Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Metro gets serious about outsourcing Silver Line service

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, January 9, 2018
 
A proposal to outsource operations of the Silver Line took a significant step Monday, when Metro officials issued a formal “request for information” from potential contractors who might be interested in the job. …. Metro’s opportunities for privatization are limited, because of its existing union contracts. But the agency is allowed to seek help from outside contractors when considering how to manage operations on new segments of the system. Officials have already met with potential contractors to outsource bus operations and maintenance at the newly-constructed Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va…..

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D.C. May Seek To End Private Contracts For Public Transit
Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, November 30, 2017

A coalition of organized labor and social justice groups are calling on D.C. lawmakers to stop the District from contracting out public transit services, saying the private firms that operate the Circulator bus system and D.C. Streetcar fail to provide reliable service to riders and treat their employees poorly.  “We are concerned about privatization of good public-sector jobs,” said Barbara Kraft of the Washington Interfaith Network, which is teaming with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and individual bus and streetcar operators to lobby the D.C. Council to bring all District transit operations in-house. …

Union: Look to Circulator and D.C. Streetcar for evidence of why Metro shouldn’t be privatized
Source: Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
 
Reliability problems with the D.C. Circulator and planning and construction shortfalls of the city’s streetcar system are examples of why the District and Metro should be wary of privatizing more services, the transit agency’s union said Tuesday.  Although the District Department of Transportation owns the Circulator buses and oversees the D.C. streetcar, Amalgamated Transit Union International says there’s an implicit warning for Metro.  “Fix the service you have; take responsibility for the quality of service you have,” said Michael McCall-Delgado, a strategic researcher at ATU International and author of a new report, “Fool D.C. Twice.” … The union report holds the District partially responsible for the decline of the region’s transit system, saying that instead of investing in Metro, local leaders pushed seemingly “hip” and “premium ridership” projects to attract millennials to the city. …

… ATU, which represents more than 9,000 Metro employees through its Local 689 chapter, has rejected Wiedefeld’s shift toward privatization, including a proposal that would use private contractors to fill station manager or track inspection jobs on the second phase of the Silver Line. Contractors could also be used to operate such facilities as new bus garages. Separately, Metro has nearly doubled its spending on private contractors over the past two years. In its report, however, the union takes D.C. officials to task for failing to hold contractors accountable for construction, planning and service failures. The report highlights how the Circulator, operated by Cincinnati-based First Transit, has been beset by maintenance problems for years “while avoiding government oversight,” according to the union. Circulator buses have a notoriously poor reliability record, with the 2016 audit finding an average of 22 defects per bus. Many of the defects — nearly three per bus — were tied to safety equipment and should have been caught during routine inspections, the audit said. And the problems have persisted: A report this week from WAMU said reliability issues have left the Circulator up to 10 buses short of its quota when buses depart its lots each day. …

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Atlantic City Water Services to Remain in Public Hands

Source: Jocelyn Alcox, AFSCME Now, January 9, 2018
 
Members of AFSCME New Jersey worked hard to make sure Atlantic City’s water system remains in public hands. Just before the Christmas holiday, the state announced that it will not lease or sell the city’s water system to a private company. This followed more than a year of concern from residents and activists about the fate of the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA), and is due in large part to the hard work and dedication of AFSCME members in and around Atlantic City. “We immediately knew we had to do something,” said April Gould, president of Local 3408. “Atlantic City is already struggling and outsourcing the water would have been disastrous.  AFSCME members have always been on the front lines of community issues and this time was no different. This is the community that we live in and that we work in, you can’t just leave those problems up to somebody else and hope they work out.” …

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State says it won’t sell or lease Atlantic City MUA to private company
Source: Erin Serpico, Press of Atlantic City, December 20, 2017
 
Following more than a year of concern from city residents and local activists about the fate of the city Municipal Utilities Authority, the state announced it will not lease or sell the water system to a private company. … The state has previously urged the city to dissolve the MUA, but the city either pulled or voted down measures to do so before the state took over in November 2016. For months after, more than 100 people from civic associations, the local chapter of the NAACP, Food and Water Watch and a group called “AC Citizens Against the State Takeover” knocked on doors and collected signatures to protect the water system from being sold. …

Atlantic City Votes To Protect Its Water From Chris Christie
Source: Daniel Cohen, Alternet, July 14, 2017
 
On Tuesday, the Atlantic City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ensure its residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  Why might New Jersey sell or lease Atlantic City’s water? Well, because Christie has been laying the groundwork for such a deal for years. In 2014, he passed a statewide law making it easier for struggling municipalities to sell off water infrastructure. Turns out, Atlantic City has been struggling—mainly due to a rash of casino closures, including Trump’s failed Taj Mahal. Last summer, after the state bailed the city out, Christie made it loud and clear there were strings attached: “I want [the loan] secured by every asset they have, so that if they don’t pay it, I get to take the assets, sell them and pay you [the taxpayer] back.” Late last year, he delivered on that promise and took control of the city’s assets and most of its decision-making power. …

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New Higher Education Bill Rolls Back Obama-Era Safeguards

Source: Erica L. Green, New York Times, December 12, 2017
 
Congressional Republicans begin work on Tuesday on an extensive rewrite of the law that governs the nation’s system of higher education, seeking to dismantle landmark Obama administration regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges and to repay the loans of those who earned worthless degrees from scam universities.  But in its systematic effort to erase President Barack Obama’s fingerprints from higher education, the measure before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce could undermine bedrock elements that have guided university education for decades. One provision alone could do away with the system of “credit hours” that college students earn to complete their degrees. …

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Education Dept. could scale back help on loans
Source: Maria Danilova, Associated Press, October 30, 2017
 
The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.  Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.  But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away. …

States Sue Over Scrapping of Obama-Era Rules on For-Profit Colleges
Source: Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17, 2017

A coalition of Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos for not enforcing an Obama-era rule intended to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit schools. In June, Mrs. DeVos suspended the so-called “gainful employment” rules before they took effect. If enacted they would have cut off federal funding for schools where students leave with high debt and end up in jobs with low salaries. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls Mrs. DeVos’s suspension of those rules “unlawful” and accuses her of trying to “run out the clock” through a series of delays until she can implement new regulation…..

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Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …

Higher Education Act Proposal Primes Fight Over Future of Colleges

Source: Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2017

The sprawling, 542-page revamp of the Higher Education Act released Friday by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, kicks off what is likely to be a rocky and drawn-out legislative process aimed at reshaping college education. The bill, previewed earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal, would update the Higher Education Act of 1965 by overhauling student-loan programs, mandating more transparency on graduates’ earnings and jettisoning much of the existing regulatory framework on for-profit colleges. The bill, titled the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, must still work its way through the House, while an initial Senate version isn’t expected until 2018. Early reactions from colleges and student advocates—all with powerful lobbyists in Washington—suggest actually turning the wish list into law would be a steep uphill battle. …

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House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher Education
Source: Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, and Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives this week will propose sweeping legislation that aims to change where Americans go to college, how they pay for it, what they study, and how their success—or failure—affects the institutions they attend.  The most dramatic and far-reaching element of the plan is a radical revamp of the $1.34 trillion federal student loan program. It would put caps on borrowing and eliminate some loan forgiveness programs.  The ambitious package—a summary of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal—would be the biggest overhaul of education policy in decades. The rising expense of higher education is deeply troubling to many Americans and many increasingly question its value. Despite a steady rise in the share of high-school graduates heading to college, a skills gap has left more than 6 million jobs unfilled, a significant drag on the economy. …

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Lawmakers seek probes of award for Hurricane Maria tarps

Source: Tami Abdollah, Associated Press, December 1, 2017

Democrats in Congress are pushing for investigations into how the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts worth $30 million to a fledgling company for Hurricane Maria disaster supplies that it failed to deliver to Puerto Rico. The senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, wrote Thursday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, seeking more information about how FEMA evaluated Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida. The Associated Press reported this week that FEMA awarded the small firm contracts for tarps and plastic sheeting that were never delivered. The agency ultimately terminated the contracts earlier this month without paying any money, but the episode caused a delay of four weeks. …

… Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., wants the Homeland Security Department inspector general to investigate. He sought the review in an amendment to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2017, which cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. Maloney’s amendment cleared the committee with unanimous bipartisan support, though it was unclear when the House will vote on the measure. The amendment specifically requests an inspector general audit of all contracts awarded for tarps and plastic sheeting for the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The review would include the contracting process used to evaluate bidders and award the contracts; the assessment of past performance and technical capacity to fulfill the contracts; and how FEMA ensures the contractors meet the terms. …

San Mateo County officials, non-profits say labor bill would harm services

Source: Michael McLaughlin, Peninsula Press, November 19, 2017
 
Nonprofits and many California counties are gearing up for a possible showdown in Sacramento against the state’s service employees union over a bill that could make it harder for local governments to contract with outside organizations that provide critical services.  AB 1250, a labor bill that proposes new requirements that opponents say could make it difficult for counties to outsource services, stalled in September in the Senate Rules Committee but is eligible to be acted upon again as early as January.  The struggle to pass it pits the Service Employees International Union, a North American labor group with 1.9 million members, against nonprofits who fear their budgets will be slashed if county governments face new hurdles to work with them. …

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California Today: Battle Over a Bill Reaches the State Senate
Source: Mike McPhate, New York Times, August 24, 2017

An intense debate is being waged in Sacramento over a proposal that would alter how crucial services are provided to Californians. Sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, the measure would require that counties adhere to a raft of new conditions before contracting out for services in health care, housing, public safety and other areas. …

Editorial: California Democrats’ labor of love for unions
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2017

A union-backed bill to pad local government payrolls has been steadily diminished by those with the clout to fend off organized labor and its numerous friends in the California Legislature. The state’s cities got a reprieve from the bill en masse. So did San Francisco, the state’s only city and county, and Santa Clara County. All that’s left for the state Senate is to finish the job and kill this misbegotten bill altogether. … The bill’s onerous conditions leave little doubt that its intent is to discourage and eliminate private contracts in favor of expanding government payrolls and union membership. It threatens to needlessly inflate public spending and disrupt a range of services, many of them routinely provided by nonprofits serving the homeless, the mentally ill and other vulnerable people. A legislative analysis found that the bill would bring about “potentially major local cost increases or service reductions” and could affect “a broad array of services.” …

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Home care registry bill on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk could lead to lawsuit

Source: Shira Schoenberg, MassLive, November 15, 2017
 
A bill creating a registry for home care workers is back on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, to the dismay of home care workers who are considering a court challenge.  “This legislation exposes these essential frontline direct care workers to enormous privacy and due process violations,” wrote advocates for the home care workers in a statement.  The bill, H.3821, would require home care workers who work for state-contracted agencies to include in a database their name, home and mailing addresses, gender, job title, and training or certifications. The information could be reported to labor unions, home care worker agencies and private organizations that have state contracts to connect people with elder services. …

New York’s prevailing wage law: A cost-benefit analysis

Source: Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel, Economic Policy Institute, November 1, 2017

… State prevailing wage laws across the country have increasingly been assailed by those who appeal to lawmakers’ other responsibility—minimizing taxpayer costs—in an attempt to weaken or repeal these policies. These nationwide campaigns are built almost entirely upon a single argument: higher wages must equate to higher taxpayer costs. … And with a recent publication by the Empire Center (McMahon and Gardner 2017), it has become apparent that some in New York will attempt to pitch the same narrative to state lawmakers. There’s one problem. According to the most advanced economic research on state prevailing wage laws, the simple narrative largely isn’t true.

To separate fact from fiction as it relates to New York’s prevailing wage law, this report provides a thorough cost-benefit analysis of state policy relying extensively on independent, peer-reviewed research. As summarized in this report, academic economists from around the country have made prevailing wage laws a research priority over the last 15 years. In study after study, economists have found no evidence that these laws have had any significant cost effects on the biggest drivers of New York’s capital budget: highways and institutional buildings (e.g., schools). …

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The “Amazon Amendment” Would Effectively Hand Government Purchasing Power Over to Amazon

Source: David Dayen, The Intercept, November 2, 2017

… Instead of getting yelled at by lawmakers, Amazon is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over retail rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement. Language buried in Section 801 of the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being hashed out in a conference committee with the Senate, would move Defense Department purchases of commercial off-the-shelf products to “online marketplaces.” Theoretically, that means any website that offers an array of options for paper clips or office furniture; in reality that signals likely dominance for Amazon Business, the company’s commercial sales platform. Section 801 stipulates that the program should be designed “to enable Government-wide use of such marketplaces.” Scale, then, is key. Over time, this change would give platforms like Amazon access to all $53 billion in federal government commercial item purchases.

… “It seems like Amazon wrote it,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has written critical reports about Amazon in the past. “It will accelerate the transfer of more and more government spending to Amazon.” The online marketplace provision, which still has to get through a House-Senate conference, coincides with a significant ramp-up for Amazon Business, which only launched in 2015. … But federal procurement is the holy grail, the lucrative market to tap. Perhaps that’s why, for the head of Amazon Business’s public sector division, the company hired Anne Rung, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy until fall 2016. This made Rung effectively the top purchasing officer in the United States. … Indeed, Section 801 has been informally dubbed the “Amazon amendment,” and experts believe only one or two companies would have the wherewithal to participate. That means monopoly or duopoly control of $53 billion in federal purchasing. The online marketplaces, which can be given no-bid contracts, explicitly eliminate the need for government procurement officers to seek out competitive bids for commercial products. …