Gavel Down Header July 18-22

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

As Congress heads home for seven weeks…

We bring you a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major bills.

Follow us on Twitter as we tweet the conventions with related legislation!


Five Things Mentioned at the RNC
that Relate to the 114th Congress


1. SANCTUARY CITIES
Many RNC speakers mentioned “sanctuary cities” — cities that bar local law enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status. There have been several attempts this Congress to call up legislation related to sanctuary cities. Three bills have failed to pass procedural hurdles in the Senate. Learn more.

2. TRADE AGREEMENTS
You couldn't watch the RNC and not hear trade agreements mentioned. Trade agreements are broad tax, tariff, or trade pacts made between countries, often including investment guarantee. The most talked about trade agreement this Congress is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, finalized proposal between twelve Pacific Rim countries. Presidential advisors expect Congress to approve the deal during the lame-duck session, following the November election, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this is unlikely. What do you think?

3. EDUCATION REFORM
Several RNC speakers called for major education reform, referencing wide-ranging proposals from vouchers to tuition tax credits. Last year, Congress passed bipartisan education reform, overhauling No Child Left Behind. House and Senate lawmakers reconciled differences in their versions of the legislation in conference and passed compromise legislation. President Obama signed the bill into law — marking a significant transfer of power and authority over public schools from the federal government to state and local governments. Catch up now.

4. GLASS-STEAGALL
One similarity between the RNC and DNC platforms is a call for to “reinstate Glass-Steagall,” referring to the post-Depression law that separated commercial and consumer banking activity. In 1999, Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which rolled back many of the original provisions, allowing commercial banks, investment banks and non-bank financial entities to consolidate. Some policymakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that 1999 changes created greater consolidation of risk in the banking sector, and led to the 2008 financial crisis. Several pending bills would reinstate provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act: The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (S. 1709) and (H.R. 3054) and the draft Financial CHOICE Act from Rep. Jeb Hensarling [R, TX-5].  Read more on proposed financial reforms.

5. CONSCIENCE PROTECTION"Conscience protection" was specifically mentioned in this year's RNC platform. These policies usually refer to provisions allowing health care providers to refuse to provide certain treatments or assistance that violate the provider's religious beliefs. Last week Congress passed a bill that would shield health care providers that decline to be involved in abortions as a matter of conscienceSee how your representative voted.


What's happening with the defense bill?

Congress is "going to conference" on the on annual defense authorization bill:

That means House Democrats and Republicans will appoint a few members as "conferee;" Senate Democrats and Republicans will do the same. The conferees will meet to hammer out differences between what passed the House and what passed the Senate, to reach one combined version that will go back to both chambers for a vote. According to U.S. Constitution, chambers must pass identical legislation for the bill to become law.

Conferees will begin their work on a combined bill after they return from recess in September. President Obama has threatened to veto both the House and Senate versions. Read more about both versions.

 

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#DataDrop


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Following police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott [R] asked state lawmakers to enact a “Police Protection Act” that would increase penalties for crimes against officers.

  • Federal judge in Missouri ruled Obama administration cannot force Missouri lawmaker and his family to carry health insurance that includes contraception coverage, despite Affordable Care Act's requirement that insurers cover birth control.

  • After 25 years of taxation, California newspapers may soon score a tax break. New interpretation of rule would acknowledge digital content which is nontaxable.
  • Six states legalized and began regulating fantasy sports leagues this month. 
  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon [D] signed a measure into law that would make it easier for state residents with criminal convictions to seal their criminal records. People who have committed dangerous felonies, sex offenses, domestic assault and other violent crimes would not be eligible.
  • Alaska Senate ended its eight-day special legislative session called by Gov. Bill Walker [R] Monday without voting on any of the deficit-reduction bills that Walker proposed. Alaska House adjourned from its special session last Friday. Lawmakers passed only one of the eight deficit-reduction bills proposed by the governor this year.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory [R] restored employees’ right to claim in state court that they were fired for discriminatory reasons. Lawmakers unintentionally suspended this right in March, when they passed controversial bathroom bill.
  • In response to concerns about safety at the Republican National Convention, Ohio Gov. John Kasich [R] stated that he lacked the ability to suspend a state law allowing citizens to openly carry guns.
  • Federal appeals court ruled Texas voter identification law (largely viewed as nation's strictest voter ID law) violates Voting Rights Act. Court did not strike down the law in full, instead  lower court to devise a fix for the law in time for November elections.

#ICYMI

Bill Mentions: Congress to Conference on Defense Bill

Congress is "going to conference" on the on annual defense authorization bill:

That means House Democrats and Republicans will appoint a few members as "conferees"; Senate Democrats and Republicans will do the same. The conferees will meet to hammer out differences between what passed the House and what passed the Senate, to reach one combined version that will go back to both chambers for a vote. According to U.S. Constitution, chambers must pass identical legislation for bill to become law.

President Obama has threatened to veto both the House and Senate versions.

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The Senate Version:

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943
Sponsor: Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]

Provisions include: 

  • $602 billion in base funding for Military Services
  • Large-scale procurement and contracting overhaul.
  • 25% reduction in general and flag officers and DOD Senior Executive Service civilian employees
  • Reforms to the military health system
  • Implementing the recommendations of the Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group

Read a summary of the bill here.

One of S.2943’s most controversial amendments was Sec. 591, which would require that women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018 would be obligated to register for Selective Service in the same way men register now. 

The consequences for not registering would be the same men currently face, such as the possible loss of financial aid like Pell grants. However, this provision would not apply to women who turned 18 before January 2018. The amendment received support from military leaders and Republicans and Democrats alike in the Senate, but some more conservative members opposed it.

 

The House Version:

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (H.R. 4909
Sponsor: Rep. Mac Thornberry [R, TX-13]

The $610 billion House NDAA would use $18 billion meant for war funding to cover the Pentagon’s base budget, a measure not included in the Senate version and likely difficult to reconcile during conference negotiations.

Other policy provisions include:

  • Upholding the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force

  • Delivering, modernizing, and maintaining new equipment

  • Reforms to the Military Health System

  • Making the Joint Staff and operations more accountable and transparent

One of bill's more controversial provisions was an amendment preventing discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors. In May, chaos erupted on the House floor when several Republicans switched their vote on the amendment at the last minute, causing the amendment to fail.


Conferees will begin their work on a combined bill after they return from recess in September.


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

BILL MENTIONS: Sanctuary Cities Legislation in the 114th Congress

What is a Sanctuary City?

A "sanctuary city" is one with policies to shelter immigrants who are in the United States illegally. These practices can be law (de jure) or they can be by practice (de facto). Generally, these cities do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

As the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “one of the characteristic elements of our broken immigration system is the significant challenges that the federal government and federal law enforcement officials have had in enforcing the law by working closely with local law enforcement officials."

When comprehensive immigration reform efforts failed in Congress two years ago, President Obama scrapped the Secure Communities Program, which previously codified the relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement that caused a number of cities to declare themselves sanctuary cities.

The Secure Communities Program was then replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which focuses on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety. The Program enables the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with state and local law enforcement to take custody of individuals who pose a danger before those individuals are released into our communities.

Sanctuary Cities Legislation in the 114th Congress

Sanctuary cities legislation in the 114th Congress surfaced following the killing of Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot on July 1, 2015 in San Fransisco by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had not been deported three months earlier due to San Francisco's sanctuary city policy.

Attempts to restrict sanctuary cities include:

Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100)
Sponsor: Sen. Pat Toomey [R, PA]

THe bill would have blocked federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” cities or counties that bar local enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities. This July, the bill failed to reach cloture, a procedural hurdle that ends debate and puts bill to floor vote, by vote of 53-44.


Kate’s Law (S. 2193)
Sponsor: Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX]

The bill would have increased the maximum penalty for illegal re-entry into the country from two to five years, as well as imposing a maximum 10-year sentence on an individual who has been removed from the country 3 times. This bill also failed to reach cloture in July.
 

Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act (S. 2146)
Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter [R, LA]

The bill would withhold certain federal funding from sanctuary states or cities that do not comply with the DHS issued detainer requests for illegal aliens. This bill failed to invoke cloture in 2015 by a vote of 54-45.

 

BILL MENTIONS: Sanctuary Cities

Senate failed to invoke cloture on two immigration measures


Two immigration measures sponsored by Republican lawmakers failed to pass procedural hurdles in the Senate in July.

Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100

Sponsor: Sen. Pat Toomey [R, PA]

Toomey bill would have blocked federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” cities or counties that bar local enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities. Bill failed to reach cloture by vote of 53-44.

POPVOX How did your Senators vote immigration bill sanctuary cities

Next up — Kate's Law, named after Kate Steinle, a San Francisco resident who was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant who had been deported multiple times.

Kate's Law (S. 2193

Sponsor: Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX]

Cruz bill would have increased the maximum penalty for illegal re-entry into the country fromtwo to five years, as well as imposing a maximum 10-year sentence on an individual who has been removed from the country 3 times.

POPVOX How did your Senators vote Cruz immigration bill Kate's Law

Refresher: Senate defeated similar measure last year, failing to invoke cloture by 54-45 vote.

 

So what is a Sanctuary City?

The term sanctuary city is given to cities that have policies designed to shelter immigrants who are in the United States illegally. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by practice (de facto) Generally, these cities do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status.
 
As the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “one of the characteristic elements of our broken immigration system is the significant challenges that the federal government and federal law enforcement officials have had in enforcing the law by working closely with local law enforcement officials. And this is something that the United States Congress had the opportunity to fix in the context of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But this fix was blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives.” 
 
When comprehensive immigration reform efforts failed in Congress last year, President Obama “acted on his own; and in acting on his own, the President actually scrapped the Secure Communities Program” in November 2014. This was the program that previously codified the relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement that actually caused a number of cities to declare themselves sanctuary cities.
 
The Secure Communities Program was then replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which focuses on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety. The Program enables the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with state and local law enforcement to take custody of individuals who pose a danger before those individuals are released into our communities. (Source: DHS)


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system. 


BILL MENTIONS: Dodd-Frank Related Legislation

As the U.S. economy recovers from the 2008 crisis, many wonder if the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act will be able to prevent future banking crises while still allowing investments to flourish. In response, several lawmakers have proposed legislation related to Dodd-Frank.

A Brief History

  • Following the Great Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act was enacted in 1933. The Glass-Steagall act banned commercial banks from dealing securities and prohibited investment banks from accepting deposits – essentially separating commercial and investment banks to protect consumers from risky investments and prevent future economic crises.

  • Under President Bill Clinton, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 deregulated the financial market and modified the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing well-capitalized commercial banks and non-bank financial entities to affiliate under financial holding companies. It is often cited as a cause of the 2008 financial collapse.

  • After the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law in 2010. Its provisions include:

    • Volcker Rule: aims to prevent excessive risk taking by prohibiting consumer banks from proprietary trading for their own profit (similar to Glass-Steagall, in that it limits commercial banks’ engagement in investment bank operations), and limiting financial institutions ability to grow their non-deposit liabilities

    • Financial Stability Oversight Council: can break up large banks deemed too large in size, lessening systemic risk

    • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): a consumer protection watchdog to prevent predatory mortgage lending and improve transparency of loan terms

    • Prevent future bailouts: by requiring the liquidation of future financially weak firms, with a clause that Wall Street not taxpayers will be responsible

  • Since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, several legislators have proposed changes. The latest being Rep. Hensarling’s proposal to dismantle Dodd-Frank and replace it with a plan to deregulate the financial market.

Related Bills

Bills that call for a return to Glass-Steagall:

 

Bills that call for less regulation of the financial market:

Bills that call for greater regulation of the financial market:

Gavel Header July 11-15

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress


A week full of legislating before departing for seven-week recess… 

Two bills head to the White House — GMO labeling and opioid addiction and treatment — after passing Congress this week. Senate voted to tee up two conference committees — one on major energy legislation and one on annual defense bill. House passed interior-EPA appropriations bill during late night vote series. Congress passed compromise FAA reauthorization, providing funding for another 14 months. Senate approved historic nomination for Librarian of Congress. House passed bill to end major principle of administrative law and several bills related to Iran, following one year anniversary of Iran nuclear deal. Senate fails to pass funding to combat Zika virus.


Most Active Bill POPVOX


Congress passed GMO labeling bill,
Now it's off to the White House


House passed legislative vehicle for Senate-passed GMO labeling. Bill passed by a vote of 306-117 and would require labels on foods containing GMO ingredients. Bill passed the Senate last week by vote of 63-30 after some initial confusion over its contents. Now, it heads to President Obama, who has indicated that he will sign the legislation.

Legislative Vehicle for genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill (S. 764

Sponsor: Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS]

Bill would give the Department of Agriculture two years to create and implement a national, mandatory standard for disclosing foods that contain GMO ingredients. It requires food containing GMO ingredients be labeled using print, pictures, or scannable bar codes. Bill pre-exempts state labeling laws, such as Vermont law that required GMO labeling in grocery stores.


Senate voted to go to conference over energy legislation


To conference we go — Senate voted 84-3 to convene a conference committee with House lawmakers on broad energy legislation. Going to conference is one of the final steps of "regular order" in the legislative process — when House and Senate appoint conferees to meet and work out differences in different versions of similar bills that passed both chambers. This Congress (114th) has approved more conference committee reports than the previous two Congresses. There's still plenty of time left this year, and Congress has approved two more conferences — one on energy legislation and one on annual defense bill.

POPVOX Conference Reports Last Five Congresses

See if your lawmaker has been named as a conferee for the energy conference committee!

 


Congress passed opioid legislation,
Now it's off to the White House


On Wednesday, Senate approved bipartisan opioid legislation, by vote of 92-2 with only Sen. Ben Sasse [R, NE] and Sen. Mike Lee [R, UT] in opposition. House passed conference report last week by vote of 407-5, but there was major concern that Senate Democrats would not vote for the bill without additional funding. The compromise opioid bill is the product of bipartisanship and considered the largest drug reform and prevention bill in nearly a decade.  

Bill now goes to President Obama, who is set to sign the legislation into law. Lawmakers will have to authorize funding after Congress returns from its seven-week recess but before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.


House passed interior-EPA appropriations bill 


Following more late night vote series this week, House passed interior-EPA spending bill, mostly along party lines.

Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 5538

Sponsor: Rep. Ken Calvert [R, CA-42]

Bill seeks to rein in regulatory overreach, use the nation’s natural resources responsibly, fight wildfires, and tackle safety drinking water issues. Bill allots $32.1B in funding, $64M below last year’s package and $1B below the President’s budget request. The majority of funding cuts come from the Environmental Protection Agency, with the goal of reducing costly regulation.

White House has threatened to veto the bill if riders that roll back clean air, water, and wildlife protections are included. After recess, the bill heads to the Senate for consideration.


Congress passes compromise FAA reauthorization


Two days before funding for the Federal Aviation Administration was set to expire, the Senate passed bipartisan bill reauthorizing FAA funding for another 14 months. The compromise bill passed the House by voice vote on Monday and passed the Senate 89-4 on Wednesday.

 

POPVOX FAA reauthorization compromise bill

House and Senate reached an agreement on the bill last week, when lawmakers finished negotiating differences between the Senate (S. 2658) and House (H.R. 4441) versions. The resulting bill is similar to the Senate version. Bill focuses on increasing airport safety, reducing terrorist attacks, and regulating drones. Bill also includes consumer protections, such as generally ensuring kids 13 years old and younger are seated next to parents or older children traveling with them on flights.

H.R. 636 does not include House bill’s provision to privatize air traffic control. However, as the bill is a relatively short term extension, legislators will have the opportunity to continue debating the merits of privatization for the 2017 reauthorization.


Carla Hayden Librarian of Congress

Photo Source: Dave Munch/Getty Images

Senate approves historic nomination,
Carla Hayden next to serve
as Librarian of Congress


On Wednesday, Senate confirmed Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress, making her the first woman and first African-American to hold the job. She previously served as president of the American Library Association (ALA) and head of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

Hayden was approved by a vote of 74-18, with few expecting her confirmation vote to see the floor.  An anonymous Republican senator blocked the vote for more than five weeks after the Senate Rules Committee unanimously voted to recommend Hayden.

Resistance to Hayden largely focused on her opposition to the Patriot Act and the Children’s Internet Protection Act. As the head of the ALA, Hayden protested CIPA’s stipulation that publicly-funded libraries install internet content filters to block pornography. Hayden and others argued that the filters would restrict legitimate searches on subjects like breast cancer.

Since 1800, the Library of Congress has served as the research arm of Congress, provided members with legal advice, and operated the Copyright Office.  Critics argue that the Library has recently failed to modernize, partly because the previous Librarian of Congress James Billington served for nearly three decades. In November, President Obama signed the Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015 into law and established a ten-year term limit.


House passed bill to end major principle of administrative law


On Tuesday, House passed the Separation of Powers Restoration Act by a vote of 240-171 (largely along party lines). Bill would end one of the major principles of administrative law. Bill was introduced in March, marked up last month by House Judiciary, and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2016 (H.R. 4768

Sponsor: Rep. John Ratcliffe [R, TX-4]

Bill would end the “Chevron Doctrine,” a staple in administrative law that requires courts to defer to interpretations of “ambiguous” statutes made by government agencies charged with enforcing them. To overrule an interpretation, a court would have to find an agency’s interpretation to be “unreasonable.” Supreme Court established this precedent in a 1984 ruling on a dispute over the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. (See: Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.)

Under the bill, which amends the Administrative Procedure Act, courts would be authorized to review agency actions to decide de novo all relevant questions of laws. In other words, courts would be allowed to consider agency interpretations of statutes without deferring to other lower court or agency interpretations.


Senate failed to take up Zika funding package


Senate failed to invoke cloture on larger military and veterans spending bill (which includes Zika funding) by 52-44 vote. 60 votes were needed to advance the House version of compromise bill, with Senate blocking the deal for the second time.
 

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (H.R. 2577

Sponsor: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart [R, FL-25]

Lawmakers continue to debate language in the conference report related to Puerto Rico, Planned Parenthood, ObamaCare, and confederate flags.

POPVOX Senate zika vote


House passed Iran-related bills

House passed three bills relating to Iran, following one year anniversary of Iran nuclear deal.

No 2H20 From Iran Act (H.R. 5119

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pompeo [R, KS-4]

Bill bars the use of federal funds in the purchase of heavy water from Iran. Legislation followed announcement that the Department of Energy would spend $8.6M to buy 32 tons of Iranian heavy water. Proponents of the bill do not support using federal funds to finance trade with Iran. However, critics point out that the deal would ensure Iran no longer has the resources to store potential nuclear weapons production. The bill passed the House along party lines, 249-176.

United States Financial System Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 4992

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce [R, CA-39]

Bill seeks to codify regulations relating to transfer of funds involving Iran, with the goal of blocking Iran from the U.S. financial system. The bill also passed along party lines, by vote of 246-181.

Iran Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 5631

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R, CA-23]

Bill imposes new sanctions on Iran in an effort to hold Iran accountable for its state sponsorship of terrorism. The legislation targets Iran’s continued ballistic missile program and violation of human rights. It passed the House larly along party lines, by vote of 246-179.


Response from The White House
All three bills threaten the pact made with Iran last year, and Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said that if the U.S. breaks the pact then Iran will resume its nuclear weapon program. Accordingly, the White House has threatened to veto all bills that undermine the nuclear deal.


Senate voted to go to conference with House over annual defense bill


Congress is teeing up for conference on annual defense authorization bill. Senate voted 90-7 to go to conference with the House to reconcile differences between both chambers’ passed bills. President Obama has threatened to veto both versions.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943

Sponsor: Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]

Senate passed annual defense bill last month by vote of 85-13. $602 billion Senate NDAA contains controversial amendment that would require women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018 to register for Selective Service.

Other policy provisions include: 

  • Large-scale procurement and contracting overhaul.
  • 25% reduction in general and flag officers and DOD Senior Executive Service civilian employees
  • Reforms to the military health system
  • Implementing the recommendations of the Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group

Read summary of the Senate version.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017  (H.R. 4909

Sponsor: Rep. Mac Thornberry [R, TX-13]

House passed annual defense bill in May by vote of 277-147. $610 billion House NDAA would use $18 billion meant for war funding to cover the Pentagon’s base budget, a measure not included in the Senate version and likely difficult to reconcile during conference negotiations.

Other policy provisions include:

  • Upholding the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force
  • Requiring women to register for the Selective Service
  • Removing protections for LGBT employees of military contractors
  • Delivering, modernizing, and maintaining new equipment
  • Reforms to the Military Health System
  • Making the Joint Staff and operations more accountable and transparent

Read summary of the House version.

Read Congressional Research Service summary of both the House and Senate versions.

How did your Representative and Senators vote on defense bills?


New Bills on the Block


#DataDrop


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • California State Board of Education unanimously approved new social studies curriculum that would include the evolution of gay rights and the contributions of LGBT historical figures. The decision officially implements provisions of the FAIR Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown [D] in 2011.
  • Bill has been introduced in the Ohio House that would exempt some some police body camera videos from public records law.
  • Maryland Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—ruled that non-biological parents who live with and help raise children have parental rights. LGBT advocates lauded the decision, which overturned a precedent set in 2008 that prevented “third party parents” from obtaining parental rights.
  • Vermont has become the first state to provide publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year olds as of this month. Under the law, Vermont communities will be required to offer at least 10 hours of free, high-quality preschool a week for 35 weeks a year.
  • Ten states sued the federal government last Friday over the Obama administration’s directive requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity.
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards [D] stripped $44 million from the state’s multi-year construction budget, remarking that that state could not afford them as it continues to struggle financially. 
  • Alaska Gov. Bill Walker [I] signed reforms of the state’s criminal justice system into law Monday. The reforms would lighten sentences for those charged with nonviolent offenses and simple possession of drugs with the intention of allowing them to become re-integrated into society and reduce the chances of them breaking the law again.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf [D] allowed the state 2016-17 budget bill to become law without his signature Monday night, even though the Republican-majority legislature had not agreed how to pay for it. The revenue gap of over $1 billion may affect schools and non-profits the most and downgrade the state’s credit by forcing it to increase its borrowing.

#ICYMI

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WEEKLY UPDATE: The Week Ahead in Congress

Bills up for a vote in Congress this week

With a long list of bills, Congress is working to finish up its business before heading into the "August recess" (which begins next week). Of note: the House takes up the Senate-passed GMO labeling bill; bills to impose restrictions on Iranian sponsorship of terrorism, human rights abuses, and the ballistic missile program; increasing financial tools to combat terrorism. The Senate will work on the Defense appropriations bill. Congress is expected to send a 14-month FAA extension to the President before authorization expires on July 15.


In the Senate:

Defense Appropriations


The $575.8 billion FY2017 Defense spending bill passed the House by a vote of 282-138. It includes $58.6 billion for “overseas contingency operations” (OCO). “OCO” refers to the operations that were previously referred to as the Global War on Terror. The White House has issued a veto threat. (Read more from the House Committee and CRS Fact Sheet)

 


In the House:

FAA Reauthorization

Before the summer recess, Congress must pass an extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs out of funding on July 15. A 14-month extension is expected to be sent to the President this week.

  • FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (in legislative vehicle H.R. 636)

Joint statement | Summary | Bill Text

 

GMO Labeling

  • Senate Amendment to the House Amendment to S. 764: GMO Labeling Requirements

     

    The House will consider the Senate-passed amendment to S. 764, the legislative vehicle for genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill, by vote of 63-30. The bipartisan bill creates a national, mandatory standard for disclosing foods that contain GMO ingredients. It requires food containing GMO ingredients to be labeled using print, pictures, or scannable bar codes. It pre-exempts state labeling laws, such as Vermont law that required GMO labeling in grocery stores.

 

Veterans' Compensation

 

Energy Innovation

 

 

Iran

 

  • H.R. 4992: United States Financial System Protection Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Edward Royce [R, CA-39]
    This bill applies to transfers of funds to or from Iran, or for the direct or indirect benefit of an Iranian person or the government of Iran, for a specified period only, the existing authorization for U.S. depository institutions and registered brokers or dealers in securities to process such a funds transfer if the transfer arises from, and is ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to, an underlying transaction that has been authorized by a specific or general license and does not involve debiting or crediting an Iranian account.

 

  • H.R. 5631: To hold Iran accountable for its state sponsorship of terrorism and other threatening activities and for its human rights abuses
    Sponsor: Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R, CA-23]

     

    H.R. 5631 contains provisions to address state sponsorship of terrorism, human rights abuses, and the ballistic missile program in Iran. Provisions include:requirements for sanctions on members or affiliates of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and peopel who have provided material support to the development of Iran's ballistic missle program; special measures to reduce money laundering concerns; expanding the list of persons involved in human rights abuses; requirements for sanctions on the Supreme Leader and President of Iran, Iranian Ministers, and other government officials, individuals who participated in a terrorist attack or the kidnapping or politically motivated detention of a U.S. citizen, and financial institutions that engage in certain transactions on behalf of persons involved in human rights abuses or that export sensitive technology to Iran.

 

Financial Services and Terror Finance Prevention

 

 

 

 

 

  • H.R. 5606: Anti-terrorism Information Sharing Is Strength Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Robert Pittenger [R, NC-9]
    H.R. 5606 increases safe harbor provisions for information sharing among financial institutions and government agencies and broadens the range of suspected illegal activities. The bill requires the Secretary of the Treasury to submit a study to Congress that determines the appropriate level of information sharing with foreign subsidiaries within 120-days after enactment.

 

  • H.R. 5607: Enhancing Treasury’s Anti-Terror Tools Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Robert Pittenger [R, NC-9]
    H.R.5607 requires the Treasury Department to investigate ways to incorporate U.S. Embassies into counter-terrorism financing efforts, assess ways to improve anti-terror finance monitoring of cross-border fund transfers, and implement a program to enhance intergovernmental efforts to combat terrorist financing. The bill also adds the Secretary of the Treasury to the National Security Council.

 

 

Higher Education

 

  • H.R. 3178: Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Virginia Foxx [R, NC-5]
    H.R. 4983 would reserve $1 million from funding for the Department of Education to replace the current College Navigator website with a new website and change the type of information that the website would need to provide. The bill also would amend the requirements for the department’s net-price calculator, which provides details on the costs of post-secondary education.

 

 

  • H.R. 5528: Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Joseph Heck [R, NV-3]
    H.R. 5528 would reserve $3 million from funding for the Department of Education to implement changes to the application process for federal student aid. Those changes would include developing and testing a version of the application for mobile devices and continuing to develop the data retrieval system that allows students to pre-populate the online application with data from the Internal Revenue Service.

 

  • H.R. 5529: Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Joseph Heck [R, NV-3]
    H.R. 5529 would reauthorize the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program and expand the types of activities that institutions can support with the grant funds. The bill would authorize the appropriation of $108 million for fiscal year 2016. The underlying authorization for the program has expired but the Congress has already appropriated $108 million for those grants in fiscal year 2016.

 

  • H.R. 5530: HBCU Capital Financing Improvement Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Alma Adams [D, NC-12]
    H.R. 5530 would amend the reporting requirements for the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Advisory Board, which advises the Department of Education about the HBCU Capital Financing Program. It also would allow the department to provide financial counseling to HBCUs to better prepare them to qualify for that program.

Government Operations

The bill would end the "Chevron Doctrine," one of the most influential principles of administrative law, which requires that courts defer to an executive agency's interpretation of a law. The principle was established in the 1984 decision, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837.

 

  • H.R. 4785: DHS Stop Asset and Vehicle Excess Act (SAVE) Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Scott Perry [R, PA-4]
    H.R. 4785 would direct the Under Secretary of Management for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to oversee and manage vehicle fleets throughout the department. Currently, agencies within DHS (such as Customs and Border Protection) largely manage their own fleets. The bill would require the Under Secretary to monitor compliance with federal laws and regulations related to the use of government vehicles, develop a methodology to determine optimal fleet size, and approve vehicle leases and acquisitions. H.R. 4785 also would require DHS agencies to report data on vehicle use quarterly and submit fleet management plans, including cost-benefit analyses, annually to the Under Secretary.

 

 

  • H.R. 5056: Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security Act of 2016
    Sponsor: Rep. William Keating [D, MA-9]
    This bill directs the Transportation Security Administration to update the Transportation Sector Security Risk Assessment for the aviation sector, the Comprehensive Risk Assessment of Perimeter and Access Control Security for airports (as well as conduct a system-wide assessment of airport access control points and airport perimeter security), and the 2012 National Strategy for Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security.

 

  • H.R. 4404: Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Martha McSally [R, AZ-2]
    This bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and conduct an exercise related to the terrorist and foreign fighter threat in order to enhance domestic preparedness for and the collective response to terrorism, promote the dissemination of homeland security information, and test the U.S. security posture. DHS shall submit an after-action report, including any identified or potential vulnerabilities in U.S. defenses and requested legislative changes. The bill also amends the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 to require the national exercise program to be designed to include emerging terrorist threats, such as such a scenario.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress 7/5-8

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

A week of tragedies throughout the country and lots of legislating on the Hill…

Twelve police officers and two civilians were shot by snipers in Dallas, following police-involved killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. House passed long-awaited mental health bill. House approved conference report regarding opioid abuse and addiction legislation. Senate passed bill creating national, mandatory standard for labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms. House passed financial services bill, including provision barring funding for changes to Selective Service registration requirements. Senate failed to invoke cloture on two immigration measures. House and Senate reached compromise on FAA funding reauthorization, just in time for July 15 deadline. House passed bill addressing federal agencies’ management of information systems.


POPVOX Most Active Bill Sanctuary Cities Toomey Senate


House passed long-awaited mental health bill


On Wednesday, House passed broad mental health bill by vote of 422-2, with Reps. Justin Amash [R, MI-3] and Thomas Massie [R, KY-4] in opposition. Bill marks first congressional effort to tackle federal policies on specific, serious mental illnesses. 

Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646

Sponsor: Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18]

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18], a licensed child psychologist. The bill has 207 cosponsors and was first introduced in 2013, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Among other provisions, bill would:

 

 

 

  • Increase the number of psychiatric hospital beds available by lifting restrictions on Medicaid paying for certain care
  • Create an Assistant Secretary of Mental Health in the Department of Health and Human Services to be filled by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist
  • Award 2 percent increase in federal grants to states with what are known as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws — where judges can mandate treatment for patients with serious mental illnesses
  • Support new mental health research
  • Amend health privacy law HIPAA to allow caregivers and family members increased access to information about a mentally ill person’s care

According to Congressional Budget Office report released this week, enacting H.R. 2646 would likely reduce net direct Medicare spending by $5M over 2017-2026 period. Implementing legislation would affect spending subject to appropriations, as the bill reauthorizes and amends several grant programs administrated by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Sens. Bill Cassidy [R, LA] and Chris Murphy [D, CT] are carrying Senate version of the bill and urged colleagues to take bill up immediately

Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S. 1945

Sponsor: Sen. Bill Cassidy [R, LA]

“The bill voted on today isn’t perfect, but the fact that it passed overwhelmingly is proof that there is broad, bipartisan support for fixing our broken mental health system. We have been partners in this effort since day one, and with our Mental Health Reform Act ready for a vote, we urge Senate leaders to take action and make this issue a priority before the 114th Congress comes to an end.”


–Joint Statement, Sens. Bill Cassidy [R, LA] and Chris Murphy [D, CT]
 

IMG_9300.JPG

Conference committee on opioid legislation met for the first time


The opioid epidemic was center stage once more this week. The Department of Health & Human Services announced it would raise the limit on how much opioid addiction medication healthcare providers can prescribe, while the conference committee on opioid abuse legislation met formally for the first time.

Members of the House and Senate met Wednesday to negotiate a final bipartisan bill to combat the opioid epidemic. Compromise bill is the most expansive federal legislation to date for addiction support services. Lawmakers reviewed sixteen proposed amendments, several of which passed with bipartisan support.

Main dispute involved how to fund the bill's provisions. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander [R, TN] advocated for funding the bill through the normal appropriations process. Democrats said this process would take too long. House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6] and Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray [D, WA] sponsored amendments to increase funding, but both amendments failed along party lines

Today, House approved conference report by vote of 407-5, with all Democrats voting in favor of the bill.

"[The bill] does not do nearly enough from a funding perspective, but it makes some important steps that will allow us to begin to address the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting our nation."
–House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6] 

Senate is expected to take up the bill next week, before adjourning for 7-week recess.

Refresher: Conference committees comprise lawmakers from both chambers and parties, with the purpose of resolving differences on specific legislation. Conferees meet, discuss differences, vote on amendments, and create compromise version of the bill, the conference report, to be voted on by both chambers. According to U.S. Constitution, chambers must pass identical legislation for bill to become law.


Senate passed GMO labeling bill


Yesterday, Senate passed S. 764, legislative vehicle for genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill, by vote of 63-30. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Pat Roberts [R, KS] and Debbie Stabenow [D, MI], creates a national, mandatory standard for disclosing foods that contain GMO ingredients. Bill requires food containing GMO ingredients to be labeled using print, pictures, or scannable bar codes. Bill pre-exempts state labeling laws, such as Vermont law that required GMO labeling in grocery stores.

POPVOX How did your Senators vote GMO labeling bill

Several lawmakers praised the legislation, saying inconsistencies between state regulations were confusing and expensive for both producers and consumers. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] expressed frustration that the bill overrides more stringent state regulations. Additionally, Sen. Jeff Merkley [D, OR] said allowing companies to label via barcodes requires smartphones, excluding people unable to pay for such technology.

Next, the bill goes to the House, where it is expected to pass despite previous calls for voluntary labeling laws.


House passed financial services, general government spending bill


In late night vote on Thursday, House passed financial services and general government spending bill, largely along party lines. Bill included 70 amendments slated for floor debate.

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 5485

Sponsor: Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R, FL-4]

Bill provides annual funding for Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, Judiciary, and other federal agencies. This year’s financial services spending bill reduces total funding by $1.5B (compared to last year’s enacted level). Bill reduces IRS funding by $236M and SEC funding by $50M.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers [R, KY-5] said the goal is “to make wise investments with taxpayer dollars… and to tightly hold the reins on the over-spending and overreach within federal bureaucracies.”

Bill includes several limitations on the IRS, including:

  • Prohibition on funds for bonuses or to rehire former employees (unless employee conduct and tax compliance are given consideration)
  • Prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups or individuals based on ideological beliefs or expression of First Amendment rights
  • Prohibition on regulations concerning tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations

House approved Davidson amendment 217-203 to bar funding to change registration requirements for the Selective Service System. Amendment is designed to block provision in Senate FY17 NDAA that would require women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018 to register for Selective Service.

Bill subjects Dodd-Frank created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Financial Stability Oversight Council to annual appropriations process, giving Congress greater control over regulators. Additionally, the bill restricts D.C. from using funds for abortions or marijuana legalization efforts. Critics worry this undermines the principle of home rule or self-governance in D.C.

What’s Next?
The bill now heads to the Senate. White House has threatened to veto the legislation.


Senate failed to invoke cloture on two immigration measures


Two immigration measures sponsored by Republican lawmakers failed to pass procedural hurdles in the Senate this week.

Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100

Sponsor: Sen. Pat Toomey [R, PA]

Toomey bill would have blocked federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” cities or counties that bar local enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities. Bill failed to reach cloture by vote of 53-44.

POPVOX How did your Senators vote immigration bill sanctuary cities

Next up — Kate's Law, named after Kate Steinle, a San Francisco resident who was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant who had been deported multiple times.

Kate's Law (S. 2193

Sponsor: Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX]

Cruz bill would have increased the maximum penalty for illegal re-entry into the country from two to five years, as well as imposing a maximum 10-year sentence on an individual who has been removed from the country 3 times.

POPVOX How did your Senators vote Cruz immigration bill Kate's Law

Refresher: Senate defeated similar measure last year, failing to invoke cloture by 54-45 vote.


House and Senate reached compromise on FAA funding reauthorization


This week, the Senate and House reached a compromise on reauthorizing funding for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), just in time for July 15th deadline when FAA funding expires. Lawmakers negotiated differences between respective legislative proposals: Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658) and Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (H.R. 4441).

Resulting bill is similar to Senate version, focusing on safety, drone regulation, and consumer protection. It also contains specific safety measures such as mandated security assessments of foreign airports servicing the United States, following concerns after recent terrorist attacks.

Bill reauthorizes FAA funding for 14 months, much shorter than the House proposal to reauthorize funding for 6 years. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster said this provides an opportunity in 2017 to push for additional reforms, such as longer funding and privatizing air traffic controllers, a controversial measure that was left on the chopping block.

Bill needs two-thirds majority for passage and is expected to pass the House and Senate before the July 15th deadline.


House passed bill addressing federal agencies' management of information systems


House passed bill, largely along party lines, to provide comprehensive framework to protect the security of federal information systems.

Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act of 2016 (H.R. 4361

Sponsor: Rep. Gary Palmer [R, AL-6]

Legislation would clarify that, under the Federal Information Modernization Act, federal agencies have the sole and exclusive authority to take appropriate and timely actions to secure their information technology and information systems. It would also prevent government employees from accessing personal email and pornography on government computers.  

Obama administration threatened to veto the legislation, calling its provisions “misguided” and “impractical and administratively burdensome to implement.”


#DataDrop


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition


New Bills on the Block


#ICYMI


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Copy of POPVOX_Weekly_Update_Header_Images_2016 (5)

WEEKLY UPDATE: The Week Ahead in Congress

Bills up for a vote in Congress this week

Congress returns from July 4 to begin its annual sprint to August recess.

The House will take up a counterterrorism bill that includes restrictions on gun purchases for terror suspects, as well as bills on mental health, Medicare payment policies for medical equipment, and fixes to new crowdfunding rules. It may also vote on the FAA and Defense authorization bills if they are ready, and the conference report for the combined House/Senate opioid bill.

The Senate will vote on tightening immigration enforcement for those convicted of crimes and penalizing "sanctuary cities" before turning to a bill to provide a federal standard for state GMO labeling requirements.


In the House:

Counterterrorism measures (with some gun sale limitations)

Last week, House GOP leaders announced a bill that includes the ability for law enforcement to seek to block firearms purchases if they suspect the person poses a terrorism risk.

When the Attorney General is notified of a request to transfer a firearm or an explosive to a person who is being, or has been investigated during the previous 5 years, as a known or suspected terrorist, the Attorney General shall notify relevant Federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies, or intelligence agencies, concerning the identity of the individual.  

In addition, the Attorney General may delay the transfer of the firearm by no more than 3 days and file an emergency petition in a court to prohibit the transfer of the firearm of explosive. An emergency petition can be granted only after a hearing, to which the individual looking to acquire the firearm or explosive receives notice and has an opportunity to participate with counsel.  Finally, in the case of an emergency petition filed which has been denied, the court shall require that the United States pay the costs and attorney fees of the individual.

The bill was introduced in the wake of House Democrats' sit-in calling for action on gun control after the tragic Orlando shooting. It is supported by the National Rifle Association (according to news reports). Several Democrats have expressed opposition and intent to offer amendments.

 

Mental Health Assistance and Reform

Members of Congress have also introduced bills to address access to mental health services in response to several tragic mass shootings. This week the House will vote on a bill from Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18]:

  • H.R. 2646 – Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act
    Sponsor: 
    Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18]  |   CBO Report   
    The bill creates the position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders and establishes the National Mental Health Policy Laboratory and the Interagency Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee. It expands the number and type of mental health services that states may cover under Medicaid; prohibits Medicare and Medicaid from restricting access to drugs used to treat mental health disorders; eliminates the 190-day limit on Medicare coverage of stays in an inpatient psychiatric facility; and expands the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics demonstration program.

 

Health Policy and Medicare Payments

  • H.R. 1270: Restoring Access to Medication
    Sponsor: 
    Rep. Lynn Jenkins [R, KS-2]
    The bill would repeal provisions that disqualify expenses for over-the-counter medicine under health savings accounts (HSAs), Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs), health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). 

In the Senate:

Sanctuary Cities and Immigration

"Sanctuary cities" refer to cities that have policies designed to shelter immigrants who are in the United States illegally. Most of these cities do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status. Read more about "Sanctuary Cities" from POPVOX.

The issue became a flashpoint after the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot on July 1 in San Francisco by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times. This week, the Senate will vote on two related bills:

  • S. 3100: Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act
    Sponsor:
    Sen. Patrick Toomey [R, PA]
    According to the sponsor, the bill "states that sanctuary jurisdictions are not eligible for certain federal funds." It also "addresses federal court decisions… [to allow] local police to cooperate with federal authorities without fear of being sued, and removes any justification for a locality to be a sanctuary city."
  • S. 2193: Kate's Law
    Sponsor: 
    Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX]
    The bill increases the maximum prison term for an alien who reenters after being denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed (from two years to five years) and establishes a 5-year mandatory minimum prison term for a person who reenters after being removed following a conviction for an aggravated felony or following 2 or more prior convictions for illegal reentry.

 

GMO Labeling

  • S. 764 – The legislative vehicle* for GMO Labeling bill
    Full Text   |   
    According to the Senate Agricultural Committee, key provisions include: 
     

     

    • Pre-emption: immediately prohibits states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered. 
    • National Uniform Standard: the U.S. Department of Agriculture establishes through rulemaking a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered. 
    • Disclosure: requires mandatory disclosure with several options, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology); small food manufacturers will be allowed to use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy disclosure requirements; very small manufacturers and restaurants are exempted. 
    • Meat: foods where meat, poultry, and egg products are the main ingredient are exempted. The legislation prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed.  

*A "legislative vehicle" is a bill that is amended with another bill. This one was particularly confusing: S. 764 was originally the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act (passed Senate 7/28/2015). The House added the Defund Planned Parenthood Act on 9/18/2015 and sent it back to the Senate.The Senate is now considering the bill with the GMO language, completely stripping out the other provisions. Confused? So were the senators.
 


Also in the House:

Foreign Aid and Foreign Affairs

 

 


Financial Services

 

Commemorations

 

Government Operations

 

 

Land Management Bills

 

 

 

 

 


Possible Votes if Legislation is Ready:

  • Legislation Related to the Federal Aviation Administration

  • Motion to Go to Conference on National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943)

  • Consideration of the Conference Report to Accompany the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524)


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX Gavel Down June 27-July 1 Header

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

Big week on the Hill, with bills becoming law…

Senate passed legislation to help Puerto Rico restructure its $70B in debt — President Obama quickly signed bill into law before July 1st debt payment deadline. MilCon-VA spending bill, with included Zika funding package, failed in the Senate. President Obama signed FOIA reform bill into law, making it easier for public to access certain records. Senate Appropriations cleared final spending bill, marking the earliest all 12 spending bills have passed committee since 1988.


U.S. President Barack Obama signs into law S. 337: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328: Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act at the Oval Office of the White House in WashingtonImage Source: Carolos Barria/REUTERS

Congress passes Puerto Rico debt legislation, President Obama signs bill into law


Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) into law, just one day before the July 1st deadline where Puerto Rico is expected to default on $2 billion of debt, including $800 million of Constitutionally backed general obligation debt.

Watch bill signing.

Under Puerto Rico’s Constitution, these Constitutionally backed general obligation debts should receive priority over government resources, including those needed to keep hospitals and schools open. Earlier this month, U.S. hedge funds filed law suits against a local debt-moratorium law to ensure that they received priority, suggesting future lawsuits if Congress did not intervene.

PROMESA is the result of bipartisan compromises, Congressional leadership support, and the backing of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The bill passed the House on June 9th by 297-127 vote and passed the Senate this Wednesday with a vote of 68-30. Senate approval was uncertain due to the unexpected early House recess, forcing the Senate to adopt the bill as is because amendments would have necessitated a House vote after the July 1st deadline.

What Will PROMESA Do?
Although PROMESA was passed before July 1st, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Puerto Rico does not have the money nor time to meet the debt payments due today.

Though PROMESA will not help Puerto Rico make today’s $2 billion debt payment, it will prevent lawsuits from creditors, create a financial oversight board that will control Puerto Rico’s budget and can reorder the priority of creditors, and allow federal minimum wage to be lowered to $4.25 for workers under 24 years old. The oversight board will operate independently of the Puerto Rican government and restructure its finances, similar to the oversight boards created in Detroit and New York City. Additionally, PROMESA prevents a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico’s debt.


See how your Representative and Senators voted on this legislation.


Senate Democrats block Zika deal, citing partisan provisions


On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked $1.1 billion Zika deal in 52-48 vote. The deal was part of a larger $82.5 billion annual appropriations bill the House approved 239-171 in a rare late night session, around 3 A.M. last Thursday.
 

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (H.R. 2577

Sponsor: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart [R, FL-25]

Democrats called for new talks to revise the bill, criticizing measures such as:

In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan before Tuesday’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin [D-IL], Chuck Schumer [D-NY] and Patty Murray [D-WA] expressed "…deep disappointment at the inclusion of several poison pill riders.”

"We are writing to urge your cooperation in quickly negotiating an agreement that rejects politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities."

The Obama administration threatened to veto the proposal. Last week, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the bill “falls far short” of the level of funds recommended by health officials and the $1.9 billion requested by President Obama in February. To force a floor vote on President Obama’s request for Zika funding, House Democrats introduced a discharge petition last week. This kind of procedural maneuver would bring the bill to the floor without a committee report and requires 218 signatures from House members. To reach this threshold, Democrats need more than two dozen Republicans to sign on.

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans say they are “not too” or “not at all” worried about Zika infecting them or a family member. One-third are at least “somewhat worried.” These results indicate that fewer Americans are concerned about the Zika virus than the Ebola epidemic. However, according to a new Kaiser poll, a majority of Americans support funding for Zika research, preventative measures, and family planning services for American women affected by the outbreak.


Obama FOIA reform billImage Source: Susan Walsh/ASSOCIATED PRESS

FOIA reform bill becomes law


President Obama signed bipartisan FOIA reform bill into law, requiring federal agencies to make certain records available for public inspection in an electronic format. The bill also ensures the creation and operation of an online portal where FOIA requests can be submitted to any federal agency though a single website.

According to release from House Oversight and Government Reform, the bill "places the burden on agencies to justify withholding information, instead of on the requester to justify release of said information."

The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in March, and passed the House by voice vote mid June. (The House approved its own version in January but decided to take up the Senate version rather than merging the bills in a conference committee.)

Watch bill signing.

President Obama commended Congress on moving forward with the "significant and important legislation" and noted the bipartisan compromises that made it possible. White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said the bill makes “important upgrades to the FOIA system established nearly 50 years ago." The Administration also suggested that "extending FOIA to Congress would serve as another important step in increasing government transparency." (Currently, FOIA only applies to the executive branch.)


Senate Appropriations clear final spending bill


On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the 12th and final approps bill of the year. As noted by This Hill, this was the earliest all spending bills have passed committee since 1988. The committee credited the bipartisan cooperation of Chairman Thad Cochran [R, MS] and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski [D, MD] with the legislative success. Of special note was the first bipartisan health spending bill to clear a Senate committee in seven years.

Nine of the twelve bills are still awaiting a final vote by the full Senate and, of course, resolution with the House, where the appropriations process is not going as well. Check out “Appropriations 101” from the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Passed committee this week:
 

Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2017 (S. 3117

Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]

Approved 30-0, the $52.08 billion appropriations bill “strengthens federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”

Read full Committee Report.

Included in the bill (Read summary):

  • $3.4 billion for military aid for Israel
  • $26 million for programs to promote international religious freedom, and $25 million for a new Atrocities Prevention Fund.  
  • $6.1 billion for embassy security
  • $3.06 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance
  • Continues provisions relating to abortion, including the Tiahrt, Helms, and Kemp-Kasten Amendments.
  • $8.67 billion for Global Health Program
  • $6 billion for global HIV/AIDS assistance

Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature passed bill that would deny public access to footage from police body cameras unless a court order is filed. Gov. Pat McCrory [R] is expected to sign bill into law.
  • An Illinois judge ruled Tuesday that the state must add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify for treatment with medical marijuana. The decision could be rendered moot by pending legislation that would do the same thing.
  • New Jersey Assembly passed a bill to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 23 cents per gallon to fund road and bridge work and cut the sales tax from 7% to 6%. New Jersey Senate refused to take action on the proposal yesterday, leading Gov. Chris Christie [R] to halt all ongoing work paid for by the nearly broke Transportation Trust Fund and declare a state of emergency.
  • Chicago’s city council unanimously approved ordinance to guarantee workers up to five days of paid sick leave. Mayor Rahm Emanuel described the measure as “earned sick leave,” as employees will receive one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked. 
  • California Senate Public Safety Committee advanced bills that would strengthen penalties for those convicted of sexual assault. One bill would mandate prisons sentences for those who sexually assault unconscious victims, and the other would expand the definition of rape to include all types of penetration.
  • Need a weekend read? Take a look at the Pew Stateline blog’s annual Legislative Review, which gives a rundown of state policy and politics since legislatures began their work in January.

New Bills on the Block


Bill Mentions


#ICYMI


Weekend Reads


"Fragile States 2016"  from Foreign Policy 

"Refugees Encounter a Foreign World"  by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times

"Freedom of Information Act: Department of Labor Can Improve Management of Its Program"  from Government Accountability Office