Category Archives: Legislative Update

NAB Urges TV Band Repack by Region

According to a report in TVNewsCheck, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says that the most logical way to conduct the post-auction repacking of the TV band is on a regional basis with the most populated regions going first. The NAB believes such approach would minimize disruption of service to broadcasters and viewers and get the spectrum in the hands of the wireless buyers “as quickly as possible.”

Department of Labor’s Proposed Overtime Rules Move Forward

According to an HR Morning article written by Christian Schappel, The Department of Labor’s (DOL) revised rules regarding the white-collar overtime exemption regulations has advanced.

The final ruling is now in the hands of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This will be the final step before the rule is published and made public for all to see.  Based on past practice, it should be approved in four to six weeks, perhaps longer.  Employers may be able to see the final rule by early to mid-May.

Congress Has The Right to Disapprove

Congress has the right to disapprove “major” final rules promulgated by federal agencies, like the DOL. However, the disapproval can be shot down by a presidential veto. The act states that if a major rule is submitted to Congress with fewer than 60 session days remaining on the legislative calendar, then the next Congress will have a similar 60-day period to consider the rule. And according to recent calculations by the Congressional Research Service, if the DOL’s overtime rule isn’t released by the OMB by May 16, the rule will be at the mercy of the next Congress and president.

HR 4773, The Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, was just introduced in the Senate and House by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), would delay publication of the Labor Department’s expected regulation, dramatically expanding mandatory federal overtime pay, despite widespread opposition from stakeholders. The bill would require the department to first conduct a comprehensive economic analysis on the impact of mandatory overtime expansion to small businesses, nonprofits, and public employers.

Rundown of the Act

    • Drastically increasing the FLSA’s salary threshold. The current minimum salary a worker has to be paid to be exempt from overtime is $455 per week or $23,660 per year. Under the proposed rule, it would jump to $970 a week or $50,440 per year. The DOL calculated that $50,440 would equal the 40% of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers.
    • The highly compensated employee threshold will also climb. The total annual compensation requirement needed to exempt highly compensated employees would climb to $122,148 from $100,000 — or the 90th percentile of salaried workers’ weekly earnings.
    • The salary thresholds will automatically increase. For the first time ever, the salary thresholds would be tied to an automatic-escalator. The DOL is proposing using one of two different methodologies to do this — either keeping the levels chained to the 40th and 90th percentiles of earnings, or adjusting the amounts based on changes in inflation by tying them to the Consumer Price Index.
    • No changes to the duties tests have been proposed. The DOL didn’t suggest changing the executive, administrative, professional, computer, or outside sales duties tests (see them here) as of yet. However, the agency sought comments on whether they should be changed and whether they’re working to screen out employees who are not bona fide white-collar exempt employees. Early indicators were that the DOL would look to adopt a California-style rule in which employees would be required to spend more than 50% of their time performing exempt duties to be classified as exempt.
    • Discretionary bonuses wouldn’t count toward salary threshold. In the proposed rule, discretionary bonuses weren’t part of a person’s salary calculation — but that could change depending on the comments the agency received. Currently, such bonuses are only included in calculating total compensation under the highly compensated employee test. But the DOL said some stakeholders are asking for broader inclusion of bonuses in salary calculations.

NOTE: The MAB researched the impact on broadcasters and according to MAB Human Resources Attorney Terry Kasiborski, Washington Attorney David Oxenford of Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, and NAB SR. VP & Corporate Counsel, Bart Stringham, there doesn’t appear to be any changes to the exemptions afforded certain broadcast personnel like reporters, anchors, engineers and outside sales reps.

Stay tuned!

Former Michigan Speaker of the House Curtis Hertel Sr. Dies

CurtisHertelSR_300Former Michigan Democratic Speaker of the House Curtis Hertel Sr. passed away Sunday, March 27 at age 63.

Hertel Sr. was first elected to the Michigan House in 1980 and served his Detroit district until 1998.  In 1993 and 1994, he was co-speaker with Republican Paul Hillegonds and sole speaker in 1997 and 1998.

Hertel comes from a family of lawmakers.  Two brothers also served in the State House, Senate or U.S. House.  His son is current state Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-23rd).

Funeral arrangements are pending.  Hertel is survived by his wife, Vicki, four children and five grandchildren.

Senators Criticize Wheeler Over Unwinding Joint Sales Agreements

According to a report by Broadcasting & Cable, senators from both parties sent a letter to the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing their concern with the FCC’s unwinding of grandfathered Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) as part of license transfers.

The senators, including Democrats Chuck Schumer (NY) and Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Republican Cory Gardner (CO), said they want the FCC to reverse that policy and want an answer by April 1. According to a copy of a letter to Wheeler, dated March 11, and sent by a dozen senators, they want the FCC to “(1) eliminate any conditions imposed on previously approved license transfers that require the termination of JSAs in existence before March 31, 2014; and (2) respect the statutory grandfather of JSAs when evaluating any assignments and license transfers in the future.”

The FCC said that while the agency was grandfathering JSAs, they would not allow any grandfather status to continue in the event of license transfers.  The senators argue that requiring such JSAs to be unwound violates the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, the bill that included a 10-year extension of the FCC’s grandfathering of stations the FCC concluded, as of March 31, 2014, would otherwise be attributable as ownership interests. They said the FCC was undermining Congress’ clear intent in grandfathering the JSAs.

House Passes IPAWS Modernization Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a public warning improvement bill — the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act. The legislation, S. 1180, introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), integrates multiple communication systems like EAS and wireless alerts, promotes local and regional public and private partnerships, and provides redundant alert mechanisms to reach the largest number of people during an emergency.

The legislation also establishes a training program to instruct federal, state, tribal, and local government officials in system use. It includes the capability to alert those with disabilities and those who have limited English proficiency. NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said NAB “applauds the House’s bipartisan passage of this legislation strengthening the public’s access to important emergency warnings and alerts. As ‘first informers,’ local radio and television stations understand the crucial need for up-to-the-second information when danger is near.” The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

Tuesday (3/29) is Decision Day for Broadcasters in Spectrum Auction

March 29 is “D-Day,” as in decision day for television broadcasters who have applied to participate in the FCC’s Spectrum Auction.  They must decide whether and how to give up their spectrum.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, has confirmed that the Commission is on track to start the auction on March 29 and should begin the reverse auction bidding in May as planned.  In an story published by Broadcasting and Cable, Wheeler said that “if he had to guess, the auction, both the forward and reverse portions, could be finished by August or September.”

The FCC’s list of applicants in the forward auction shows that its not just wireless companies and venture capitalists that are interested. Companies with cable and broadcast interests are also on the list of potential auction participants. Though a company has registered to participate in the forward auction does not necessarily mean that they will bid, according to a Broadcasting and Cable report.

Senate Committee Unanimously Passes Student Press Rights Bill

Rick Jones
Senator Rick Jones (R-24)

Legislation establishing “protection for freedom of expression for student journalists in public schools and institutions of higher education” unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with immediate effect. Committee chair and bill sponsor of Senate Bill 848 (The Student Free Press and Civics Readiness Act) Senator Rick Jones (R-24), called the bill a “victory for free speech.”

The bill establishes that student journalists in public schools and universities have a “right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media are supported financially by the school or public institution of higher education.” It prohibits a school from exercising prior restraint against the publishing of an article unless the article was libelous or slanderous, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of state or federal law or an incitement to students that could cause them to commit an unlawful act, violate school policies, or substantially disrupt school operations.

SB 848 follows legislation enacted a year ago in North Dakota and which is now being considered in 28 states, including Michigan.

The MAB Board of Directors voted to support this legislation and promote its passage. The bill now moves to the full Senate chamber for a vote.

Legislation Creates Open Government Commission

capitol3State Representative Martin Howrylak (R-41) introduced HB 5488, legislation to establish an Open Government Commission within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR).

Howrylak’s bill would establish the Commission to receive and investigate citizen complaints regarding responses to request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Commission may refer complaints to the Attorney General or recommend policies to a public body after a complaint is investigated. The Commission would be composed of nine members appointed by the Governor from recommendations by the Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and Michigan Press Association.

HB 5488 is now referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.

CBS, Disney, Fox, Univision File Comments with FCC to Support Foreign Ownership Rule Changes

According to a report in AllAccess, CBS Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Inc., and Univision Communications, Inc., have filed comments in a joint letter to the FCC supporting extension of foreign ownership rule relaxation.

In the letter, the parties stated that the proposal to extend the looser foreign ownership limits and review procedures applicable to common carrier and aeronautical licensees to broadcasters as well have been endorsed by the NAB, the MMTC, Fox, Comcast, Nexstar, Media General, and T-Mobile, the latter of which the parties say, “can be said to owe its very existence to the Commission’s previous liberalization of foreign investment in common carrier (and other non-broadcast) licensees.”

Read more here.

FCC Reverse Auction Webinar Available On-Demand

The Federal Communications Commission has released a new on-demand webinar regarding the current spectrum auction.  Owners, general managers and other interested parties may find this of interest as it offers a sneak preview of the software will that will be used to enter their bid preferences.

While stations have attorneys who would likely manage this for participating stations, the webinar may help owners and managers understand the process in order to better communicate with legal counsel in a more effective manner.

The webinar can be found here.