Simpson: Economy is still top of mind for restaurants—and for Washington

The National Restaurant Association acts as the voice for the restaurant industry. Here, Cicely Simpson, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs, offers her views on how tax reform and other legislative and regulatory issues have affected the restaurant industry and how they will continue to do so moving forward.

Those of us living and working outside the Beltway repeatedly hear how Washington politics have changed under President Trump and how partisanship has heightened. In simplified terms, how have things changed, and what has that meant for restaurants?

Over the course of the last 16 months, President Trump—through his actions and that of his Administration—has proven he meant what he said on the campaign trail. Whether it was rolling back burdensome regulations that hurt smaller to mid-size restaurants or passing comprehensive tax reform to help put more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans, the President has stayed true to helping the local restaurants that support their local communities.

What is the National Restaurant Association’s relationship with the White House?

As the voice for more than 15 million employees and business owners who are the backbone of American communities, our job is to fight on behalf of every one of our members. This includes working hand-in-hand with the White House—regardless of whether the President is a Republican or Democrat—to advocate for our members across the country

Give us an example of how the relationship figured into key legislation or regulatory change.

In January of this year, with the help of President Trump and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a proposed a rule was issued that would allow small businesses to, through a collaborative effort, purchase health insurance without several of the onerous regulatory requirements that states and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) impose on small to mid-size employers. This allows member companies to provide quality, affordable healthcare to more employees.

With Washington seemingly more mindful of how its actions can affect business, what are the top legislative or regulatory concerns of the Association in 2018?

  • Immigration
    • We are asking Senators/Representatives to pass legislation that supports the restaurant industry’s workforce needs.
    • We believe immigration reforms are vital to the long-term success of our industry.
  • Restaurant Depreciation (Tax Code)
    • 15-year depreciation MUST be a priority.
    • Because this a technical correction, we believe Congress should address this mistake in a bipartisan effort to support America’s small businesses.
  • Healthcare
    • 40 Hours Work Week
      •  We are asking Members of Congress to cosponsor and advocate for the passage of:
        • S. 1782 “Forty Hours is Full Time Act of 2017”
        • H.R. 3798 “Save the American Workers Act of 2017”
    • Reporting
      • We are asking Members of Congress to cosponsor and advocate for the passage of the “Commonsense Reporting Act of 2017”
        • S. 1908
        • H.R. 3919
    • Seasonal Worker
      • We are asking Members of Congress to cosponsor and advocate for the passage of: H.R. 3956 “Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act of 2017”
      • We are encouraging Senators to work with Senators Blunt (R-MO), King (I-ME), and Warner (D-VA) in introducing, cosponsoring, and/or passing this legislation
  • ADA Reform
    • We are asking Senators to support the House-passed bill H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, or similar legislation that prevents well-meaning restaurant owners from being victimized by abusive lawsuits.

A big concern for restaurants is a revision of overtime pay regulations. Where does that stand, and what does the association expect to happen?

Per the Administration's latest regulatory agenda, DOL is expected to release a new Proposed Overtime Rule this fall that we are tracking closely. We will continue to keep our members updated on how the rule may affect them.

A creeping concern seems to be the new ways trial lawyers are using the “Americans with Disability Act (ADA)” as the basis for lawsuits against restaurants and other businesses.  Could you explain what is happening, and how the Association is hoping to curb those excesses?

Small businesses are falling victim to “drive-by” lawsuits, which exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act to extract costly legal settlements. The ADA was intended to improve access for people with disabilities, not line the pockets of unscrupulous attorneys.

In January of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act which recognizes that alleged ADA access violations could be addressed more effectively through a “notice and cure” provision. This bill creates a temporary pause in litigation for 120 days to allow property owners to correct valid access barriers without engaging in a costly settlement process. The bipartisan and narrowly tailored legislation will ensure that the intent of Title III of the ADA is protected while simultaneously preventing well-meaning restaurant owners from being victimized by abusive lawsuits. We urge the U.S. Senate to pass the ADA Education and Reform Act in order to address the current situation.

Finally, could you peer into your crystal ball and give us your preview of what might transpire between now and the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show?  What do you anticipate will be the top-of-mind issues at that time, and will it pivot on what happens in the 2018 elections?

Indeed, everyone is anticipating the outcome of the election this Fall, and whether Democrats will win the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, we expect the economy to continue to be top of mind for the Trump Administration and leaders in both political parties.  

This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®