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After the November election, the first question from members of our association, other growers, and allied associations was: “What should we expect from Washington for the next four years?” Now, the discussion has progressed to “What can we do?” and “What do we need to be doing as a group in 2013?”

All of us should have called, or should soon call, our U.S. House and Senate representatives’ offices and explain politely, but firmly, that we expect them to work together, across party lines, to produce a workable and fair budget. We will not forget if they fail, once again, to do the hard work necessary to ensure that our ­country, and domestic agricultural production, is on a firm financial footing so that we are not at competitive disadvantage with produce from other countries.

Issues

Federal legislative and regulatory issues looming for 2013 include state and federal policies that affect farmworker availability, work eligibility or legal status, and the continuing negative impact on U.S. domestic food producers, packers, and distributors that has resulted from 20 years of partisan bickering and refusal to address these overlapping issues with clear federal ­leadership.

Unless the 2013 Congress and the administration address immigration reform, at least as it applies to agricultural employers and employees, we must expect continued aggressive enforcement of employment ­eligibility and wage and hour regulations.

With full expectation that I-9 auditing by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and aggressive wage and hour auditing by the Department of Labor will continue, a large coalition of agricultural groups have been working to come together in support of some clear immigration and labor policy issues that might find ­support on both sides of the aisle. We all hope that Congress may take actions that will help labor-intensive agriculture remain viable in the United States during 2013. Because 2014 is another Congressional election year, if nothing happens in 2013, many of us fear the next best opportunity will be 2015 and that is an awfully long time for labor-intensive agriculture to wait for some relief!

Even if Congress takes action early in the 2013 session, it would take another season for regulations and regulatory activity to catch up, so growers must all ­continue to educate themselves and upgrade their ­compliance and record-keeping practices to prepare their businesses for DOL, ICE, Internal Revenue Service, and state agency scrutiny. Over the winter, be sure to review your Form I-9 processes and take advantage of any training your state and associations may offer on I-9 compliance, wage and hour or tax record-keeping and reporting, and other employer compliance and record-keeping requirements. Too many good people continue to be caught up in reporting errors that cost time and money, threaten farms, and take the joy out of our business. The only defense is to get the education and to hire the professional services you need to comply.

Two Obama administration programs that will ­continue are The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as the DREAM Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which is also referred to as Obamacare. On DACA, employers will want to help eligible employees, but there are legal ­cautions for employers to consider in the process because if employees come to you and say they want to enter the process, you now have cause to know that they are not work eligible, and you cannot continue to employ them. The National Council of Agricultural Employers and several law firm Web sites have papers discussing employer issues in dealing with DACA.

As House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently said, “Obamacare is the law of the land.” PPACA will be in place January 1, 2014. Expect to see significant information and training shared for agricultural employers in coming months. Plan to learn the roles and responsibilities of employers as quickly as possible. Those of you who filed 250 or more W-2 forms in 2011 will be required to list the cost of health care insurance coverage provided to employees in the 2012 W-2 forms you file in early 2013.

Predictions

Here’s a summary of 2013 Washington, D.C., political predictions:

  • The budget and tax issues referred to as “the fiscal cliff” will extend into the 2013 session with many small tweaks and fixes, not a Grand Bargain. Some taxes will go up; some programs will be cut or slowed.
  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform will be a hard fight. Agriculture must remain together, be willing
  • to accept incremental progress if necessary, and ­continue to push hard for relief for labor-intensive agriculture every chance we get.
  • Enforcement-only emphasis on employers and continued federal discussion of mandatory E-Verify will continue to be a major threat to domestic agriculture.
  • We will all learn what we need to do to comply with, and survive, the health care act requirements as 2013 progresses.

Be assured, 2013 will be another interesting year for agricultural employers. Remember that when your ­associations ask you to contact your congressional ­delegations, your voice is important and could help make or break the future of domestic labor-intensive agriculture.

More information about the National Council of ­Agricultural Employers can be found at the its Web site, www.ncaeonline.org. Frank Gasperini can be reached  by e-mail at frank@ncaeonline.org, or by phone at (202) 579-0171.