State of the industry: 2012 advocacy update

A look at the H-2B program, CWA NPDES Pesticide General Permit and federal disaster tax relief

GCSAA and its members advocated on a number of important issues in 2011 that are crucial to the golf course management industry. Those efforts included helping to preserve the H-2B visa program, supporting work to make the golf industry eligible to apply for federal disaster tax relief funding, and working to negate the need for a new Clean Water Act chemical spraying permit brought forth through activist litigation. GCSAA thanks all its members who took time to make their voices heard, whether it was through emails, letters, phone calls or personal visits. Grassroots engagement is at the heart of GCSAA's advocacy efforts.

Here's snapshot of recent developments, as well as what the future may hold, for GCSAA's three major grassroots campaigns:

H-2B visa program

In February, the U.S. Department of Labor adopted a rule that significantly increased the wages paid to H-2B and American workers. Consequently, most golf facilities would not be able to use the program. H-2B employers, including GCSAA members, asked Congress to intervene. As a true testament to this grassroots activity, Congress included language in the FY2012 Omnibus spending bill that prohibits the implementation of the DOL's new H-2B visa wage rule for the remainder of the 2012 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2012. President Obama signed the bill on Dec. 23, 2011.

Two federal lawsuits were filed against the DOL in 2011 in an attempt to stop implementation of the new H-2B visa wage rule. The first lawsuit, filed in Louisiana, sought a temporary restraining order to prohibit the rule from going into effect. The judge in this case recently granted a motion by labor organizations to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the case will be reheard there. GCSAA supported the second litigation effort, filed in Florida, which challenges the proprietary nature of the wage rule concerning the computation and implementation of the prevailing wages for H-2B visa holders. This case remains open. In December, the judge assigned to the case dismissed labor organizations' attempts to intervene in the case and denied their request to move the case to Pennsylvania. These two decisions are now being appealed by the labor organizations.

The DOL is getting ready to finalize a rule that will make significant programmatic changes to the H-2B visa program. If adopted, golf facilities will not be able to use the program. It is possible H-2B employers will engage in additional litigation to stop implementation of the final programmatic rule.

GCSAA will continue to work with the H-2B Workforce Coalition and its members to secure a long-term fix to this situation.

Federal disaster tax relief legislation

Congress passed two major bills at the end of 2011 that failed to include federal disaster tax relief. The first was the FY2012 Omnibus spending bill, which funds the government through Sept. 30, 2012. The second was a tax extenders bill that focused on a two-month extension of unemployment insurance, Medicare payments to physicians and the payroll tax. 

The fiscal climate affecting the payroll tax debate stopped any chance of adding federal disaster tax relief funds to the payroll tax cut extension bill. The existing federal disaster tax relief bills (such as the Southeastern Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2011) are not paid for, and there has not been interest in trying to pass such a bill when Congress can't agree on how to pay for the payroll tax cut. It is likely Congress will make a push in 2012 to pass federal disaster tax relief legislation, and there will be more pressure to do something if the country experiences more severe weather outbreaks. With the political climate of 2012 and federal elections, passage of major spending bills may be less likely.

Clean Water Act NPDES Pesticide General Permit

H.R. 872/NPDES permit relief (the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011) did not make it into the final versions of any last-minute legislation passed by Congress prior to the 2011 holiday recess. The issue was in play, likely even included, in early versions of the FY2012 Omnibus spending bill. However, it remains a challenge to overcome the existing block on the bill from U.S. senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

On October 31, 2011, the EPA issued a final CWA NPDES PGP for point source discharges for pesticide applications to waters of the U.S. GCSAA and its allies are committed to getting a permit fix through Congress in 2012. Golf course superintendents should become aware of compliance requirements in their states to protect their operations until there is relief from the permit's burdens.

What you can do: