GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the week in Congress

6 min read

Senate returned from recess; House is out until April 12. Senate passed trade secrets bill and began considering FAA reauthorization bill. Senate HELP committee advanced medical innovation bills, lining up floor votes for companion legislation to House-passed bill. Obama Administration released final "fiduciary rule" for investment advisors, with several lawmakers commenting on current legislation and pledging to introduce related legislation. 

Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HR 25"

Most active bill on POPVOX this week:
Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Merrick B. Garland

Senate passed trade secrets bill

The Senate unanimously passed trade secrets bill, allowing companies to pursue civil remedies for trade secrets theft in federal court. Examples of trade secrets include plans, designs, negative information, customer lists, and nonpublic financial information. This bill also creates federal standards for what can be defined as a trade secret misappropriation. 

SponsorSen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT]

A similar measure in the House has 127 co-sponsors. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte announced this week that the committee will move forward with the bill soon.

Sponsor: Rep. Doug Collins [R, GA-9]

Senate took up FAA reauthorization bill

Senate spent the rest of the week debating reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs out of funding on July 15. Senate voted unanimously to call up the bill and adopted two amendments aimed at strengthening airport security.

Sponsor: Sen. John Thune [R, SD]

The first adopted amendment combined three bipartisan bills, with provisions to revise TSA's PreCheck program, strengthen security at foreign airports that have direct flights to the U.S., and prevent airport workers from carrying out terrorist attacks.

The second adopted amendment would increase the number of bomb-sniffing dog teams in non-secure areas, such as check-in counters and baggage claim. Many lawmakers referenced the Brussels attacks and the need for increased security in waiting areas.

The final amendment addressed seat sizes on airplanes and failed 42-54. Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] introduced the amendment, saying "The public really cares about this. They don't want to be treated like sardines as the fares go up and up." Bill sponsor Sen. John Thune [R, SD] said "At 6'4", I experience firsthand leg-space issues on a weekly basis, but I just honestly think that it's not the FAA's place to decide how to define comfort."

Check out how your Senators voted on the following amendments:

  • Adopted Thune Amendment 85-10 vote to tighten vetting process for airport employees
  • Adopted Heinrich Amendment 91-5 vote to increase security in non-secure areas 
  • Rejected Schumer Amendment 42-54 vote to regulate seat sizes on airplanes

Catch up on all the Senate floor action here!

Obama Administration released "Fiduciary Rule"

This week the Obama administration unveiled long-awaited "fiduciary rule." This rule requires brokers to act in the “best interest” of their clients when handling retirement accounts instead of "acting suitably."

This rule is meant to protect workers from conflicting investment advice and improve disclosures. Opponents of the rule say that it would discourage financial firms from lower-income clients.

Sens. Cory Booker [D, NJ] and Elizabeth Warren [D, MA] joined Labor Secretary Tom Perez to answer questions about the new rule using #SaveYourSavings.

Sen. Warren called the fiduciary rule “the kind of change people want and expect in Washington.”

Speaker Paul Ryan said to expect congressional action in response. Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] will introduce a disapproval resolution, referencing a bill he introduced earlier this year that would preempt the rule and outline "best interest" standard for retirement advisers. Rep. Peter Roskam [R, IL-6] introduced a similar bill in the House.

POPVOX #CongressGoesHome

Last week we asked you to submit pictures of your Member working back home. Shoutout to Kitsap MOAA for being the first to respond with this picture from their luncheon!

Rep. Derek Kilmer [D, WA-6] attended luncheon of the Kitsap Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). Rep. Kilmer delivered a brief address and introduced the luncheon's speaker.

Rep. Derek Kilmer - Kitsap Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)Pictured: Kitsap MOAA member Barbara Beagle, Kitsap MOAA President Darlene Iskra, and Congressman Derek Kilmer

Senate HELP advanced medical innovation bills

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its third and final markup on a series of medical innovations bills, designed to complement House-passed 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6). These bills are focused on getting new medicine and treatments to patients more quickly.

The committee passed five bipartisan bills:

  • S. 185 — Shortens development of new treatments to help people infected with superbugs
  • S. 2713 — Maps genomes and makes genomes more readily available for researchers
  • S. 2745 — Promotes inclusion of minorities in clinical research
  • S. 2700 — Helps FDA and NIH attract and retain top talent 
  • S. 2742 — Decreases time spent by NIH researchers on administrative tasks

In total, Senate HELP has advanced 19 medical innovation bills. Previously passed bills address rare diseases, research for neurological diseases, voucher program for rare pediatric diseases, and medical devices. This package of bills contains more than 50 bipartisan proposals.

The biggest item of debate, additional funding for the National Institute of Health, has not reached a deal. 

According to Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander, “The House has done its work. The president has proposed his initiatives. I am hopeful we can take this to the Senate floor soon and ensure the president’s Precision Medicine and cancer ‘moonshot’ initiatives and ideas in the ‘Cures’ bill can become reality this year.”

The House version, 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6), passed with overwhelming approval last July

New Bills on the Block

  • Sens. Kirk and Rubio introduced bill that would prevent Iran from gaining access to U.S. financial system or using U.S. dollars in business transactions.
  • Sens. Cornyn, Blumenthal, Schumer, and Cruz introduced a bill to return art stolen by the Nazis during WWII.



Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • New York and San Francisco advanced record-setting parental leave laws.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan [D] signed Medicaid expansion extension bill.
  • Tennessee House passed a bill allowing mental health counselors to refuse service based on religious grounds. 
  • California Assembly delayed action on a bill to end sales tax on tampons and sanitary napkins.
  • Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant [R] signed legislation allowing businesses to refuse service based on religious objections.
  • Salaries of state legislators vary greatly across states — in California legislators make nearly $100,000/year, whereas in New Hampshire, compensation is $100 annually and no per diem. Staff levels vary too, with some states having about 12 staffers per lawmaker and others having only 2 staffers per lawmaker.
  • Arizona media was blocked from the House floor, following new House rules requiring background checks for media.
  • Alaska lawmakers are considering bill that would place all of Alaska in Pacific time zone.

Weekend Reads

"Need to Address the Government's Remaining Financial Management Challenges and Long-Term Fiscal Path" from the U.S. Government Accountability Office

"Supporting the Child Care and Workforce Development Needs of TANF Families" by Heather Hahn et al., The Urban Institute

"DOD Needs to Clarify Its Roles and Responsibilities for Defense Support of Civil Authorities during Cyber Incidents"  from the U.S. Government Accountability Office