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By Gary Thill
With the 2020 election now largely in the rearview mirror, NRCA and other industry associations are focused on the 2021 legislative front. And while they worry about new regulatory hurdles, they’re also keeping fingers crossed for other transformative legislation including long-awaited immigration reform.
“With divided government, the big question is whether there's going to be bipartisan cooperation to get some things done. It's possible there could be complete gridlock," said Duane Musser, NRCA’s vice president of government relations. "It’s up to us to communicate our policy preferences and encourage members of Congress and the administration to work together in a bipartisan manner and get things done.” Musser added that industry events such as Roofing Day in DC on March 24th will be key in that effort.
Hopes are especially high for a robust infrastructure package. As President, Biden can use executive action to enact some policies, but it remains to be seen whether Congress itself will act. "The question is, whether progress will come in the form of executive and agency action only, or will Congress come along with additional policy instruments and federal investments," said Justin Koscher, PIMA president, noting that both parties have touted infrastructure investment. "... However, in our divided, political climate, even bipartisan policy ideas such as a federal infrastructure package that includes a robust buildings component faces a very steep climb."
Here’s a look at what Musser said roofing lobbyists will be focused on in 2021 and how likely each will be:
Divided government — likelihood: high. While most matters of 2020 are settled, January special elections in Georgia will determine the balance of power in Congress. Republicans must win one of two Senate elections to maintain control, which will be a “huge check” on the Biden administration. Musser believes that’s a likely outcome, but as with all things in 2020, nothing is certain. “That’s either a recipe for lots of bipartisan cooperation or gridlock. So that’s a big question,” he said.
Immigration reform — likelihood: possible. Although both parties seem to want immigration reform, the issue has become highly politicized. But Musser said lobbyists feel a Biden administration is “more in sync with our position on immigration than Trump.” Specifically, Musser said Biden will likely be more amenable to reinstating DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as well as TPS (Temporary Protective Status), which the Trump administration halted. But Musser said the ultimate goal is for Congress to finally pass immigration reform legislation. “We would like to see Congress make a permanent solution,” he said. He added that while Biden will be able to take administrative action, whether Congress can actually get anything done on immigration remains a big question.
Infrastructure package — likelihood: high. “We think this could be one of the main legislative focuses of 2021,” Musser said. When it comes to infrastructure funding, the key for roofers is that it include buildings, Musser said, and that means an expansion of public building work such as airports. Biden has proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure package. But Musser said Senate Republicans are less willing to go that high. But even a more modest infrastructure building package would help shore up the industry’s biggest weak spot— commercial projects.The related Disaster Savings and Resilient Construction Act of 2020 could further augment that stimulus. But Koscher added, "... The new White House's climate agenda and sustainability driven investment trends from the private sector will create sizable opportunities for the roofing industry regardless of Congressional action."
Workforce development — likelihood: high. With a worker shortage continuing to plague the industry, NRCA and others are aiming for increased funding for career and technical education through initiatives such as federal Perkins Grants. These grants provide funding to state and local governments to operate technical career and education programs. “We don’t feel there’s much of a difference between Republicans and Democrats on this funding,” he said. “It’s not a highly partisan issue.”
Workforce Visas — likelihood: possible. Another immigration measure, HR1740 or the Worforce for an Expanding Economy Act, seeks to create a new “H-2C” nonimmigrant visa category for non-agricultural, low-skilled workers. “We would like to see an expansion of immigration,” Musser said. He added that additional legislation to mandate the E-Verify system could help combat illegal immigration. That’s because E-Verify, which is required for federal contractors, is electronically connected to the federal government's I-9 data base.
Tax policy changes — likelihood: low. While many roofers fear a Biden administration will mean higher taxes, Musser said a divided Congress will likely prevent any major changes. “We don’t see too much happening on taxes right now, assuming Republicans maintain control of the Senate,” he said.
Increased regulation — likelihood: high. OSHA regulations increased during the Obama administration and Musser is concerned that will play out in 2021 as well. “That's a bit of a concern,” he said.