WLRA June 2017 Legislative Update
The WLRA is actively involved at both the state and federal level on all legislative items impacting Wyoming’s hospitality and tourism industry.
Swipe Fee’s: The National Restaurant Association, American Hotel and Lodging Association and the WLRA along with many other state trade associations earned a hard fought victory last week when House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling removed the provision of the Financial CHOICE Act that would have repealed debit swipe-fee protections. Thank you very much to the WLRA members that lobbied our congressional delegation to protect the swipe fee protections!
Health Care: In May the House passed the American Health Care Act, 217-213. This vote was an important first step in improving our entire health care system, and sets the stage for Congress to take further steps to address our industry’s ongoing issues with the employer mandate – such as seasonal-worker guidelines, the 30-hour rule and employer reporting rules. We expect the Senate to begin consideration of this month, but no official timeline has been set.
Travel Ban Ruling: The Trump Administration filed an appeal last Thursday asking the Supreme Court to consider the legality of the President’s executive order that blocks entry of nationals from six Muslim-majority countries. Previously, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to maintain a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking key elements of the executive order. The Administration is now asking the Supreme Court to both decide on whether to hear the appeal before leaving for recess at the end of June and to reinstate the travel ban in the interim. Travel- and tourism-related associations met last week to discuss the ruling, and the best ways to reach out to Administration about the impact of the ban on travel and tourism. We continue to support strong border security measures that protect Americans while balancing the important economic contributions travel and tourism provide, especially with regard to our industry.
Budget: President Trump's proposed federal budget would eliminate the U.S.'s investment in Brand USA, the international travel-marketing arm of the United States. In the past four years, Brand USA generated an additional 4.3 million visitors from other countries, which added $29.5 billion to our economy. Not only that, Brand USA adds an average of 50,900 new U.S.-based jobs annually as a result of the increases in international travelers to the U.S. Most importantly, it doesn't spend a dime of federal taxpayer dollars. Congress basically ignored Presidents Trumps proposed cuts and funded the budget through September. Even though most all sources report that Trumps budget will not pass as written, we are monitoring it closely.
President Trump’s public suggestion that the country “could use a good shut down” earlier this year has also been harming Wyoming’s visitor economy as potential travelers, particularly international visitors, have shown caution in booking or have cancelled planned trips for later this year. The WLRA has drafted a letter to Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation urging a long range funding plan and details the harmful ramifications that public speculation surrounding a possible shutdown has on our states second largest industry.
H-2B Visa’s: Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would create a new guest worker program. Modeled on an innovative approach working well in Canada, the program would allow the states to design their own guest worker programs, granting visas to workers seeking to enter the U.S. and potentially those already in the country.
The congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 visas was reached extremely early this year and many WLRA members faced the threat of not having H-2B workers to supplement their full time staff for the upcoming tourism season. New language included in the current spending package will allow the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, the authority to raise the H-2B cap when it is determined that there is an economic need. This provision could significantly increase the total number of H-2B visas available to employers seeking to meet their peak season workforce needs.
Interim: With a $400 million shortfall in education funding left largely unaddressed this past session, the Joint Revenue Committee has been tasked with raising between $100-$300 million in new revenue this interim. Committee Co-Chairman Senator Ray Peterson announced that the committee will consider numerous possible tax increases including sales tax, property tax, corporate and gross receipts tax and the removal of tax exemptions at their September meeting. At a Joint Revenue and Education Committee meeting last week, discussion of a statewide lodging tax to help fund education was brought up as one of the potential solutions and we are monitoring this very closely.
Local Option Lodging Tax: The 2017 Legislative General Session saw four separate attempts to divert funding generated from the local option lodging tax to other interests seeking new revenue sources. Airline enhancement, local governments, infrastructure and the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. were all considered before your association was successful in defeating all four attempts. There have been and will continue to be more efforts to divert lodging tax funds this session. Members of the aeronautics industry have approached the WLRA with intent on proposing a statewide lodging tax for enhanced airline funding. The local option lodging tax will come under fire again in the 2018 budget session and your association has been educating and participating in discussions this interim to protect the local option lodging tax.
Tourism Funding: The Joint Revenue Committee has a statewide lodging tax on their interim topic discussion list as well this summer. Committee Co-Chairman Mike Madden reached out to WLRA Executive Director Chris Brown during the 2017 General Session to notify him of their intent to study the topic. He let Brown know that a 2% statewide lodging tax could fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism at their current funding levels while reverting nearly $24 million back into the general fund and urged Brown to explain the need to get the Wyoming Office of Tourism off of the state’s general fund. Fortunately, members of the WLRA board of directors along with board members from the Wyoming travel Industry Coalition and the Wyoming Tourism Board have been meeting for the past year to agree upon an alternate funding method for Wyoming Tourism. Stay tuned to upcoming e-newsletters for more details as the boards work to build consensus and support across the state.
The WLRA monitors and is engaged in all industry related issued throughout the year. Please reach out to Chris Brown at email@example.com if you have questions or for more information.