By Natalie Higgins
The Equipment Dealers Association (EDA) recently returned from its 2019 Legislative Fly-In. The event, attended by dealers from several regional associations, brought nearly 40 equipment dealers to Washington, D.C., for several days of policy briefings, networking opportunities and meetings with members of Congress.
Tuesday, March 5, marked the official start of Fly-In programming, and attendees heard from several policy experts in preparation for their meetings with legislators.
Jade West, chief government relations officer for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors kicked off the morning with a lively discussion on tax policy. She was followed by Palmer Schoening, chairman of the Family Business Coalition, who dug deeper into the Estate Tax, and why our industry should be lobbying for a full repeal.
Next up was Robbie Boone with the Rebuild Rural Coalition. Boone covered several topics close to the heart of dealers, many of whom operate or service customers in rural areas. Boone shared information on rural infrastructure including broadband, energy, transportation and water.
The last speaker of the day was Loretta Greene, who has served in three presidential administrations (George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump). Most recently, Greene served as the senior advisor for SelectUSA, the U.S. foreign direct investment program in Global Markets. Greene shared information on trade and workforce development with the group.
Wednesday, March 6, was spent on Capitol Hill. Dealers representing EDA, the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association (INEDA), Far West Equipment Dealers Association (FWEDA), Midwest-Southeastern Equipment Dealers Association (MSEDA), Montana Equipment Dealers Association (MEDA), the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association (NEDA), and United Equipment Dealers Association (UEDA) visited more than 35 members of Congress throughout the day. Dealers were lobbying on our four major legislative priorities for 2019:
• Workforce Support/H2-B Visa Program
• Permanent Death Tax Repeal
• Rural Infrastructure Investment
Toward the end of the day Wednesday, EDA and INEDA staff and dealers met with Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. The group had the honor of presenting Senator Ernst with EDA’s third annual Legislative Leadership Award. The award recognizes a leader in Washington who is a champion for legislation that benefits our industry and advances EDA’s mission of building the best business environment for equipment dealers. Senator Ernst is the first woman to serve in federal elected office from Iowa, and also became the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. She has been a champion for the Farm Bill, Tax Reform, Education and Rural Development.
While most of EDA’s legislative priorities are of great importance to all of our members, there are a couple of issues that have a greater impact on outdoor power equipment dealers.
Workforce/H2-B Visa Program: EDA supports common sense reform to the broken H-2B visa lottery system. This program is critical for seasonal staffing to support the customers of equipment dealers. We view this as a workforce issue rather than simply an issue of immigration or immigration reform. Specifically, EDA supported the Tillis-Harris Amendment. In December 2018, I spent time lobbying in D.C. for the passage of the Tillis-Harris Amendment, which would increase the number of available H-2B visas from 66,000 to 132,000 annually. At this same time, EDA released a call to action for its members to contact their representatives and show support to the bill. Unfortunately, the amendment did not pass, but EDA continues to fight for the passage of legislation of this caliber to be re-introduced this Congress. To put this in perspective, the Department of Labor states that more than 97,000 applications for H-2B visa labor certification have been received thus far in 2019, despite there being only 33,000 visas available for the busy spring/summer season.
Death Tax/Estate Tax: EDA supports legislation that eliminates the “Death Tax.” Recently, in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a temporary exemption was adopted that increases the Estate Tax exemption to $11 million per person – this has allowed many small business owners to spend money growing their businesses, upgrading buildings, and purchasing needed equipment – rather than on life insurance and estate planning. This exemption is scheduled to drop back down to $5.5 million per person in 2025, once again putting family businesses with highly valuable illiquid assets in jeopardy.
Rural Infrastructure Investment: Significant, long-term investments in our nation’s infrastructure are critical in order to continue to bring American goods to market. EDA supports President Trump’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, in particular, establishing a Rural Infrastructure Program ($50 billion) for capital investments in rural infrastructure investments. With respect to outdoor power equipment dealerships, we know access to broadband is of critical importance.
The Equipment Dealers Association will continue to lobby on behalf of dealers through the United States on these and other important issues. EDA also lobbies in Ottawa on behalf of its Canadian members.
Natalie Higgins is vice president of government relations and general counsel at the Equipment Dealers Association. In her role as vice president of government relations, Higgins tracks key legislation affecting equipment dealers, and lobbies on behalf of the association individually and as a member of various coalitions and industry partnerships. In her role as general counsel, Higgins is the first point of contact for members through EDA’s Legal Resources Hotline. Higgins brings significant value to EDA members by connecting them with the information and/or legal talent needed to effectively run their businesses. Prior to joining the EDA, Higgins practiced labor and employment law at a civil litigation firm in St. Louis, where she represented municipal, non-profit, and for-profit employers in all phases of litigation. A graduate of St. Louis University School of Law and the University of Missouri, Columbia, Higgins is licensed to practice law in both Missouri and Illinois.