businesses to report on their workforce management policies, we can accelerate better corporate practices, recognize market leaders and spur powerful investments in the health, safety, and equity of employees around the country.”

Gary Gensler, the new Chair of the SEC, recently said that updating disclosure rules on workforce metrics would be an “early focus” and a “top priority” of his tenure. Both Chairman Gensler and his predecessor, Chairman Jay Clayton, have affirmed the need for more information about companies’ human capital.

The bill has the support of the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the National Employment Law Project. Additionally, notable investment and asset management firms already support updating these disclosure requirements.

In 2019, the leadership of major investors BlackRock and State Street Global Advisory both emphasized the importance of human capital — and have indicated the need to create standardized reporting. In addition, research from the Embankment Project on Inclusive Capitalism, a partnership between asset managers directing $30 trillion and large public corporations, found U.S. companies that disclose their total human capital costs outperform those that do not.

Sen. Warner, a former entrepreneur, and venture capitalist has long stressed the importance of updating human capital disclosure requirements to reflect the priorities of modern companies. In a May 2020 letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Sen. Warner and Rep. Axne urged the SEC to require that human capital management information be made publicly available in a timely and accurate manner to help determine whether a company will be successfully able to weather risks following the COVID-19 crisis.

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Legislative Update

Reps. Cline and Nadler introduce bipartisan bill to protect American consumers from counterfeit goods

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Recently, Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Chairman Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), and Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (SHOP SAFE) Act to stop the online sale of dangerous counterfeits.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent $791.7 billion on e-commerce in 2020, up over 30% from 2019. As more consumers opt to shop online, they are increasingly vulnerable to the rising number of counterfeit goods sold on e-commerce platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated this potential harm as the amount of time consumers spend online and the types of high-risk counterfeits available on these platforms have risen. The SHOP SAFE Act reduces the availability of harmful counterfeit products online by incentivizing platforms to engage in best practices for vetting sellers and goods, addressing repeat counterfeiter sellers, and ensuring consumers have access to relevant information at the time of purchase. By reducing the number of counterfeits in the market, this legislation also protects the integrity and authenticity of the products.

“As online retailers continue to grow and increasingly work with unverified third-party vendors, Congress must take steps to protect American consumers from both physical and financial harm, as well as protect the integrity and authenticity of the products,” Cline said. “The SHOP SAFE Act will help ensure consumers get the product they paid for by curbing the flow of counterfeit goods, many of which come from China. It would also aid in dismantling revenue sources for terror organizations who rely in part on the sale of fake goods to fund their operations.”

The SHOP SAFE Act would:
• Establish trademark liability for companies who sell counterfeits that pose a risk to consumer health and safety.
• Require online platforms to establish best practices of vetting sellers to ensure their legitimacy, remove counterfeit listings, and remove sellers who repeatedly sell counterfeits.
• Call for online marketplaces to take steps necessary to prevent the continued sale of counterfeits by the third-party seller or face contributory liability for their actions.


Background on counterfeits:
• Courts currently will not hold the online seller responsible for selling counterfeits to consumers, regardless of the fact that the seller is responsible for every step in the transaction.
• Many counterfeits do not undergo safety testing and pose a substantial health and safety risk for consumers and pose a financial risk for companies. Products like cosmetics, baby formula, batteries, chargers, airbags, car seats, and brakes are a few of the potentially life-threatening counterfeits currently sold online.
• The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 20 of 47 items purchased from third-party sellers on popular consumer websites were counterfeit.

Text of the bill can be found here.

 

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Legislative Update

Warner reintroduces bill to spur investment in rural areas hard hit by economic crisis

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On May 18, 2021, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Shelley Capito (R-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) reintroduced legislation to encourage greater private investment in rural and underserved areas, which have been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. Seeking to build on the proven success of the New Markets Tax Credit (NTMC) program, the bipartisan Rural Jobs Act would increase the flow of capital to rural areas and will serve as an important tool in U.S. economic recovery efforts. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Jason Smith (R-MO).

“The New Market Tax Credit program has a proven track record of reviving local economies and creating needed jobs in communities around the country. Unfortunately, less than one in four jobs created by this program have been in rural communities,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will bridge this job creation gap by earmarking additional tax credits specifically for rural and underserved regions, which are suffering tremendously due to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.”

The NMTC program currently provides a modest tax incentive to private investors to invest in low-income communities. The Rural Jobs Act would build on the success of this program by designating, for two years, $500 million in NMTC investments for “Rural Job Zones” – low-income communities that have a population smaller than 50,000 inhabitants and are not adjacent to an urban area. Under this new definition, Rural Job Zones would be established in in 342 out of the 435 congressional districts across the country, including communities in the following Virginia localities: Accomack, Albemarle, Alleghany, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Brunswick, Buchanan, Buckingham, Buena Vista, Campbell, Caroline, Carroll, Charlotte, Covington, Culpeper, Cumberland, Danville, Dickenson, Dinwiddie, Emporia, Essex, Fauquier, Floyd, Franklin, Frederick, Galax, Giles, Gloucester, Grayson, Greene, Greensville, Halifax, Henry, Highland, Isle of Wight, King and Queen, King William, Lee, Lexington, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Martinsville, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, Montgomery, Nelson, Northampton, Northumberland, Norton, Nottoway, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Richmond, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Southampton, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Surry, Sussex, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, Wise, and Wythe.

Since the creation of the NMTC, a total of 77 businesses and economic revitalization projects in Virginia have received financing, contributing to $1.5 billion in total project investments.


“The Rural Jobs Zones initiative will drive more resources to projects such as the OnePartner/HMG Medical Center in Duffield, Virginia. Hampton Roads Ventures used the New Markets Tax Credit to finance a new facility that expanded medical services to residents in this medically underserved area. Rural Jobs Zones will benefit from billions in private sector financing for health centers, manufacturing businesses, broadband expansions, and Main Street revitalization efforts. We applaud Senator Warner for his continued commitment to rural economic development,” said Jennifer Donohue, CEO of Hampton Roads Ventures, LLC.

“Senator Warner’s bill, the Rural Jobs Act, will create a powerful new tool for economic and community development in rural communities across Virginia and across the nation, it will lead to more quality jobs and better futures in rural America,” said Rob Goldsmith, President, and CEO, People Incorporated Financial Services.

Under this legislation, Virginia would have more qualified census tracts than almost any other state, providing greater investment opportunities to support and grow businesses and create jobs in communities across the Commonwealth. The bill would also require that at least 25 percent of this new investment activity be targeted to persistent poverty counties and high-migration counties. There are approximately 400 persistent poverty counties in the United States, 85 percent of which are located in non-metro or rural areas.

Bill text is available here.

A bill summary is available here.

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