Damaging Clauses Stripped from Economic Stimulus Bill

February 20, 2009 - 13:40

The U.S. horticulture industry can breathe a collective sigh of relief, according to the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA). For several weeks, the group had been tracking the development of the economic stimulus bill, signed into law last week by President Barack Obama. Two potentially damaging clauses, which ANLA’s lobbyists closely monitored and opposed, were not included in the final legislation.

The first was a Republican-led effort to condition any stimulus benefit (a contract or tax relief, for instance) on an employer’s enrollment in the E-Verify mandatory electronic verification system. ANLA and other business allies saw a requirement to force use of a system that has flaws and is not ready for “prime time” as “burdening employers and undermining the very purpose of the stimulus package.”

As the Senate debated its version of the stimulus package, Republican Tom Coburn offered an amendment that specifically precluded spending of infrastructure dollars for several purposes, including highway beautification. “Many long-timers in the industry remember what an economic engine the highway planting efforts, championed by Lady Bird Johnson, were in their day,” said Craig Regelbrugge, ANLA’s vice president of government relations. “Nowadays, the reasons for such plantings go way beyond ‘beautification’ to issues like urban cooling, filtering runoff and sequestering carbon.” While the Coburn amendment passed in the Senate, it was stripped from the final product approved by Congress and signed by President Obama.

This success means one less worry for an industry that has recently been hit hard by unpredictable weather and a volatile economy. “Often, when such massive legislation is hastily assembled, the law of unintended consequences plays out over and over,” said Regelbrugge. “Fortunately, in the final stimulus package, the green industry dodged at least two bullets that could have maimed or killed our members.”

One positive inclusion in the economic stimulus bill is a technical fix that removes a legal obstacle to the implementation of key 2007 Farm Bill provisions. Funding for specialty crop provisions in the Farm Bill strengthening USDA cooperative programs — which prevent the introduction of harmful plant pests, better assess foreign pest threats and rapidly detect and respond to new invasions — had been blocked by a legal opinion issued by the outgoing Bush administration. Language is now in place that fixes the problem and allows funds to flow to these important programs.

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