Congress is back from August recess, with legislative days ticking away.
A bipartisan bill to protect sexual assault victims passed, as did a bill to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue sovereign states over potential involvement in those attacks. The energy conference committee met for the first time and a bipartisan water resources bill got ready to move next week. Zika funding failed for a third time but appears set to be rolled into a short-term spending bill that will stave off a government shutdown and send this Congress off into the election year sunset.
Bill now heads to President Obama
The House unanimously passed legislation to create Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights.
The bipartisan bill:
- Guarantees survivors have access to rape kits (the materials necessary to gather and preserve physical evidence)
- Ensures survivors do not have to pay for evidence collection
- Preserves the kits for a state's maximum statute of limitations or up to 20 years
- Requires that survivors be informed of any test results associated with their rape kits
- Requires that survivors be notified 60 days prior to when the kit is set to be destroyed
The legislation aims to standardize how sexual assault cases are handled across states with varying jurisdictions. Last year, Reps. Ann Wagner [R, MO-2] and Debbie Wasserman Schultz [D, FL-23] introduced a House resolution encouraging states to adopt a similar bill of rights for sexual assault survivors.
The Senate passed a companion bill unanimously in May. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH] introduced the legislation after meeting a young woman who had to return to the state where her assault occurred every six months to prevent her evidence from being destroyed.
What happens next?
Technical differences between the bills will be reconciled and then the legislation will head to President Obama's desk. He is expected to sign the measure into law.
House and Senate reconciling differences in major energy legislation
Shortly before leaving for seven-week recess, the Senate voted 84-3 to convene a conference committee with House lawmakers over major energy legislation. This week, the House and Senate met for the first time to hear opening statements. This is the eighth conference convened this Congress, more than twice that of the previous Congress.
That's great but what is a conference committee?
Glad you asked! A conference committee is a temporary, ad hoc panel composed of members from both House and Senate to resolve disagreements on particular legislation that has passed both chambers. The House and Senate must pass identical legislation before it can be presented to the President to become law.
Bill allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia
On Friday, the House passed a bill allowing September 11 victims and relatives to sue Saudi Arabia or any other countries in federal court over possible roles in the 2001 attacks. The bill previously passed the Senate in May.
Saudi Arabia strongly opposed the bill, launching a lobbying effort to oppose. Senior Bush Administration officials wrote a letter to Congress opposing the bill. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.
Vote could come as soon as next week
The Senate spent the week working on a $9.4 billion water projects bill that includes $200 million for updating water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan. Staffers have likened the importance of the bill to that of highway infrastructure bills.
The legislative package, spearheaded by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer, passed committee by 19-1 vote in April. The committee held four hearings on issues addressed in the legislation, including flood control, ecosystem restoration, drinking water and wastewater needs and solutions, and water transportation. The bipartisan bill addresses the Environmental Protection Agency's 2015 coal ash rule, giving states the authority to implement individual coal ash regulations. See similar standalone legislation from Sens. Joe Manchin [D, WV] and John Hoeven [R, ND].
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the first procedural step and filed for cloture. Senators have until Monday at 3:30 pm to submit amendments.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is looking to pass the bill next week. Initially, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened to block the bill's progress until the Senate addressed other priorities, namely a vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Senator Reid said Democrats will no longer block the bill.
And our very own Marci Harris, Co-founder and CEO, was in New York City this week, sharing her experience visiting the World Trade Center Memorial and reminding us all that the tragedy is anything but a distant memory.
Lawmakers look to CR to include Zika funding
Senate Democrats blocked a $82.5 billion appropriations bill containing Zika funding for the third time, citing "poison pills" such as limits on funding for Planned Parenthood.
The conference report would provide appropriations for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affair in Fiscal Year 2017 and supplemental appropriations to respond to the outbreak of the Zika virus. It would also include the text of H.R. 897, the Zika Vector Control Act, which would repeal Environmental Protection Act (EPA) requirements that require permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the application of EPA approved pesticides.
It now appears that Zika funding will be wrapped into efforts to pass several short-term spending bills.
Government funding runs out on Sept. 30
Lawmakers are hard at work brainstorming the best way to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30. Speaker Ryan is considering smaller funding "mini-buses" instead of one large spending package. This strategy has been used in the past but more commonly an "omnibus" is used to lump all 12 spending bills together.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will accept a funding measure into December but no longer. This week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he's prepared to move a stopgap funding measure next week that would keep the government open through Dec. 9. This means the Senate might finish up late next week and leave the House to accept their spending resolution. Passage of a continuing resolution would fund the government at current spending levels.
- House passed bill to amend Veterans Oral History Project Act to allow immediate families to provide biographical histories of veterans.
- House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton is eying lame duck session to pass medical cures bill.
- House Ways and Means approved bipartisan legislation to establish voluntary pilot program within Medicare for end-stage renal disease patients to receive coordinated care.
- House passed bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct offshore oil and gas lease sales through Internet-based live lease sales (part of House Republican "Innovation Initiative").
- Sens. Rob Portman [R, OH], Ron Johnson [R, WI], and Kelly Ayotte [R, NH] introduced legislation to address overdose spike from synthetic opioids.
- Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden unveiled draft legislation that would target "mega Roth IRAs."
- Rep. Mark Walker [R, NC-6] introduced legislation to establish mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of federal human trafficking crimes.
- Rep. Jackie Speier [D, CA-14] introduced legislation to provide whistleblower protections for student survivors and witnesses who report sexual assault crimes.
- Supreme Court granted Backpage.com temporary stay to block Senate subcommittee demand for internal records and testimony. In March, Senate voted to hold website in contempt — first contempt resolution in more than 20 years.
- U.S. and China joined the Paris Climate Agreement. Accord will come into force when it's adopted by countries producing 55% of global emissions. U.S. and China account for ~38%.
- Sens. Boxer, Booker, and Scott really are all about the hugs.
- Latest figures from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report increased number of consumer complaints against banks.
- New report from House Oversight and Government Reform Republicans said Office of Personnel Management did not follow basic cybersecurity practices that could have mitigated or prevented hack that compromised more than 22 million individuals' personal data.
- From flags to quarters — House Administration Chairman Candice Miller previewed the new display for Rayburn tunnel.
- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said punishment for House Democrats' sit-in is forthcoming.
- Senate Homeland Security subcommittee launched EpiPen investigation.
- Sen. Tom Carper [D, DE] hasn't been sick for a day of work in 35 years.
- President Obama nominated Abid Riaz Qureshi to serve on U.S. District Court bench. Qureshi would be first Muslim-American federal judge.
- Turns out 2013 Senate panel hearing tipped European Union off to Apple's tax practices. Still confused about Apple's big tax bill? We've got you covered.
- North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test. North Korea is the only country to test nuclear weapons this century.
- Rep. David Jolly [R, FL-13] brought 100 mosquitoes to the House floor.
- House Veterans' Affairs voted to subpoena the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for cost-overrun information related to $1 billion hospital construction project. VA has until Sept. 28 to comply.