With Congress in recess this week for Thanksgiving, here’s a look at bills related to military action against ISIS, safeguards and funding for admission of Syrian refugees — and whether states have the authority to refuse refugees. Before leaving for recess last week, the House and Senate reached bipartisan agreement on replacing No Child Left Behind. And, as you plan your holiday shopping, remember “Small Business Saturday”!

Replacing No Child Left Behind

Last week, the House and Senate conference committee reached agreement on a proposal to replace No Child Left Behind. The legislation is expected to be on the floor of both chambers shortly after the Thanksgiving recess. It represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (HR 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177).

Conference Agreement on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — Bipartisan—

This agreement is a historic step in reforming K-12 education. Lead negotiators – Representatives John Kline [R, MN-2] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] and Senators Lamar Alexander [R-TN] and Patty Murray [D-WA] — combined policies from the House bill that passed with only Republican support, and the Senate bill, which carried broad bipartisan support.

This agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step towards local control in 25 years.”  – Senator Lamar Alexander

According to the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, this agreement:

  • “Reduces the federal role in K-12 education. One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated.”
  • “Restores local control by returning to state and local leaders the primary responsibility for accountability and school improvement. The framework protects the right of states to opt out of federal education programs, as well as provides new funding flexibility so federal resources are better spent on priorities set at the local level.”
  • “Empowers parents. We continue to promote transparency about school performance, so parents have the information they need to do what’s best for their children. We also strengthen the charter school program and magnet school program to offer parents greater school choice.”

Read the full summary  |  Check out the POPVOX Issue Spotlight

Small Business Saturday

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the full holiday shopping season just around the corner, Congress considered bills related to small business issues before leaving for Thanksgiving recess. Small Business Saturday, November 28, celebrates and supports small businesses and their roles in communities.

The Senate recently adopted a resolution honoring small businesses (S.Res. 304). The House Small Business Committee will consider a similar resolution when they return:

H.Res. 534 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for the designation of a “Small Business Saturday” and supporting efforts to increase awareness of the value of locally owned small businesses.

The resolution notes that there are over 28 million small businesses in the United States, representing 99.7 percent of all businesses with employees and employing more than 48 percent of private sector employees.

The House Small Business Committee also held a hearing on the contribution of entrepreneurs to America’s economy and considered a resolution recognizing the third Tuesday in November as National Entrepreneurs’ Day:

HRes. 511 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for designation of the third Tuesday in November as “National Entrepreneurs’ Day”.

Military Action Against ISIS?

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the White House released a progress update on the fight against ISIS (also known as ISIL or Daesh). A part of that strategy includes “relentlessly pursuing ISIL leaders and going after attack plotters wherever they are.” Some Members of Congress are urging for additional action.

Last week, Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced a joint resolution declaring a state of war against the Islamic State:

H.J.Res. 73

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Emmer [R, MN-6]

Declaring that a state of war exists between the Islamic State and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.

“The Islamic State has declared war against America and now we have an obligation to act,” said Congressman Emmer. “The wolf of tyranny is at our doorstep and now is the time to euthanize this evil before it enters America’s home. Congress must exercise its constitutional authority through this Declaration of War and give the President the power to utilize all facets of our military and diplomatic strength to successfully defeat our enemies. It is time that we speak with one voice and unite as a country against the Islamic State.”

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced a resolution urging the Administration to work with the NATO member states:

H.Res. 525

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]

Urging the Administration to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in response to the Paris attacks. Article 5 signifies that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all and requires a joint response from all NATO members.

Syrian Refugees and National Security

More than four million Syrians have fled the conflict zone in their home country, contributing to the largest global refugee crisis since World War II. In response to the crisis, the Obama Administration announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the course of this fiscal year — after each of them undergo 18 to 24 months of security screenings, including biometric (fingerprint) and biographic checks, medical screenings, and lengthy interviews.

Last week, the House passed the American SAFE Act (HR 4038), which aims to “stop the open flow of 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States without adequate vetting.” The President issued a veto threat, saying that the bill introduces “unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act (HR 4038)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX-10]

|| Passed by the House on Nov. 19, 2015; now goes to the Senate for consideration ||

“Would put in place the most robust national security vetting process in history for any refugee population and it gives the American people the assurances needed that we will do everything possible to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores,” according to the bill sponsors.

“Specifically, under this legislation, no refugee from Iraq or Syria will be admitted into the U.S. unless: 1. The FBI Director certifies the background investigation of each refugee; and 2. The Secretary of Homeland Security, along with the FBI Director and the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat to the United States. Under this legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee can enter the United States until the American people’s representatives in Congress receive these certifications.”

The American SAFE Act is under fire by some Republicans in the Senate who believe there isn’t a way to easily vet Syrian refugees, and estimate the costs of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States as too high. (The bill doesn’t specify how the certification process is supposed to work.) Senator Jeff Sessions [R-AL], Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, explained:

“[T]he American SAFE Act – fails to defend the interests of the American people. It is based on a flawed premise, as there is simply no way to vet Syrian refugees. …  there is no database in Syria against which they can run a check…  no way to enter Syria to verify the applicants’ personal information.  And we know the region is being flooded with false documents.” – Senator Jeff Sessions

States’ Response to Refugees

In October 2015, 187 Syrian refugees were accepted into the US and settled in 17 states—the first of the 10,000 expected in this fiscal year:

Last week, 27 Republican governors wrote to President Obama asking him to “suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.” The governors wrote that while the US “has long served as a welcoming beacon”, the priority must be on “ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.”

Members of Congress also responded by introducing bill related to governors’ authority to receive refugees into their states:

States Right of Refusal Act (HR 4032)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2] and 32 cosponsors

“Will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that States have the right to refuse to participate in the Refugee Resettlement program if their Governor chooses to opt out.  Right now, the Refugee Resettlement Act only permits consultation with the States, but it does not give the States the right to refuse,” according to the bill sponsor.

Give States a Chance Act (HR 4078)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Yoho [R, FL-2] and 2 cosponsors

“Protects state governors’ right to refuse Syrian refugees in their states if they have not been properly notified, if they impose a security threat, or if the proposed location is not appropriate,” according to the bill sponsor.

HR 4030

Sponsor: Rep. Steven Palazzo [R, MS-4] and 0 cosponsors

“Would support the rights of the states to determine whether or not they choose to accept refugees as part of any resettlement program,” according to the bill sponsor. 

Refugee Relocation Security Act (HR 4033)

Sponsor: Rep. Eric “Rick” Crawford [R, AR-1] and 1 cosponsor

“Would put an immediate moratorium on the relocation of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States. In response to state and local leaders… who have expressed concerns about the relocation of refugees, the bill would give State governments the authority to decide whether or not to allow refugees into their states,” according to the bill sponsor.

H.Con.Res. 94

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Meadows [R, NC-11] and 0 cosponsors

Declares that, in the case of a governor requesting that Syrian refugees not be resettled in his or her state (whether temporarily or permanently), no federal official should take any adverse action against, or withhold funds from, the state, and no federal official should take any other action to persuade or entice the governor to reverse such request.

Find more information and related bills in the POPVOX Issue Spotlight

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.