The Legislative & Regulatory Issues to Watch This Year
NATIONAL REPORT — Long a frustration of retailers, legislative and regulatory issues can make or break a convenience store’s bottom line for a month, a quarter, or even a whole year.
For 2018, industry experts point to the following matters as those to keep a close watch on:
Because President Trump and his allies in Congress have made numerous references to repealing or significantly altering the Dodd-Frank law, “the important progress the industry has made with regards to interchange-fee limits on debit cards could be in jeopardy,” Joe Kefauver, managing partner of Align Public Strategies, told Convenience Store News. “The industry will have to redouble its efforts to protect the Durbin Amendment and, once again, educate lawmakers regarding its importance to retailers.”
State & Local-Level Activism
Since the door is shut to organized labor in Congress and now, the new Administration, Kefauver expects to see “a significant increase in activity at the local level pushing for a $15 minimum wage, paid leave, wage theft, restrictive scheduling, and other issues important to the labor community.”
At both the state and local levels, he anticipates activists will continue to pursue these issues through ballot initiatives. The national dialogue on a $15 wage will continue to escalate and look for labor organizers, the social justice community, and other proponents to expand their efforts to more cities, according to Kefauver, whose firm helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making.
State and local-level activism is also at the heart of tobacco issues affecting c-stores.
One of the recent local regulatory trends is a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, according to Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), which also supports convenience stores.
“These bans can force retailers to remove 70, 80 or more product SKUs from store shelves, including flavored cigars, flavored smokeless tobacco, e-cigarette and vapor flavored products, and virtually all pipe tobacco,” Briant said. “The result is that loyal customers will travel to a neighboring suburb or town to buy not only their favorite tobacco products, but also their gas, snacks and beverages, resulting in further sales declines.”
An increasing number of cities have also joined the push to increase the minimum purchase age for tobacco products, adopting an age 19 or 21 requirement to buy. A minimum age of 21 results in a roughly 3-percent decline in tobacco sales for the average store, according to NATO.
Some cities have prohibited the sale of tobacco products within 500 or 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, churches and other youth-oriented facilities, as well. And other cities and counties are limiting the number of retail tobacco licenses that will be issued, “effectively curtailing any new retail store development in the city or county,” Briant explained.
“The agenda now clearly is to usher in a new era of prohibition,” he said.
Therefore, it will become increasingly important in 2018 and beyond for c-store retailers to participate in efforts to oppose tobacco ordinances.
“This is critical because local elected officials need to hear from their local businesses,” Briant stressed. “Local retailers have much more influence on the action of a city council or a county board than outside industry members. At NATO, we provide retailers the tools they need to become engaged and contact elected lawmakers.”
National Labor Relations Board
The Trump Administration will have the opportunity to fill two vacate seats on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) later in 2018, according to Kefauver. “But it will be quite a while before the new appointments will be able to stem the tide of anti-employer decisions at the NLRB, especially with regard to joint employer decisions and the use of independent contractors,” he said.
Under the Trump Administration, the industry will have the opportunity to revisit numerous anti-employer rules and regulations promulgated by the Obama Administration, including in the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The new federal overtime standard, looming equal pay provisions, and excessive litigation with regard to the American Disabilities Act may be addressed early in the new administration, Kefauver predicts.
“Look for organized labor to refocus their attention on traditional organizing,” Kefauver also cites, noting the limited legislative and political opportunities in front of organized labor.
He envisions them taking advantage of favorable rulings out of the NLRB with regard to leveraging new technology and mobile device apps to interface directly with workers and unions, and building on their successes in healthcare and the sharing economy to target traditional retailers.
Finally, some “carryover issues” from 2017 — internet lottery, menu labeling, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) changes, and trying to change the predicate date of tobacco — are all cited by Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations for NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, as important concerns for this new year.
“But it’s interesting, with Trump at the helm, no one in D.C. really knows what’s coming up first, whether we’ll have repeal of Obamacare, global tax reform, immigration issues, etc.,” he relayed to CSNews. “Hopefully, we’ll get these carryover issues dealt with, but it really hinges on what the new administration’s top priorities are.”