As Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee
Senator Barbara A. Mikulski’s (D-Md.) successfully added language to the
fiscal year 2008 CJS spending bill to extend a critical provision of her Save
Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act that expired on September 30 and protects
small and seasonal businesses – including Maryland’s seafood and cannery
industries – from devastating cuts to their workforce. The bill passed the
Senate tonight with a vote of 75-19.
In the words of Senator Mikulski, “Who says my promises made are not promises
kept? I told small businesses they could count on me to keep fighting, and I meant
it,” she also added, “Without these seasonal workers, many businesses
would not survive – forced to limit services, lay off permanent U.S. workers
or, worse yet, close their doors.”
The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, signed into law by President Bush
in May 2005, made significant changes to the federal H2B
(non-skilled seasonal worker) visa program. Among the changes, it exempted returning
seasonal workers from counting against the national cap of 66,000 people, created
new anti-fraud provisions, and ensured a fair allocation of H2B visas among spring
and summer employees. This exemption, however, was not made permanent in the 2005
bill, and has to be extended each year until Senator Mikulski’s proposal
to make it permanent is passed into law. Last year, a last-minute, one-year extension
was included as part of the 2007 Department of Defense authorization bill, but
it expired on September 30, 2007.
Senator Mikulski joined Senator John Warner (R-Va.) in March 2007 to introduce
a stand alone bill to extend the provision, and also included it as an amendment
to the comprehensive immigration packages considered by the Senate this spring.
Unfortunately, no bill was brought up for a final vote before the provision’s
expiration. Today’s provision is a one-year extension to allow companies
to continue to get the seasonal workers they depend on, and will expire on September
Senator Mikulski pledged to continue to work with Senate leaders to make the provision
permanent as part of comprehensive immigration legislation. A permanent solution
is needed to address this annual problem or else seasonal businesses – like
the seafood industry in Maryland – will surely suffer.
“I have been fighting for years to help good guy businesses and workers
wade through the unfair procedures that were part of the H2B visa process. I will
not give up until my fix is permanent,” said Senator Mikulski. In the next
step of the legislative process, the House and Senate will meet in Conference
Committee to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The
Conference report will then be voted on by both Houses of Congress. Once passed
by the House and Senate, the spending bill will go to the President for his signature.