Monday, April 26, 2021

Governor Cuomo must veto the HERO Act


Last week, both houses of the state legislature approved the New York Health and Essentials Rights Act, also known as the HERO Act.


Were this to become law, it would require the Departments of Labor and Health to implement standards to prevent occupational exposure to airborne infectious disease. The Act dictates that such regulations must include protocols on testing, personal protective equipment, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection, and engineering controls.


This begs the question: Where have these lawmakers been?


They must have they been hiding at home for the entire pandemic because had they gone out into their communities and met with their constituents they would have gotten a feel for how the private sector, under public sector guidance, is battling coronavirus.


For the past 14 months, retailers, restaurants, factories, and farms have been doing all those things called out in the Act, using and, in many cases, augmenting the detailed workplace rules developed by Governor Cuomo’s administration very early in the crisis.


Being totally oblivious to current workplace protections is highly unlikely so it might just be that those in the legislative chambers were suffering from jealousy knowing that the Governor and employers were successful in keeping Covid at bay in workplaces without their input. They want the spotlight. Their careers depend on it.


So, along those lines, while the HERO acronym was used to identify frontline and essential workers as heroes, it also likely insinuated that the legislators are heroes, too, because they protected the workers by making workplaces safe.


And, not to be outdone, those who developed the bill, led by Senator Michael Gianaris, added a couple of nuances to virus management that don’t bode well for the future: Permanency and legal action.


Though supposedly intended to fight coronavirus, the bill opens the door for the protocols in use now to be used indefinitely. It doesn’t discuss Covid singularly; instead, it identifies airborne infectious disease as “a highly-contagious communicable disease by the commissioner of health that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health.”


That means that once we’ve nipped Covid in the bud you could potentially see masks and social distancing deployed for 3 to 4 months of every year because influenza, in the eye of the beholder, could be designated as harmful to public health. After all, the 5 flu seasons prior to the Covid pandemic averaged 34.4 million cases, just under a half million hospitalizations, and 36,000 deaths in the United States.  


What was once believed to be temporary measures could be the new norm.


As if that’s not transformative enough, consider how the HERO Act would totally change how workplace safety is managed.


For as long as most of us have been working, specific protections have been afforded to employees and employers alike. If something is amiss with safety, workers and businesses talk about it -- if that doesn’t work out the Department of Labor and/or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration get involved. Similarly, the workers compensation system has existed to ensure equitable or just settlements between parties.


You can throw that away with the HERO Act. It allows employees to forgo those outlets and go right to the courts if the person alleges that the employer violated the airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan “in a manner that creates a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition which exists.” So, for fear of coronavirus or the flu, if someone feels threatened by a system, coworker, or customer, they can sue the employer for up to $20,000 under this legislation and have their lawyer’s fees covered by that company if victorious (meaning industrious lawyers could charge astronomical fees).


It’s not coincidental that a good number of state legislators are lawyers because this will lead to some significant economic activity for their partners and peers. I can just hear the radio and television ads now: “Down with Covid? Out with the flu? We will make your employer pay!”


It’s also not coincidental that government is protected by the HERO Act. The legislators know it will be burdensome and lead to a bevy of lawsuits. So, the bill specifically excludes the state, public authorities, and any other governmental agency or instrumentality. If all workplaces must be safe and offer recourse as necessary, shouldn’t it be that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?


There’s little that’s heroic about the HERO Act.


That’s why I encourage the Governor -- the last line of dense with bad legislation -- to veto the bill.


Since March of 2020, he, his administration, and every one of us who owns or manages a business have gone to great lengths to protect workers.


We can’t let attention-seekers come to the Covid fray 14 months too late, dismissing all those efforts, and re-inventing the wheel, badly.



From the 26 April 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, April 16, 2021

Authorize more people to use EpiPens


Forest rangers are the first responders in the most remote places of New York. Miles from roads, back in the wilds, they are the souls who trudge through forests, streams, mud and snow to administer first aid, console those in crisis, and bring out the injured. They are the first in and the last out.


In order to succeed in that job, no, that calling, they need the tools that are required for saving lives.


Surprisingly, something not afforded them, not even authorized for them, is a simple device that is at once necessary and portable: The EpiPen.


The well-known epinephrine auto-injector is administered to persons appearing to experience anaphylactic symptoms. Anaphylaxis is, in layman’s terms, a severe, even deadly, allergic reaction that can develop in minutes, sometimes seconds.


You’ve likely heard about EpiPens being important assets to those who could face life-or-death consequences if exposed to peanuts or stung by bees.


Similarly, that makes them critical parts of a first aid kit for organizations and individuals who may find themselves responding to an event in their community or workplace.


State law allows for only a select set of eligible entities and people to inventory and deploy EpiPens that includes ambulance services, EMTs, overnight camps, schools, restaurants, and amusement parks. Oddly enough, public health law didn’t extend such powers to police or firefighters until December of 2019. Even odder than that, forest rangers weren’t include in that uniformed expansion.


That lifesaving power is an absolute necessity for them in normal times, but it carries even greater meaning now in the pandemic when more people are experiencing the outdoors in ways they never have before.


Think of the hikers and campers who hail from cities or suburbs, who may have never seen a bee up close, and possible even at all, in their life. Up in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks is not where one wants to discover for the first time that they are allergic to bees. They won’t have an auto-injector with them, your average hiker nearby won’t, either. That would leave the Rangers – the backwoods first responders -- as their best hope, their only hope, to survive an adverse reaction in that remote terrain.


In response to this, Senator Jim Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara put together a timely bipartisan bill (S.4375/A.4652) to right this wrong and allow the nearly 700 forest rangers, conservation officers, and park police employed in the state to carry and administer epinephrine.


Introduced in early February, the bills are languishing in committee in their respective houses. Their fellow legislators need to move more quickly on passage. Get it through the process, voted upon, and then signed by the Governor…soon. The law would go into effect 30 days after it is signed into law, which means time is of the essence: If it does not cross the Governor’s desk for another month or so, that means rangers and officers won’t be trained or equipped until the summer rush is on in the mountains and parks, the latter of which open May 21st. By then, it could be too late for someone.   


This bill is very important, but at its core it begs the question: Why not empower more of us?


I travel with a first aid bag and a NarCan kit in my truck in the event I have to help others in need, wherever we may be. If I can be approved to deliver Naloxone to save someone’s life from an overdose why can’t I be granted the power to do the same for another who’s suffering from an allergic event?


You’ll often hear people cite this as a moral issue, one of priorities. They ask why medical equipment is provided for and allowed to save a drug addict but it isn’t when needed to save an innocent child.


While that’s a powerful way to put it, I don’t look at it that way. All life is precious. I’ll revive the addict. I’ll protect the child.


Just give me the stamp of approval to do so, to be there for everyone.


I’ll take the training. I’ll invest in an EpiPen. I’ll keep it with me and use it as needed.


I might never save a life, but what if I have the chance? The Grim Reaper comes calling when it is least expected. Give me the okay to keep him away. I might save your loved one or mine. I might save your life or mine.


I encourage the Senator and Assemblyman to apply significant pressure to make their backcountry first responders bill a reality.


And, I hope Mr. Tedisco and Mr. Santabarbara consider expanding the law yet again in the next legislative session, to make the lifesaving power of the EpiPen more accessible to all of us.


From the 19 April 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, April 5, 2021

Increasing taxes will hurt small businesses


Last week, President Joe Biden announced his infrastructure plan or, more accurately, a gigantic $2 trillion spending plan masquerading as such – only 38% percent of it actually goes to infrastructure.


In the theatrics of policymaking it makes sense for the President to market it that way: If you are against the majority of the bill you must be an evil soul who’s surely against better roads, safer bridges, and internet access for inner cities and rural communities. Who wouldn’t want that for their America?


Well, you can and should be against out-of-control spending piggybacking on good spending when one of the critical funding mechanisms is increasing taxes on businesses. The President is proposing that the corporate tax rate be raised from 21% to 28%.


At a quick glance to the average person the increase looks harmless. They’ll say, “that’s only 7%.” It’s not. It’s 7 percentage points, which is actually a 33 percent increase. That’s means a business that paid $100,000 in federal taxes last year will pay an extra $33,333 this year.  


Not that anytime is a good time for raising taxes, but such a cash grab could not come at a worse time. Because of the pandemic and governments’ responses to it businesses are crippled, that is if they were lucky enough to survive. The President himself knows that, as he said in February, “Since the beginning of this pandemic, 400,000 small businesses have closed — 400,000 — and millions more are hanging by a thread.”


Why add to that death toll?


If they are fortunate enough to actually achieve a profit in this mess, small businesses should not have more of their money taken away when it needs to be spent on getting through the crisis which is already more than a year old and will linger for at least a couple more. They need that money to pay the bills, cover debt, right the ship, invest in the new norm, and build opportunity for their coworkers, customers, and communities. Every extra dollar thrown Uncle Sam’s way is a dollar diverted from staying alive and becoming stronger.  


In response to such sentiments, the President said last Friday, "Asking corporate America just to pay their fair share will not slow the economy at all."


He fails to see that companies like mine and smaller are paying our fair share. It’s the larger corporations that aren’t.


Just last week, a study was released by the Institute on Taxation and Economy Policy that showed 55 of America’s largest firms paid no taxes last year. Among them are companies that benefitted greatly from Americans being stuck at home because of the pandemic -- FedEx and Dish Network, which had incomes of $1.2 billion and $2.5 billion respectively.  


The big boys have found and will always find creative ways to mitigate if not outright eliminate their tax obligations.


On the other hand, the little guys like us are left footing the bill. We aren’t making tax shelters, playing with numbers, and masking monies overseas. We know that we have an obligation and a duty to fund the roads, courts, and defense that our country – and our companies -- need. You won’t find many small businesses complaining about paying a tax rate in the 20% range. When you get closer to 30%, and likely one day above that, that’s when we have problems. 


Confer Plastics pays hundreds of thousands a year in federal taxes. I have zero interest in paying a few more hundreds of thousands a year, especially when I’ve seen what the “Trump Tax Cuts” of 2017 have meant to my company since the rate dropped from 35% to 21%. In those few years since, even in the Covid crisis, we were able to buy new machinery and equipment and pay out excellent bonuses to the entire team…all while become debt-free for the first time in over a quarter century. That’s right: No more seasonal lines, no more equipment lines at the bank. By having access to more of our money because of lower tax rates we didn’t need the bank’s money.


In the days before Covid, similar positive stories could be heard from retailers, restaurateurs, and industrialists across the country.


That’s how you advance the economy. You let Main Street grow. You let the mom-and-pop operations flourish. You don’t take away more of their money as we head into a strange, new economy and give it to others to do who knows what.


Ironically, increasing taxes on small businesses will be entirely self-defeating to something the President touts as the American Jobs Plan. Advancing that initiative will kill jobs and/or temper future growth.


One million small businesses will be impacted by the move.


One million. 


It not just the big companies who are in the sights of a corporate tax increase.           


It will be the machine shop down the street, your favorite restaurant, the local hardware store, your family’s beloved campground, maybe even your employer.


As Mister Biden said, “Small businesses are the engines of our economic progress; they’re the glue and the heart and soul of our communities. But they’re getting crushed.”


He needs to be true to that statement.


You know what we bring to the table. Don’t crush us.



From the 05 April 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News