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Health care law employee monitoring to begin

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Expert: Keeping track of hours important for future employee number determination


By MITCH LIES


Capital Press


ALBANY, Ore. -- Farmers should start monitoring employee hours Jan. 1 in preparation for meeting responsibilities of the Affordable Care Act, according to an Oregon Farm Bureau executive.


As of Jan. 1, 2014, employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer workers affordable health care coverage, said Gail Greenman, national affairs specialist with the Farm Bureau. But, Greenman said, the act includes a 12-month "look-back period" that will be used to determine if employers meet the 50-worker threshold.


Also, Greenman said, employers need to monitor part-time employee hours.


"If you have some part-time employees that equate to one (full-time) employee, that has to be counted toward your threshold of 50," she said.


Greenman delivered her message during a Farm Bureau-sponsored lunch Nov. 14 at the 2012 Willamette Valley Ag Expo.


Her sweeping report on national affairs included a look at the make up of the new Congress and a review of issues facing the current Congress, including the so-called fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff includes an expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and across-the-board spending reductions. It kicks in Jan. 1 if no action is taken.


"Of those expiring tax cuts, there are a lot we are concerned about," Greenman said, "but I would say the death tax is our primary focus."


Under the current estate tax, or death tax, the first $5 million of an estate's value for individuals and $10 million for couples is exempted from taxation upon the death of an estate owner.


"If nothing is fixed, (the exemption) reverts back to $1 million, which is the way it was prior to the tax cuts coming into play in 2001," she said.


Also, Greenman said, it is vital for Congress to pass a farm bill before the end of the year.


"If they don't get it done. ... they have to start the process all over again," Greenman said. "And while the budget projections didn't look good (this) year when they did the bill, they start with new budget projections next year, and those are going to be even worse.


"So that makes it really devastating if they don't get a farm bill passed by the end of the year," she said.


The Senate passed its version of a farm bill earlier this year that included $23 billion in spending cuts, with most of the cuts coming out of the bill's commodity title. A House version of the bill never made it to a floor vote.


Greenman said leadership in the House and Senate remain unchanged after the Nov. 6 general election, with Republicans controlling the House, and Democrats the Senate.


The Farm Bureau had hoped the electorate would unseat President Barack Obama, in part to help rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, which is proposing to expand the reach of the Clean Water Act, and the Department of Labor, an agency Greenman said has "run amok."


Operating under the "hot goods" provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. Department of Labor employed questionable tactics this summer to acquire admissions of guilt for minimum wage violations from three Oregon blueberry farms in exchange for releasing their crops into commerce.


The hot goods provision is used to stop goods from entering commerce that the department's Wage and House Division believes were produced in violation of the act.


Farmers subjected to the tactic were denied due process, Greenman said, given that their only recourse was to request an administrative hearing and risk losing their crop before a hearing is held.


"I've been doing federal policy since 1985," she said, "and I can tell you that I have never experienced or seen an agency run amok the way the Department of Labor did."


Greenman said Oregon's congressional delegation has been "extremely helpful" in trying to get answers to why the agency used the hot goods provision on perishable goods.


But, she said: "To give you an idea of the Department of Labor's power, six out of the seven members of our delegation sent a letter to Secretary (of Labor Hilda) Solis asking what basis you had for doing what you did, why you did what you did, and why due process was taken away from our growers.


"That letter was sent by our delegation Aug. 15," Greenman said. "It is now Nov. 14, and they are still waiting on the answer."


Greenman ended her presentation on a positive note, saying there may be an opportunity to obtain comprehensive immigration reform by next fall. But, she said, any reform "will not come without the E-Verify component attached to it."


E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows employers to determine the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. Critics of the system say it is unreliable and has been shown to wrongly identify many eligible workers as ineligible.



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