Is Your Gym Prepared for the 2018 Legislative Session?

    We're here to help you understand the legislation that may affect your business with a list of seven issues we expect to surface—or resurface—in 2018.

    It’s the beginning of January, which can mean only one thing in the health club business—you are busy. You’re busy preparing to handle the influx of New Year’s resolutioners looking to better their health. You’re busy experimenting with different ways you can retain the members you already have, and you’re busy determining what your business plan will be for the entire year.

    With everything on your mind, you may have missed our Policy Chat on what the 2018 legislative session could bring and how it’s results could impact your business. That's why we created this review of IHRSA’s predictions for the year ahead. Knowing how to address issues that are just starting to take shape, could save you from having to re-plan and making further adjustments to your business strategy in the future.

    Most state legislatures will go back into session right after the new year (only a few legislative bodies, such as the North Dakota legislature, are not meeting in 2018) and Congress will begin its second year of the 115th Congress.

    To help you understand what issues may affect your business—along with the extent of how they could affect your business—we created a list of issues we expect to surface—or resurface—in 2018.

    Tax Incentives for Small Business Wellness

    Currently, Massachusetts and Maine have laws that provide a tax incentive to small businesses offering wellness programs. Over the past few years, several other states, such as Mississippi and New York, have considered this type of policy. We expect to see states introduce legislation incentivizing corporate wellness programs, and we will seek to protect wellness tax incentives if they are at risk of being repealed, notably the Massachusetts credit. Since wellness programs can include employers subsidizing health club membership for their employees, this policy is beneficial for the industry.

    Physical Activity in Schools

    Child health and physical activity continue to be high on states’ legislative priority lists. With a new New Jersey Governor to replace Governor Chris Christie—who vetoed recess legislation in the past—the legislature has an opportunity to try again and succeed in guaranteeing 20 minutes of recess for youth. Also, because of legislative trends we have seen in Arkansas and Louisiana, we predict those states will continue to focus on childhood obesity prevention by introducing physical education or activity proposals that encourage a more active generation.

    Group Exercise Column Width

    Opportunities for PHIT

    In 2018, Congress could incorporate PHIT into a larger piece of legislation, such as an omnibus spending bill. The PHIT Act, which would allow the use of Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts to pay for physical activity expenses (such as health club membership), currently has 118 sponsors from both sides of the political aisle. Passing PHIT will allow consumers to save 20 to 30% on exercise expenses, presenting an excellent opportunity to grow your membership.

    Restrictions on Membership Contracts

    Membership contracts present an active area for legislation and one that has a very tangible impact on business practices. Imposing rules on membership contracts can carry additional financial and administrative burdens for your staff. Based on legislative trends, and bills that will carry over from 2017, IHRSA expects to see threats in Minnesota, the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

    Sales Tax on Club Dues and Services

    The 2017 legislative session produced several proposals to impose state sales taxes on health club memberships and services. IHRSA expects to continue the fight against the sales tax threat in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wyoming, Georgia, and Arizona. IHRSA believes that imposing a sales tax on health clubs raises costs for your members and creates a disincentive to join a gym. In addition to the five states already mentioned, there are lesser threats in several other states, on the basis of projected budget deficits or calls to reform the state’s tax structure.

    Personal Trainer Licensing

    Legislators have been proposing to regulate personal trainers for more than two decades. While these proposals are often well-intentioned, seeking to ensure consumers have access to qualified professionals, they often have unintended consequences. Poorly written personal trainer legislation has the potential to increase the cost trainers incur to comply with requirements and reduce, if not eliminate, the pool of trainers. IHRSA is watching Michigan, Florida, California, Georgia, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire for personal trainer legislation in 2018.

    Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

    Legislatures frequently introduce bills that mandate automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places, particularly health clubs. IHRSA works to make sure these bills provide you and your staff with adequate liability protection for both the use and nonuse of an AED, contain reasonable staffing requirements, and grant adequate compliance time. Indicators suggest AEDs could be under consideration by legislators in the following states: Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

    Get involved in advocacy in 2018! Now is a great time to familiarize yourself with the policy issues that impact the fitness industry. Browse the new State Advocacy section of the IHRSA website, and send us your questions.

    Author avatar

    Suzanne Trainor

    Suzanne Trainor previously served as IHRSA’s Government Relations Coordinator—a position that included tracking legislation at the state and federal levels, as well as communicating IHRSA's policy positions to key decision-makers.