Thursday, April 19, 2012

US Dept of Labor finalizes changes to H-2B visa rules

Via the American Horse Council:

On February 21, 2012 the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a final rule concerning the H-2B temporary guest worker program. This new rule, which will go into effect on April 23, 2012, will make significant changes to the way the H-2B program operates for all employers including those in the horse industry.

“Anyone in the horse industry who uses the H-2B program needs to be aware of this new rule. It makes major changes to the responsibilities of employers using the program and if the new guidelines aren’t followed employers could be fined and barred from using the program,” said AHC President Jay Hickey.

The H-2B program is used by members of the horse industry, principally horse trainers and owners who cannot find American workers to fill semi-skilled jobs at racetracks, horse shows, fairs and in similar non-agricultural activities.

The AHC believes the new rule will make the H-2B program more costly and burdensome for employers who are forced to use the program and has opposed the new rule. “It is unfortunate the DOL decide to finalize this rule,” said AHC Legislative Director Ben Pendergrass. “This rule will make it difficult for trainers and others in the horse industry to use the program and could impact American jobs. The current rule was working well for the industry and included many protections for foreign and American workers.”

The final rule, among other things, will:

  • Require an employer to pay most inbound and outbound travel expenses for H-2B workers.
  • Extend H-2B program benefits, such as reimbursement of transportation cost, to American “corresponding workers” that work alongside H-2B workers and perform substantially the same work.
  • Require employers to provide documentation that they have taken appropriate steps to recruit U.S. workers, rather than permitting employers to attest to such compliance.
  • Increase the amount of time employers must try to recruit U.S. workers.
  • Prohibit job contractors from using the program.
  • Define temporary need as 9 months, previously it was 10 months.
  • Define full time employment as 35 hours a week, previously it was 30 hours.

“This final rule is complex and has many new provisions and changes. If you are an employer who uses the program you should review the new guidelines and contact the lawyer or agent you use to process H-2B applications to ensure you are in compliance with the new rule when it goes into effect on April 23,” said Pendergrass.

DOL guidance and the complete rule can be found here on DOL’s website.

“Many Members of Congress are also displeased with this new rule and believe it could hurt industries in their states. The AHC is going to continue to work with those Members to try and roll back this new rule. Unfortunately, gridlock in Washington will prevent any quick action by Congress and the horse industry will have to comply with the new rule for the foreseeable future,” said Hickey.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Limited liability for Maryland owners who permit recreational use of their land

Did you know that Maryland landowners who permit others to use their land for recreational purposes (such as horseback riding), according to Maryland law do NOT:

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;
(2) Confer upon the person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; or
(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability as a result of any injury to the person or property caused by an act of omission of the person.

- as long as the landowner does not charge for the use.

Good news for trail riders, and the kind landowners who host them!

For the full text of the law, click here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

General Assembly regular session ends with no budget agreement

At midnight on April 9, the Maryland General Assembly ended its 2012 session - without enacting an apparent compromise that would have balanced the budget through both spending cuts and revenue increases. This means that the so-called "Doomsday Budget," which is balanced through deep cuts in expenditures, will go into effect on July 1, unless a special session of the General Assembly is convened to try again. A Special Session is a virtual certainty, but as of this writing, when it will convene and whether it will be confined to just budget issues is still up in the air.

In any event, the legislature did manage to dispose of a number of legislative issues of interest to the Maryland equine community. Here's a summary of the outcomes of several proposed pieces of legislation that we have been following. For a more complete description of these bills, see the MD Horse Council's legislative Blogpost of March 6.

SB 108 (making clarifying changes to the stable license law) and HB 680 (requiring the state to incorporate education about sustainable ag into science curricula) passed both houses of the General Assembly.
In addition, Sunday hunting bills in Dorchester and Caroline (SB 105/HB 114 & SB 390/HB 129), Harford (SB 346/HB 321), Cecil(HB 877), and Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties(HB 1431) passed. Only the PG County bill (HB 809) failed to move.

On the racing side, SB 49 (making certain changes to the Maryland-Bred Race Fund) and SB 794/HB947 (eliminating the restriction on the use of Purse Dedication Account funds for operating expenses at Ocean Downs and Rosecroft through 2015) were passed by both houses.

Bills that failed to emerge successfully include HB 912 (changing "owner" to "guardian" in certain laws applying to dogs); SB 445/HB 336 and SB 203/HB 484 (giving courts the power to order transfer of ownership of confiscated animals, and requiring original owners to pay costs in removing and caring for confiscated animals after conviction of certain crimes of abuse, neglect or cruelty; HB 376 (redirecting slots revenue away from racing industry and to school construction); SB 15 (requiring a study of the mission and operations of the Show Place Arena at the PG Equestrian Center); SB 301/HB 1020 (establishment of a registry of convicted animal abusers).

A number of changes to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program (MALPF) - SB 129 (easements), SB 148 (lot releases), SB 112 (appraisals) were enacted.

A number of bills related to manure management regulations and the Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration were unsuccessful: SB 330 (prohibited new regulations to mandate action on farms until other watershed states equal Maryland's performance so far); SB 594 (prohibiting winter application of animal manure and biosolids); SB 822/HB 487 (prohibiting watershed implementation mandates on local jurisdictions unless funding from state or federal sources would support); SB 823/ HB 486 (requiring the state to develop and rank a list of best management practices for watershed implementation).
However, SB 118 (allowing the state to add sediment to its existing nutrient credit program) passed both houses.

Of general interest: the Governor's Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act (SB 236/HB 445) (related to the implementation of PlanMaryland) was enacted with amendments that leave final control in the hands of the local jurisdictions. The Family Farm Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 294/HB 444) was also enacted. This exempts up to $5 million dollars of the value of a farm from the state estate tax when it will remain in agricultural use for at least 10 years. It also reduces the rate for property exceeding $5 million from the current 16% to 5%.

The "Flush Tax" was doubled from $30 to $60, but only for users who discharge into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. But the proposed increase in the Gas Tax (SB 971/ HB 1302) failed.

Finally, a few bills of interest that were filed after our March 6 summary deserve mention: HB 1303 (doubles from $100,000 to $200,000 per practice the maximum amount of state cost sharing for water pollution control projects such as manure storage structures, steam fencing and crossings, etc.) passed both houses. This will be especially helpful as farmers are asked to install more best management practices to meet Watershed Implementation Plan goals. HB 1404 was enacted, moving the Animal Waste Technology Fund from the Dept. of Business and Economic Development to the Dept. of Agriculture. This fund is intended to research, develop and market projects to reduce the amount of nutrients in animal waste, or develop alternative waste management strategies. Unfortunately, SB 976/HB 1309, which would have expanded the list of tax deductible equipment purchases under the subtraction modification law to include manure spreaders and other nutrient application equipment failed to pass.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Trail Riding News

Ron MacNab, MHC Executive Committee member, Maryland Horse Industry Board Trail and Recreational Riding Representative, and President of Trail Riders of Today has been working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to identify all DNR properties that permit horseback riding.
They found that there are lots of places to ride that were not indicated on the park/forest websites.
DNR has now corrected this and horseback riding is indicated on those sites wherever it is allowed!