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WHAT EMPLOYERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCOTUS GAY MARRIAGE RULING

“The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, meaning that same-sex marriages must be recognized nationwide. The ruling will have vast implications for employers, which until now have been operating under a patchwork of different state and federal laws governing the legal and tax treatment of same-sex unions.

Here’s what businesses should keep in mind as they navigate the new landscape.

If an employer offers spousal health-insurance benefits, do they need to offer them to all married employees, gay or straight?

In general, yes.

Companies that offer spousal health benefits and use a separate insurance company to fund their benefits will now be required to cover both gay and straight spouses. “Based on the court’s ruling today, there is simply one type of spouse,” says Todd Solomon, a law partner in the employee-benefits practice group at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago, who has been tracking same-sex employee benefits for nearly two decades.

But companies that are self-insured, which means they assume the insurance risks for their own employees, a common practice among large companies, aren’t under the same legal constraints. “There is technically no legal requirement that a self-insured company has to include a same-sex spouse,” Mr. Solomon says.  As a result, self insurance “is where we are going to see a lot of activity and a lot of litigation.”

Companies should think twice about self-insuring but denying benefits to gay spouses, because they will be vulnerable to discrimination suits, he says.

What if an employer has a religious objection to gay marriage?

They have limited options.

Companies could choose not to offer benefits to spouses altogether. Or they could self-insure and attempt to offer benefits to only straight spouses, but they run a high risk of discrimination suits, Mr. Solomon says.

Now that same-sex marriage is legal, will it add a lot of people to employers’ benefits plans? Will this be expensive for employers? 

It could, but it depends on what type of plan a company already had.

If a company already covered unmarried same-sex domestic partners, it could be cheaper, because covering spouses doesn’t have negative tax implications and is easier to administer than most domestic partnership benefits, Mr. Solomon says.

But if a company only offered spousal benefits, the ruling will add new couples that previously were not allowed to marry.

Will the Supreme Court ruling lead to fewer employers offering spousal benefits?

Yes – that’s been the trend, and the ruling might exacerbate it.

Employers have been cutting spousal benefits to save money, either dropping spousal coverage or imposing surcharges on spouses who can obtain health insurance elsewhere. A survey from consulting firm Mercer of over 1,100 large employers found that 17% either excluded spouses with other coverage available or imposed a surcharge in 2014, compared with 12% in 2012.

The Supreme Court ruling might spur some employers who were already inclined to cut spousal benefits to do so, Mr. Solomon says.

What are the tax implications?

It equalizes the tax treatment of gay and straight married couples.

Until today’s ruling, there were a patchwork of state and federal tax laws governing same-sex couples.  Employers, depending on the state, sometimes faced additional payroll taxes for same-sex employees, and workers sometimes faced additional income taxes.

Now, for both federal and state tax purposes, companies and employees will not face different tax treatment for gay and straight married couples. That will make benefits easier for companies to administer, Mr. Solomon says.

What does this mean for domestic partnership benefits?

This is a particularly complicated issue for employers.

Over the past decade, a growing number of companies offered “domestic partnership” coverage for gay employees and their partners as a way to provide equal benefits for couples who couldn’t legally wed. Others companies offer coverage more broadly to unmarried domestic partners, regardless of sexual orientation, recognizing that some employees simply prefer not to marry.

Companies that offer unmarried partnership benefits to both gay and straight couples will likely continue to do so.

But companies that offer partnership benefits just to gay couples may begin to phase them out, because now all their employees can legally marry. Offering domestic partnership benefits just to gay couples but not straight ones might make firms vulnerable to reverse discrimination lawsuits, lawyers say.

On the other hand, firms may choose to keep domestic partnership benefits to help protect gay employees from discrimination. The majority of U.S. states lack anti-discrimination protection for gay employees, so workers can be fired for their sexuality. Because marriage certificates are public, forcing employees to get married for spousal benefits may end up “outing” an employee, while domestic partnerships are typically private matters, gay advocates say.”

Originally posted by The Wall Street Journal. Article can be found at http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2015/06/26/what-the-supreme-court-gay-marriage-ruling-means-for-employers/

HOUSE APPROVES TRADE-PROMOTION AUTHORITY FOR OBAMA IN ANTICIPATION OF THE TPP

“The House on Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it.

 

This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve the controversial fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

In last week’s vote, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.

House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups.

The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would see the two bills move separately.

The problem lies in the Senate, which previously approved a package that included both bills.

If the two move separately, Republicans and the White House will have to convince Senate Democrats to back fast-track on the promise that TAA will move forward at a later time.

The president spoke with a group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday at the White House, and talks continued in the Senate on Thursday on a way to give the president trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track.

One possible solution would see the Senate vote first to pass a trade preferences bill, this time with the TAA program attached. It would then be sent to the House for a vote before the Senate considers fast-track.

This planned move angered members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who asked Senate leaders not to use the trade measure, which would provide preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries, as a bargaining chip to pass trade promotion authority.

Democrats opposed to the trade package expressed frustration that GOP leaders were bypassing them.

“Instead of cooperation, they’ve opted to use procedural tricks to pass the TPA,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).

As promised, all 28 pro-trade House Democrats supported the bill again.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said on Wednesday that those who backed the trade agenda are “really committed” to getting fast-track and TAA done.

“The tough vote has already been taken,” Kind said. “We’re on record; we supported TPA last week. We also supported TAA last week, too,” he said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned that repeating last week’s debacle would reflect badly on the international stage.

“It gives America credibility,” Ryan said of TPA. “And boy, do we need credibility right now.” ”

 

Originally posted by The Hill.  Article can be found at http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/245417-house-approves-fast-track-218-208-sending-bill-to-senate

TSA BACKGROUND CHECKS PASS 73 PEOPLE WITH POSSIBLE TERRORIST TIES

” Background checks by the Transportation Security Administration cleared 73 people for access to secure airport areas even though their names were on a federal database of possible terrorists, a senior official told a Senate committee Tuesday.

The latest security lapse came to light as John Roth, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, delivered a scathing report on problems and blunders at the long-troubled agency.

They include inadequate baggage screening, hiring of convicted criminals, questionable spending, and narcotics smuggling and human trafficking by TSA employees.

“We remain deeply concerned about [the TSA’s] ability to execute its important mission,” Roth told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The hearing was held a week after Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, reassigned the acting administrator of the TSA in the wake of reports that auditors from Roth’s office had successfully slipped mock explosives and weapons past TSA checkpoints 67 out of 70 times.

The White House has nominated Peter V. Neffenger, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, to take the helm of the TSA. Neffenger is expected to win approval from the Senate committee after a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

In the latest case, Roth said, his investigators had found the names of 73 airport workers “with possible terrorism-related information” in a classified federal database that the TSA could not normally access.

“TSA acknowledged that these individuals were cleared for access to secure airport areas despite representing a potential security threat,” Roth testified.

Roth said the risk was discovered after he asked the National Counterterrorism Center to check more than 900,000 active aviation workers against the classified intelligence database called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE. It contains confirmed and unconfirmed information about people with potential terrorist links.

The search found 73 matches of people cleared for access to secure areas. Investigators immediately gave the TSA the names that raised concerns, Roth said. He did not say whether they included any TSA employees, when the discovery was made, or whether any of the people posed an actual threat.

The names of people who are hired by airlines and airport vendors are normally checked against a more narrow, unclassified database that is maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.

Last year, then-TSA head John Pistole sent a letter to the FBI asking that TSA background checks also include a search of the bigger, more inclusive database, Roth said. But the FBI and the intelligence community have not acted, he said.

“I can’t imagine the FBI would not have moved on this with the utmost haste,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said at the hearing. “The bureaucracy can’t hold this up.”

The fact that 73 workers with potential links to terrorism had access to the secure areas of airports “really does give you pause,” Ayotte said, “because it really only takes one.”

Roth also repeatedly criticized the TSA’s use of PreCheck, which allows expedited screening of vetted passengers. He said the TSA allows expedited screening of nearly half the flying public, often by randomly pulling people out of line.

In one case, he said, a convicted felon who was “a former member of a domestic terrorist group” was granted expedited screening even though the traveler was “sufficiently notorious” that a TSA screener recognized him.

The screener “notified his supervisor, who directed him to take no further action and allow the traveler to proceed through the PreCheck lane,” Rush said. He did not identify the passenger. ”

 

 

Originally posted by The Los Angeles Times. Article can be found at http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-tsa-security-lapse-20150609-story.html