Safety, labor and privacy are issues we’re watching for you in 2019
Home Furnishings Association’s (HFA) Government Relations Action Team watches tax and regulatory policies that affect your business. It focuses the collective voices of association members to make sure you are heard in Washington, D.C., and state capitals.
The issues that matter to you are important to us. That’s why we are sending members a survey asking about those concerns. Your response will help us shape our government relations agenda for 2019. Here are some of the topics we continue to follow:
Despite widespread manufacturer compliance with voluntary stability standards, this problem persists. Children continue to be killed and injured when heavy furniture, televisions or appliances fall over, trapping or crushing them underneath.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission launched an awareness campaign three years ago called “Anchor It!,” which HFA strongly supports. More recently, CPSC proposed mandatory safety standards and could act in 2019. Many manufacturers comply with an effective voluntary standard set by ASTM International, and this standard may be expanded in 2019 to cover more home furnishings products.
A state-by-state approach to flame-retardants used in some upholstered furniture and bedding products continues to confuse and frustrate many in our industry. California enacted a law in 2018 that bans the sale of covered products containing, or with constituent parts containing, flame retardants at levels above 1,000 parts per million beginning in 2020. Minnesota is phasing in its own regulations, with retailers of upholstered furniture affected as of July 1, 2019. Other states have taken other regulatory actions. This all points to the need for one national standard for safe materials made without toxic flame retardants.
The Environmental Protection Agency will require an import declaration for all composite wood products coming into the country on or after March 22, 2019, stating that they are compliant with TSCA Title VI standards. Retailers should make sure that the “importer of record” of all furniture they offer for sale meets this requirement and provides proper certification and labeling.
Online sales-tax collections
The past year saw a big victory for marketplace fairness when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that states may require online retailers to collect sales taxes and remit the proceeds to the states where purchasers live. Many states quickly took advantage of the opportunity. This helps level the playing field in those states for brick-and-mortar furniture stores, which always had to collect sales taxes, putting them at a price disadvantage with online competitors that did not.
Again, a national approach is preferable to state-by-state policies. A Marketplace Fairness Act, introduced in the last Congress, could appear again in 2019 with a more targeted fix for small sellers. If it allows adequate implementation time and provides fair exemptions for businesses making limited online sales, it could win broad support.
Industry partners, including the National Retail Federation, are working to develop proposed policies that take a consumer-centric approach to data privacy in ways that both maintain customers’ trust and allow retailers to use and protect customer data in responsible ways. Any state or federal legislation must take everyone’s interests into account.
When labor shortages make it more difficult for many of our members to hire people for warehouse or delivery jobs, it’s smart to consider applicants who are trying to overcome past mistakes. President Trump and members of both parties in Congress support efforts to reform the criminal-justice system. Yet, some states and even local governments may go too far in shielding criminal histories from potential employers’ awareness, raising concerns about customer safety and possible liability. Further reform efforts should help reintegrate nonviolent offenders into the workforce while giving businesses the background information they need to make wise hiring decisions.
Rebuilding and improving the nation’s highways, rail lines, bridges, ports and airports would help everyone move goods and materials more efficiently. Furthermore, this is another area where all our political leaders agree that action is needed. The only disagreement arises from the question of how to pay for it.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering revisions to hours-of-service restrictions. HFA supports measures that enhance safety but promote consistency and recognize practical concerns.
Trade and tariffs
At the Group of 20 summit Dec. 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to negotiate reforms in his country’s trade policies and business practices. In return, U.S. President Donald Trump suspended an increase in tariffs on products imported from China for 90 days. HFA hopes China will make concessions and that trade barriers can be dropped, giving U.S. furniture retailers and consumers access to fairly priced imports.