POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress_May_2_6_2016

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

Puerto Rico defaulted on largest debt payment so far, as lawmakers work on new legislative solution to the island’s debt crisis. Several much anticipated rules (proposed and final) were released this week. Treasury Department announced efforts to stem tax fraud, largely in response to Panama Papers. House and Senate were on recess, working back home; both scheduled to return to the District next week for legislative action.


Top Search on POPVOX this week: "firearm"

Most Active Bill on POPVOX this week:
H.R. 5090 To ensure that air transportation between the United States and the European Union complies with the intent of article 17 bis of the United States-European Union-Norway-Iceland Air Transport Agreement of June 21, 2011

Puerto Rico defaults on debt payment, new bill expected next week

On Monday, Puerto Rico defaulted on $422M debt payment, the largest so far by the island. Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said the territory will be unable to make a $800M payment due July 1, saying Congress needs to restructure the island's debt or the U.S. territory will need a bailout.

Puerto Rico owes investors about $70B in total, compounding from a decade of economic stagnation and population decline. The island first defaulted on debt in August, but this is the first default by the Government Development Bank, which provides liquidity to Puerto Rico's government agencies.

This week Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan, urging resolution on "few outstanding issues" on legislation to help Puerto Rico.

Leading bill to address Puerto Rico's debt crisis stalled last month when division emerged over whether the package could be considered a bailout and how best to restructure the island's debt.

Sponsor: Rep. Sean Duffy [R, WI-7]

Lawmakers are working on a new bill to address the Puerto Rico debt crisis. The new bill would contain new language clarifying existing legal and constitutional prioritization of Puerto Rico's creditors, and the fiscal oversight board's role in preserving that lineup. Rep. Sean Duffy [R, WI-7] is expected to remain the bill's lead sponsor, and the bill is expected to be released next Wednesday under a new bill number.

Rulemaking Update

Rulemaking happens after a bill becomes a law, as the Legislative Branch passes the policy over to the Executive Branch to be put into action, and agencies work to develop policies and practices for implementing laws. This process is important and frequently misunderstood. While rulemaking happens every year, it inevitably accelerates in the final year of a presidential term, as the administration finishes up its work.

We at POPVOX will be sharing more about the rulemaking process and pending rules and regulations over the coming weeks and months.

Contact us for more information about 
POPVOX tools for public comments to agencies.

CMS: New Payment System for Doctors: After legislation passed in early 2015 to eliminate the “doc fix” / Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment structure under Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been working on rules to implement the new system under the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The new rule was released this week. (See: Brookings, National Law Review, Health Affairs)

SSA: Sharing Federal Data Among Agencies for Gun Background Checks: President Obama indicated in January that agencies would work to better coordinate on ways to prevent gun violence. A new proposed rule from the Social Security Administration would provide records to the Attorney General for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) of people who receive benefits based on a finding of “mental disorder.

CFPB: Banning arbitration clauses for consumer financial agreements: A proposed rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would ban clauses that make it harder for consumers to sue banks or credit card providers. (See: NPR)

DHS-USCIS: Changing Immigration Fees: A proposed rule from the Customs and Immigration Service would change fees charged to those filing immigration forms: increasing fees by an average of 21% but allowing for a reduced fee for those under 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. “USCIS conducted a comprehensive fee study, refining its cost accounting process, and determining that current fees do not recover the full costs of the services it provides. Adjustment to the fee schedule is necessary to fully recover costs and maintain adequate service.”

OMB: “Banning the Box” on Federal Job Applications: A proposed rule would prohibit federal agencies from asking about credit or criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made.

DOT-FAA: order granting permission for Norwegian Airlines International (NAI) to operate in the US: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has tentatively approved an application for authority to conduct U.S. services by Norwegian Air International (NAI), the Irish-flag subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle.*
* Several groups have used POPVOX to register official public comments on the topic.

FDA: Extending authority to regulate tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule on Thursday prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to people under age 18. New provisions, which take effect in 90 days, include: 

  • Not allowing products to be sold to persons under the age of 18 years (both in person and online);
  • Requiring age verification by photo ID;
  • Not allowing the selling of covered tobacco products in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility); and
  • Not allowing the distribution of free samples.

(See: USAToday, Washington Post, CNN)

Panama Papers POPVOX

Panama Papers prompt Treasury Dept. Action

Partially in response to the widespread international tax evasion through shell companies shown in the Panama Papers, the Treasury Department is accelerating efforts to stem tax fraud:

  • Treasury issued a final rule requiring  "beneficial owners" of anonymous shell companies to be disclosed at the time the company is formed.
  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to Congress calling upon the Senate to ratify eight pending tax treaties that would allow for enforcement of U.S. law in those countries.
  • The Administration is requesting that Congress pass legislation further restricting shell companies, and allowing the U.S. to provide its partner countries under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act with the same information that the partners provide to the IRS.


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition


Weekend Reads

Disrupting manufacturing: Innovation and the future of skilled labor, Daniel Araya and Christopher Sulavik, Brookings

Engaging Citizens: Participatory Budgeting and the Inclusive Governance Movement within the United States, Hollie Russon Gilman, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

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_Apr_25_29_2016

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HR25"

Most active bill on POPVOX this week:


Trade secrets bill headed to President Obama

House overwhelmingly passed trade secrets bill 410-2, with Reps. Amash and Massie in opposition. Senate passed the bill earlier this month and now it heads to President Obama.

The bill allows companies to sue entities for trade secret theft in federal court. Currently, only the Justice Department can sue on allegations of trade secrets theft.

Sponsor: Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT]

House chose to take up Senate-passed bill, rather than similar measure from Rep. Doug Collins [R, GA-9].

So what is a trade secret, anyway?

Information that someone has taken reasonable measures to protect which derives independent economic value from not being generally know.

Examples include: designs, negative information, computer software, customer lists, non-public financial information, cost and pricing information, manufacturing information, confidential information about business opportunities, and certain personnel information.

Trade secrets are a form of intellectual property. However, other common forms such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks all have federal civil causes of actions as well as federal registration. Currently, trade secrets are protected civilly at the state level only. (See: Jones Day)

Obama administration strongly supported the measure, highlighting the need for effective protection of trade secrets and commending lawmakers on bipartisan effort to formulate the bill. (See: Statement of Administration Policy)

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, with some describing the new protections as  "the most significant expansion of federal law in intellectual property in 70 years."

this week house passed hr 699

House passed e-mail privacy protections bill

House unanimously passed most co-sponsored bill this Congress — bill to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, law that allows law enforcement to access emails without a warrant if the emails are at least six months old. Bill would remove six month distinction, extending privacy protections to older emails.

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Yoder [R, KS-3]

The bill would not alter law enforcement's ability to subpoena individual targets of an investigation for emails or other electronic communications. It would, however, prohibit law enforcement from obtaining such communications from companies like Google or Microsoft.

During debate, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that when the law was written in 1986, "Tweets were the sounds made by birds in the trees and clouds were found only in the skies." 

Bill sponsor Rep. Jared Polis [D, CO-2] echoed these sentiments, "When ECPA was written, the internet as we understand it did not exist."  

House voted to disapprove DOL's "Fiduciary Rule" 

House voted 234-183 to disapprove a rule from the Department of Labor requiring financial advisors to disclose any incentive agreements or conflicts of interest they have with financial products they recommend, known as the fiduciary rule.

Sponsor: Rep. David Roe [R, TN-1]

The rule requires brokers to act in the “best interest” of their clients when handling retirement accounts. 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 serving low-income clients.

The CRA (Congressional Review Act) gives Congress sixty “session days” to overturn a rule issued by the Executive branch. (See: Congressional Research Service)

Disapproval resolutions are “rarely used and almost always veto-ed,” but have become more common in the current Congress, with resolutions to disapprove environmental regulations passing both the House and Senate (and encountering the Obama veto pen.) 

A similar resolution of disapproval has been introduced in the Senate.

Sponsor: Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA]

Senate Appropriations stalled

Appropriations process stalled in the Senate with two failed cloture votes on $37.5B energy and water spending bill. Disagreement arose over proposed amendment to prevent the government from using federal funds to purchase heavy water from Iran's nuclear program.

Senate failed to invoke cloture on the bill in two votes: first 50-46 on Wednesday and then 52-43 on Thursday — falling short of the 60 votes needed to end debate.  Procedural refresher: Senate cannot vote on the bill until cloture is invoked or until lawmakers agree on how to handle the heavy water amendment offered by Sen. Tom Cotton [R, AR].

Lawmakers are divided over whether the amendment is "germane to the bill," meaning it is relevant to the appropriating of fiscal year 2017 funds.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was "gratified" with the Senate vote. "We've made clear our commitment to a principle that ideologically motivated policy riders are not appropriate for appropriations bills."

Bipartisan Senators unveiled revised criminal justice bill

Bipartisan group of Senators announced new progress on "criminal justice overhaul package." Senate Judiciary approved the bill last year by a vote of 15-5, but disagreements among lawmakers prevented the bill from seeing the Senate floor.

Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA]

The revised bill still contains provisions to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders but now incorporates new provisions aimed at ensuring violent offenders do not benefit from the bill, such as disqualifying violent criminals from reduced sentencing options. 

Revisions also ensure inmates convicted under the Armed Career Criminal Act do not qualify for reduced sentences, as well as increase mandatory sentences for offenses involving the opioid fentanyl.

Defense Bill Advanced #FY17NDAA

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up and passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the "NDAA" (H.R. 4909). The NDAA authorizes a total of $610.5 billion in mandatory and discretionary spending for national defense, including $58.8 billion for overseas operations.  See: Bill Summary

Amendments include:

  • Requiring a database of reported military hazing events, Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act (H.R. 5060)
  • Prohibiting the housing unaccompanied alien children on US military installations located
    inside the US.
  • Delisting the Lesser Prarie Chicken and the American Burying Beetle from the Endangered Species List for two years.
  • Extending military family leave
  • Requiring women to register with Selective Service

See full amendment list.

New Bills on the Block

Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • new bill in New York would allow the police to examine drivers' phones to determine use at the time of an accident — similar measure recently failed in New Jersey and Maryland, still being considered in Vermont.
  • North Carolina lawmakers introduced bill to repeal law that restricted restroom use to the sex listed on birth certificates, rather than that of gender identity.
  • California Assembly introduced bill that would give landlords the power to prohibit smoking inside rental units.
  • Michigan lawmakers advanced bill to stop automatically treating 17-year-olds criminal offenders as adults.


Weekend Reads

Lessons from Prince’s legacy and struggle with digital music markets – Zach Graves, TechDIrt

Defense Authorization and Appropriations Bills: FY1970-FY2016
– Congressional Research Service (CRS)

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS: Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits – Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!


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 Weekly Update_The Week Ahead in Congress_April_25_29_2016

WEEKLY UPDATE: The Week Ahead in Congress

This week, Congress will vote on a range of issues, including:

  • Extending warrant requirement for law enforcement access to emails greater than six months old
  • New homeland and aviation security provisions
  • Disapproving the new Fiduciary Rule, lowering barriers for companies pitching angel investors
  • Protections for U.S. Manufacturing and intellectual property
  • Energy and Water spending bill in the Senate, conservation measures in the House
  • Government operations bills
  • Reauthorization of a DC school voucher program

Extending warrant requirement to older emails

A 1986 law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, allows law enforcement to access emails older than six months without a warrant, treating them as "abandoned." This week, the House will vote on an update to that law from Rep. Kevin Yoder [R, KS-3] and Rep. Jared Polis [D, CO-2] to remove the six-month distinction.

H.R. 699 The Email Privacy Act

"When ECPA was written, the internet as we understand it did not exist… only 340,000 Americans even subscribed to cell phone service. Mark Zuckerberg was only two years old. But as our society and technology has evolved, our digital privacy laws remain stuck in 1986. With our bill now receiving the distinction of the most-cosponsored bill yet to be considered by the House, the time has arrived to fix that.”  – Statement from sponsor

"More than 300 House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, making it the most popular piece of legislation that has not yet received a vote in the House." (USAToday) In response to a WeThePeople petition from 2013, the White House indicated support for updating the law.

Homeland and Aviation Security

H.R. 4698: Securing Aviation from Foreign Entry Points and Guarding Airports Through Enhanced Security Act
Sponsor: Rep. John Katko [R, NY-24]

The bill directs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a comprehensive security risk assessment of all airports with nonstop flights to the United States. It authorizes the TSA to enhance collaboration, coordination, and information-sharing about international-inbound aviation and calls for an agreement allowing TSA inspection of foreign airports without prior notice.

H.R. 4240: No Fly for Foreign Fighters Act
Sponsor: Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D, TX-18]

The bill calls for a GAO study on the operation and administration of the Terrorist Screening Database (commonly referred to as the Terrorist Watchlist) to weigh whether weaknesses and vulnerabilities that have been identified in the database have been corrected.

H.R. 4820: Combating Terrorist Recruitment Act
Sponsor: Rep. Charles Fleischmann [R, TN-3]

The bill would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the testimonials of former or estranged violent extremists or their associates in order to counter terrorist recruitment

H.R. 3583: The Promoting Resilience and Efficiency in Preparing for Attacks and Responding to Emergencies (PREPARE) Act
Sponsor: Rep. Martha McSally [R, AZ-2]

The bill calls for coordination among emergency response and preparedness agencies and authorizes $901 million over the 2016-2020 period for several programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • $110 million annually for Operation Stonegarden, grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance border security;
  • $163 million annually for the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium for training to state, local, and tribal emergency responders; and
  • $5 million annually for the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consolidation program to
    provide training for rural emergency responders.

H.R. 3583 also would direct DHS to provide anthrax vaccines from the Strategic National Stockpile to first responders who volunteer to receive them. The bill would direct DHS to provide
educational outreach for the program and to establish a pilot program in at least two states to begin providing the vaccine. (Source: CBO)

Invalidating the "Fiduciary Rule," a private right of action for stolen trade secrets, removing limits on pitching non-accredited investors

The House will vote this week to override the new Department of Labor “Fiduciary Rule" unveiled last month. The rule requires brokers to act in the “best interest” of their clients when handling retirement accounts. 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 serving low-income clients.

H.J.Res. 88 Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to the definition of the term "Fiduciary"
Sponsor: Rep. David Roe [R, TN-1]

The resolution would invalidate the rule under Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress sixty session days to overturn a rule issued by the Executive branch. (Source: CRS)

H.R. 4498: Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

The bill would establish a definition of an angel investor for securities law purposes, and clarify the definition of “general solicitation" in the context of startup pitch events.

H.R. 4096: Investor Clarity and Bank Parity Act
Sponsor: Rep. Michael Capuano  [D, MA-7]

The bill permits a hedge fund or private equity fund to share the same name, or a variation of the same name, as a banking entity that is an investment advisor to the fund.

H.R. 5019: To direct the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide a safe harbor related to certain investment fund research reports
Sponsor: Rep. French Hill [R, AR-2]

The bill provides a safe harbor for research reports that cover Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) so that the reports would not be considered “offers” under the Securities Act of 1933.

Bills related to American Manufacturing and IP

H.R. 4923: American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady [R, TX-8]
To establish a process for the submission and consideration of petitions for temporary duty suspensions and reductions.

S. 1890 Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016
Sponsor: Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT]
To create a private civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation.

Energy and Water Appropriations

H.R. 2028: Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act
Sponsor: Rep. Michael Simpson [R, ID-2]

The Senate continues work on its first appropriations bill of the year. The Energy and Water spending bill includes total spending of $37.5 billion:

  • Department of Energy – $30.7 billion
  • Nuclear Security – $12.9 billion for DOE nuclear security programs, including Weapons Activities, Naval Reactors, and Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. 
  • Science Research – $5.4 billion for science research to support basic energy research, development of high-performance computing systems, and research into the next generation of clean energy sources.
  • Environmental Cleanup – $6.4 billion for DOE environmental management activities
  • Solving the Nuclear Waste Stalemate – Pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage
  • Energy Programs – $11.2 billion; the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and that will advance “all-of-the-above” solution to U.S. energy independence.
  • Fossil Energy Research and Development – $632 million for technologies to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy resources. 
  • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) – The bill eliminates funding for ITER, which is under construction in France, saving $125 million. 
  • Army Corps of Engineers – $6 billion





    • Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for the Corps of Engineers. 
    • Revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to advance American competitiveness and export capabilities
    • Funds for construction of river and harbor, flood storm damage reduction, shore protection, aquatic ecosystem restoration, and related projects authorized by law.
  • Bureau of Reclamation – $1.14 billion to help manage, develop, and protect the water resources of Western states.
  • Other policy items: The bill prohibits changes to the definition of “fill material” and “discharge of fill material” for the purposes of the Clean Water Act.

Source: Senate Committee on Appropriations


Conservation Bills in the House

H.R. 223: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act
Sponsor: Rep. David Joyce [R, OH-14]
A bill to authorize the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for FY2016-FY2020.

House Amendment to
S. 1523: To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program

Sponsor: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D, RI]
The bill requires the EPA to make competitive awards to address urgent and challenging issues that threaten the economic and ecological well-being of coastal areas.

H.R. 1684: Foreign Spill Protection Act
Sponsor: Rep. Carlos Curbelo [R, FL-26]
A bill to impose penalties and provide for the recovery of removal costs and damages in connection with certain discharges of oil from foreign offshore units, 

H.R. 2908: National Bison Legacy Act
Sponsor: Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay [D, MO-1]
To adopt the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States.

Concur in the Senate Amendment to
H.R. 1493: Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act

Sponsor: Rep. Eliot Engel [D, NY-16]
A bill to prevent objects stolen or looted from Syria from being imported or sold in the U.S. It would also creates a new position within the State Department to coordinate U.S efforts to protect international cultural property. 


Government Operations & Miscellaneous Bills

H.R. 2615: Virgin Islands of the United States Centennial Commission Act
Sponsor: Rep. Stacey Plaskett [D, VI]
Establishes the Virgin Islands of the United States Centennial Commission to carry out activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the date the U.S. Virgin Islands became an unincorporated U.S. territory. 

H.R. 4359: Administrative Leave Reform Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R, UT-3]
A bill to prohibit placing a federal employee on administrative leave, or any other paid non-duty status for reasons relating to misconduct or performance.


H.R. 4360: Official Personnel File Enhancement Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R, UT-3]
This bill requires that a permanent notation be made in the official personnel record file of a federal employee who is the subject of a personnel investigation for misconduct or poor performance and resigns prior to the resolution of such investigation.

H.R. 2901: Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act
Sponsor: Rep. Dennis Ross [R, FL-15]
Clarifies the definition of acceptable private flood insurance. Extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

H.R. 3030: Baudette Coast Guard Housing Conveyance Act
Sponsor: Rep. Collin Peterson [D, MN-7]
Directing the Coast Guard to convey specified federal land in Baudette, Minnesota, to the city of Baudette.

DC School Vouchers

H.R. 4901: Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R, UT-3]

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) provides scholarships to attend private schools—commonly called “vouchers”—for grades K-12 for low-income children in the District of Columbia.

POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress_Apr_18_22_2016

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

This week, the Senate passed a two-year FAA reauthorization bill, a major bipartisan energy reform bill, and moved onto Energy and Water Appropriations. The House passed six bills related to IRS operations and oversight. President Obama was in Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the heads of Persian Gulf countries as lawmakers consider bill to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for any role it played in the terrorist attack.

Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HR 25"



Most active bill on POPVOX this week:


Senate passed major energy reform

The last time major energy reform made it across the finish line it was 2007. Gas was $2.81 per gallon, Britney Spears was in the midst of a historic breakdown, and the iPhone had just been introduced.

Since that time, U.S. energy production has changed dramatically. Wind and solar electricity now compose 15% of non-fossil electricity generation. Coal is still the largest share of U.S. electricity generation, but last year coal production declined by 11% — the largest decline ever recorded. U.S. electricity sales continue to decline each year as homes become more energy efficient and solar power becomes more popular.

These significant energy changes have not gone unnoticed by Congress. This week the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bipartisan energy bill is spearheaded by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell [D, WA]. The comprehensive legislation is aimed at updating the nation's power grid and oil and gas transportation systems.

Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK]



The bill’s been stalled since February over funding disputes for Flint, Michigan. Initially, Democrats pushed to include $600 million in federal aid and refused to debate a package that did not include funds for Flint. However, last week Democrats chose to drop the Flint provisions, allowing the Senate to finish up work and pass the legislation 85-12.

“Obviously, people in Flint still can’t drink the water and still can’t function as a community. So we’re not stopping. We’re just choosing to take another path,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow [D, MI].

The Senate passed 29 amendments on Tuesday, including a measure to include energy efficiency into federal mortgage valuations.

From Energy policy to Energy funding

The Senate began work this week on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 2028) “almost a month earlier than any appropriations bill has come up in the Senate in modern times,” said Majority Leader McConnell.

On Thursday, two amendments failed: SA #3811 from Senator Hoeven would have blocked funding for implementation of the controversial "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule .SA #3814 from Senator Coats would have ended the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. An amendment from Senator Al Franken passed: SA #3833  would fund the Department of Energy's (DOE) Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program.

The Senate will continue work on the bill next week.


House passed six IRS related bills

In the spirit of Tax Week, the House passed six bills related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Two uncontroversial bills passed by voice vote:

  • Allen bill to ban the IRS from using funds to target citizens using their First Amendment rights
  • Grothman bill to urge the IRS to make printed copies of tax-filing instruction book available taxpayers for free

Four of the six bills moved quickly from committee to floor, being approved just last week by House Ways and Means.

Sponsor: Rep. Kristi Noem [R, SD-0]
Bill would prohibit the IRS from rehiring former employers who had been fired for cause. This bill would apply to employees who were removed before, on, or after the enactment of this bill. No additional funds are needed to enact this bill.
How did your Rep vote?

Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
Bill would require the IRS to complete a customer service strategy before paying out bonuses, meaning bonuses would be earned through improvements in responsiveness to taxpayers. The customer service strategy would include telephone and correspondence surveys and proposals on how to improve customer service now and over the next ten years. The Treasury Secretary would submit progress reports twice a year. No additional funds are needed to enact this bill.
How did your Rep vote?

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Smith [R, MO-8]
Bill would require the IRS to deposit fees for services in general fund of the Treasury and provide Congress with the authority to determine how to spend user fees. The IRS would only be allowed to spend these funds through appropriations. This Act only applies to funds received after the date of enactment.
How did your Rep vote?

Sponsor: Rep. David Rouzer [R, NC-7]

Bill would require the Treasury Secretary to certify that no IRS employees have serious delinquencies with respect to their own tax obligations. A serious delinquent tax debt refers to an outstanding debt under the 1986 IRS tax code with four exceptions. Two similar measures have failed in the last two years.
How did your Rep vote?

Senate passed FAA reauthorization

After last week's consideration, Senate quickly passed FAA reauthorization bill 95-3, with Sens. Rubio, Lee, and Boxer in opposition. The bill would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017. 

Sponsor: Sen. John Thune [R, SD]

Lawmakers debated what to include in the reauthorization package, ranging from airplane seat sizes and airport security measures to commercial use of drones. Clean energy tax credits were not included, due to time and complications.

The bill now heads to the House, which has its own, more robust FAA reauthorization bill. The House counterpart is a six-year reauthorization that would "de-federalize" air traffic control. The bill would remove 30,000 employees from federal payroll and transfer air traffic control responsibilities to a non-profit corporation.

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Shuster [R, PA-9]

House Transportation and Infrastructure marked up the legislation in February, advancing it by a vote of 34-25. It has yet to receive a vote on the House floor.

FAA funding was set to expire on March 31, but the House approved a short-term bill to extend funding until July 15 (with some provisions extended until March 2017), providing a few more months for lawmakers to reach an agreement.

President Obama visits Saudi Arabia, 
Lawmakers consider 9/11 bill

President Obama was in Saudi Arabia this week for a two-day summit in Riyadh with the heads of six Persian Gulf countries. “Deep tensions” with the U.S. and changes stirring within Saudi Arabia made for interesting dynamics and a “chilly reception."

In March, a senior Saudi Prince pushed back on comments by President Obama referring to foreign policy “free riders” in the Middle East. (see The Atlantic’s The Obama Doctrine)

More recently, Sens. Chris Murphy and Rand Paul introduced a bill (S.J.Res. 32setting new conditions on U.S military aid to Saudi Arabia. The legislation requires that the president certify that Saudi Arabia is demonstrating an effort to “minimize harm to civilians” in the conflict in Yemen before Congress considers a selling air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.

Sens. Chuck Schumer and John Cornyn introduced a bill (S. 2040) that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for any role it played in the terrorist attack.

President Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and Speaker Paul Ryan expressed skepticism, saying the House should take a closer look at the controversial legislation. Reportedly, President Obama did not discuss the bill while in Saudi Arabia. Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] placed a hold on the bill, saying "I want to make sure that anything we do doesn't come to bite us."

The bill prompted Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to tell a group of American lawmakers that Riyadh would divest as much as $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill became law (New York Times).

The threat to sell off U.S. assets is rare. It is especially notable given the ambitious “National Transformation Plan,” that 31-year-old, second in line to the Saudi throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described to Bloomberg recently. The plan will:

  • Place Saudi-owned assets, such as SABIC, real estate holdings, and shares of Aramco (the state-owned oil company) into a Public Investment Fund (PIF)
  • Make the fund the "largest on earth." “We will surpass $2 trillion,” said bin Salman.
  • Take Aramco public with a “new strategy [to] transform it from an oil and gas company to an energy/industrial company." The company will build the first solar energy plant in Saudi Arabia and a “huge construction company.”

The Saudi move to diversify comes at a time of plunging oil prices due to falling demand and record production. Oil producing countries gathered in Doha last week to attempt to reach agreement on limiting production. The main sticking point was Iran, which refuses to cut production as it tries to rebuild its oil exports after international sanctions were lifted last year.

But don’t get used to the low gas prices. Experts are predicting they will rise again by the end of the year.

See also: Coverage from CNN, BBC, ABC

New Bills on the Block

  • Senate Democrats introduced lead water bill, which would approve $70B in federal funds over a decade to update the nation's water infrastructure. 
  • Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] introduced a resolution to block Obama administration's fiduciary rule.


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Nebraska legislature overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts's veto, allowing young immigrants who entered the country illegally to apply for professional and commercial licenses in 170+ professions.
  • Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder [R] will drink filtered water for the next month to prove that it is safe to drink.
  • Colorado Senate Judiciary committee passed two bills regarding sentencing guidelines, with measures to allow youth offenders who have served as least 20 years to seek early parole.
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffee [D] issued an executive order to restore voting rights to 200,000 convicted felons. 
  • Tennessee House voted to strip funding from the University of Tennessee's Office of Diversity and Inclusion.


Weekend Reads

"Progress Made but Significant Challenges Must Be Addressed to Ensure Full and Effective Implementation"  from U.S. Government Accountability Office

"10 Breakthrough Technologies: 2016"  from MIT Technology Review

"Annual Report: FY15" from Congressional Research Service

ISSUE SPOTLIGHT: Environmental Legislation

Earth Day occurs every year on April 22, marking the anniversary of the modern environmental movement, beginning in the United States in 1970. The day is recognized worldwide and mobilizes more than 1 billion people in 141 countries — making it the largest civic observance in the world.

Throughout history, government has undertaken several environmental reforms. As early as the 1700s, American municipalities established public water supplies and enacted measures to ensure safe drinking water.

Theodore Roosevelt popularized conservation efforts and is often considered the "conservationist president." His presidency prioritized the "use and retention of natural resources." 

Franklin Roosevelt's landmark New Deal enacted several natural resource measures, including creation of the Soil Conservation Service to apply scientific practices to reduce erosion of agricultural land. Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which established a fund for state fish and wildlife programs (from the proceeds of federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment).

In 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in response to nationwide calls for "environmental consciousness." The statute declared Congressional intent to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony" and to "assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings." Most notably, NEPA created a new requirement: all federal agencies planning projects that affect the environment must submit reports accounting for likely consequences. These Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) are still required today and NEPA informs decisionmaking — for example, the Department of Energy has an entire website devoted to NEPA policy and compliance.

In addition to signing NEPA into law, President Nixon presented Congress an "unprecedented 37-point message on the environment," seeking legislation related to the environment.

Requests included:

  • $4B to improve water treatment facilities
  • National air quality standards
  • Stringent guidelines to reduce motor vehicle emissions
  • Federally-funded research to reduce automobile pollution
  • Tax on lead additives in gasoline
  • End to dumping of waste into the Great Lakes
  • National Contingency Plan for the treatment of petroleum spills


Months later, in a message to the House and Senate, President Nixon introduced a plan to reorganize various offices and bureaus to create an agency devoted to the environment — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today the EPA is responsible for several laws and regulations related to public health and the environment.

Interested in environmental legislation? We've got you covered.

Here's a rundown of related bills currently in Congress. Let your lawmakers know what you think about bills related to chemicals, energy, water, and more!

Chemicals/Toxics and Energy

American Clean Energy Investment Act (S. 2391) would change the Internal Revenue Code to extend and modify tax provisions relating to energy. This Act would establish a permanent tax credit for producing electricity from renewable resources. It would reduce carbon pollution through sustainable energy sources while providing job opportunities This Act would also create a permanent tax credit for new energy efficient homes.  

North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8) would update and modernize energy infrastructure policies. The Energy Department would create a training program for underrepresented groups to increase the number of skilled workers in energy and manufacturing-related jobs. This bill would also broaden the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s power to mandate deadlines on other Federal agencies in regards to reviewing the environmental implications of natural gas pipeline applications.

Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining Act (H.R. 1644) would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 in order to promote transparency in the development of environmental regulations. It would make raw data, federally funded scientific products, and more publicly available via the internet.

Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act (H.R. 3797) would allow the Administrator of the EPA to issue, implement, and enforce certain emission limitations and allocations for existing electric utility steam generating units that convert coal refuse into energy. This bill would set options for limits on emission standards, affecting operators of a coal refuse electric utility steam generating unit.



Climate Change Education Act (H.R. 1961) would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a Climate Change Education Program. This program would communicate the impacts on public health that climate change has and educate the public on human-induced climate change and its consequences. This bill is a result of Congressional findings that suggest the US is the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the world.

H. Res 637 expresses the House should establish a national goal of more than 50 percent clean and carbon free electricity by 2030. This goal is made to improve public health, strengthen national security, and avoid negative impacts of climate change.

Climate Protection and Justice Act (S. 2399) would account for emissions reductions in the environment. This Act follows a Congressional report suggesting that the expected rise in average temperatures threaten sea level and average air and ocean temperatures. Under this Act,  greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors of the US economy should be below 3,700,000,000 tons by 2030. This Act would also create a “Carbon Fee Rebate Fun.”



Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This fund has protected five million acres of public land  including the Grand Canyon National Park and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. This fund also helps states protect their parks and recreation resources through a grant program.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act (H.R. 223) would amend the Clean Water Act to authorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Under this initiative, programs and projects would be created to promote the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes. Priority areas include habitat and wildlife protection, accountability, and remediation of toxic substances.

Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act (H.R. 4470) would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require public water systems to notify their customers of dangerous lead concentration levels in drinking water. This Act would also designate the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a strategic plan in regards to outreach, education, and risk communication when a population is affected by lead in a public water system.


Greener Living & Resources

Low-Income Solar Act (S. 1713) would require the Secretary of Energy to provide loans and grants for solar installations in low-income and underserved areas. A “grant-eligible household” would earn income equal to 80 percent or less of the applicable area median income.

Wind Energy Research & Development Act (H.R. 4423) would provide a program of wind energy research, development, and demonstration. This program would better energy efficiency and decrease costs of wind energy systems. This bill would would also test the performance of wind power plants.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Protection Act (H.R. 4558) would allow the the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to seek compensation for injuries to trust resources and use those funds to restore, replace, or acquire equivalent resources. Under this Act, compensation can be seeked for the loss of any living, non-living, historical, cultural, or archeological resource.


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 Weekly Update_The Week Ahead in Congress_April_18_22_2016

WEEKLY UPDATE: The Week Ahead in Congress

The House considers IRS oversight bills in time for Tax Day and celebrates 100 years of women in Congress. The Senate nears the finish line for FAA reauthorization and may take up an energy policy reform bill before the week is out.


IRS Oversight:

This Tax Day, the House will consider several bills related to IRS management and oversight:

H.R. 1206: No Hires for the Delinquent IRS Act Small Business Committee
Sponsor: Rep. David Rouzer [R, NC-7]

This bill prohibits the IRS from hiring anyone with a seriously delinquent tax debt, i.e. a debt for which the IRS has filed a notice of lien in public record.

H.R. 3724: Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act of 2015H.R. 4284: Service Provider Opportunity Clarification Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Kristi Noem [R, SD-0]
This bill prohibits the IRS from hiring anyone who was previously employed by the IRS but removed or misconduct or cause.

H.R. 4885: IRS Oversight While Eliminating Spending (OWES) Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Smith [R, MO-8]
The bill requires the IRS to deposit user fees for services in the general fund of the Treasury and prohibits  expenditure of the fees unless there is a Congressional appropriation.

H.R. 4890: To impose a ban on the payment of bonuses to employees of the Internal Revenue Service until the Secretary of the Treasury develops and implements a comprehensive customer service strategy
Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
The strategy must include: (1) appropriate telephone and correspondence levels of service; (2) an assessment of which services the IRS can shift to self-service options; and (3) proposals to improve customer service over the short-term, the medium-term, and the long-term.

H.R. 4903: To prohibit the use of funds by Internal Revenue Service to target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
Sponsor: Rep. Rick Allen [R, GA-12]

H. Res. 673: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Internal Revenue Service should provide printed copies of Internal Revenue Service Publication 17 to taxpayers in the United States free of charge
Sponsor: Rep. Glenn Grothman [R, WI-6]

This official IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals, covers the general rules for filing a United States federal income tax return. 
IRS Publication 17 helps identify which filing status you qualify for, whether you can claim any dependents, and whether the income you receive is taxable. It also explains the standard deduction, the kinds of expenses you may be able to deduct, and the various kinds of credits you may be able to take to reduce your tax. 

Honoring 100 Years of Women in Congress



H.R. 4570: 100 Years of Women in Congress Act
Sponsor: Rep. Grace Meng [D, NY-6]

The bill would rename a STEM grant program to honor the first woman elected to Congress, Representative Jeannette Rankin from Montana.

Representative Rankin was elected on November 7, 1916, almost four years prior to ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. Now, 100 years since the election of Jeannette Rankin, 108 women serve in the 114th Congress, more than at any other time in  history. 

Rankin was not only a pioneer in national electoral politics, but also a pioneer as a woman in science, graduating from the University of Montana in 1902 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. The bill renames a program providing grants for women and minorities in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as the "Jeannette Rankin Women and Minorities in STEM Fields Program Grant."

Small Business Bills


H.R. 4325: Unifying Small Business Terminology Act of 2016

Sponsor: Rep. Nydia Velázquez [D, NY-7]

The bill would bring consistency to the range of the anticipated value of federal procurement contracts that must be reserved exclusively for small businesses. Currently the range of the anticipated value must be between $2,500 and $100,000. Under the bill, the new threshold will be between the micro-purchase threshold ($3,000) and the simplified acquisition threshold ($100,000). 

H.R. 4326: Small and Disadvantaged Business Enhancement Act of 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Alma Adams [D, NC-12]
The bill would expand the duties of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) to ensure that purchases are in compliance and have been properly recorded in the Federal Procurement Data System.

H.R. 4332: Maximizing Small Business Competition Act of 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Trent Kelly [R, MS-1]
The bill clarifies that Small Business Administration (SBA) procurement center representatives (PCRs)may review federal procurement, and attempts to ensure that contracts across the government are structured in a way that maximizes opportunities for small businesses to compete.

H.R. 3714: Small Agriculture Producer Size Standards Improvements Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Bost [R, IL-12]
The bill would amend the Small Business Act and require the Small Business Administration (SBA) to establish small business size standards for agricultural producers through the notice and comment rulemaking process.  In contrast to the size standards established for all other industries by the SBA, the size standard for agriculture enterprises is established by statute and has not been updated in 15 years, according to the Small Business Committee.

Also in the House:

S. 1638: Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act of 2015
Sponsor: Sen. Ron Johnson [R, WI]

The bill provides measures for oversight of the development of a planned DHS headquarters campus for the agency in Washington, D.C.

Post Offices and Building Naming

S. 719: To rename the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Great Falls the Captain John E. Moran and Captain William Wylie Galt Armed Forces Reserve Center

H.R. 3866: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1265 Hurffville Road in Deptford Township as the “First Lieutenant Salvatore S. Corma II Post Office Building”

H. Con. Res. 119: Authorizing the use of the Capitol Grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby

H.R. 2928: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 201 B Street in Perryville as the “Harold George Bennett Post Office

H.R. 4605: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 615 6th Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids as the "Sgt. 1st Class Terryl L. Pasker Post Office Building."

H.R. 4618: To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 121 Spring Street SE in Gainesville as the “Sidney Oslin Smith Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse


FAA Reauthorization

The Senate will continue its work on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs out of funding on July 15.

SponsorSen. John Thune [R, SD]

A cloture vote is expected on Monday on the FAA reauthorization, kicking off 30 hours of final debate before a final roll call vote later in the week.

The bill contains provisions to:

  • Reauthorize FAA appropriations through the 2017 fiscal year
  • Examine and refining policies for unmanned aircraft, including requiring commercial UAS operators to have a privacy policy, and giving the FTC authority to enforce.
  • Updating general aviation certification and offering the opportunity to appeal medical disqualifications
  • Preserving the Essential Air Service (EAS)
  • Providing for several policy changes for commercial aircraft, including: requirement to refund baggage fees if bags are lost; clarifying charges for preferred seats and policies for allowing children to be seated with parents; calling for a study on wheelchair access
  • Calling for a cost-benefit update on the implementation of the NextGen air traffic and communications system.

Read Section-by-section summary

Up next in the Senate: Bipartisan Energy Bill

When the Senate finishes work on the FAA Reauthorization, it is expected to move to the bipartisan energy policy bill that was tabled last year.

S. 2012: Energy Policy Modernization Act
Sponsor:  Sen. Lisa Murkowski  [R, AK]

The bipartisan act is spearheaded by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell [D, WA]. The comprehensive legislation is aimed at updating the nation's power grid and oil and gas transportation systems.

Provisions are divided into five main areas: efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and conservation reauthorization. 

According to sponsors, the bill would*:


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_Apr_11_15_2016

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

The House passed a bill to expedite FDA review of Zika treatments. The Senate made progress on FAA reauthorization. The encryption debate enters a new stage with the release of a draft Senate bill. And, just in time for tax day, the House Ways and Means committee advanced four bills related to IRS operations.

Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HR 25"

Most active on POPVOX this week:

Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Merrick B. Garland

Congress approved bill to fast-track cure for Zika virus

The House approved a bill adding the Zika virus to the FDA priority review voucher program. The bill would offer incentives to companies seeking a cure for the virus, but it does not allocate any federal funds. The same measure was approved by the Senate last month, meaning the legislation now heads to President Obama.

All 358 confirmed cases of Zika in the United States have been travel-related, with Florida having the largest number of confirmed cases. This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there is sufficient evidence that the virus could cause birth defects in infants born to infected mothers.

U.S. Map: Confirmed Cases of Zika Virus

Source: The Washington Post


Senate spends week on FAA reauthorization bill

After week-long consideration, Senate looks to pass the FAA reauthorization bill early next week. FAA funding was originally set to expire on March 31, but the House approved a short-term bill to extend funding until July 15 (with some provisions extended until March 2017).

Early this week Sens. Boxer and Sessions placed holds on the bill to try and force votes on their amendments. Sen. Boxer's amendment involved rest requirements for cargo pilots, with "Miracle on Hudson" pilot speaking in support of the amendment. Sen. Sessions's amendment would encourage more airports to install biometric screening systems.

Sponsor: Sen. John Thune [R, SD]

Despite initial talks, the bill will proceed without clean energy tax credits. Members of both parties said too many add-ons were complicating an otherwise uncontroversial FAA bill.

Related: This week the House passed a bipartisan bill that would close security screening loopholes at small airports, requiring TSA to staff screeners at small and rural airports with commercial service. The legislation would affect 29 airports nationwide where commercial service has stalled after losing screening services

Sponsor: Rep. Greg Walden [R, OR-2]

The bill is similar to an amendment added to the Senate FAA reauthorization bill last week, which prevents TSA from implementing "reverse screening" methods at small airports.

Encryption debate enters new stage 

The encryption debate continues between tech companies and the federal government. The Justice Department announced it will seek a court order to force Apple to help unlock an iPhone seized in New York drug investigation, while newly declassified records show the FBI persuaded a judge to aid in decryption efforts in 2003, a precursor to the current Apple dispute.

This week, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee released draft of long-awaited Burr-Feinstein encryption bill. The bill would require companies to decrypt customers’ data at a court’s request. The bill does not create specific penalties for noncompliance — providing federal judges broad authority to compel tech companies to aid the government. The bill still has a ways to go: receiving feedback, making revisions, being formally introduced, clearing committee, but upon release of draft, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] vowed to filibuster the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee advanced the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) unanimously — a bill to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently allows for the government to read emails without a warrant if the emails are at least six months old. With 314 cosponsors, the bill is the most popular piece of legislation that has yet to receive a vote in the House.

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Yoder [R, KS-3]

Late to the game? Here’s a complete timeline of the back and forth between the FBI and Apple. Basically, the Justice Department sought a court order to receive Apple’s help unlocking an iPhone connected to last year’s San Bernardino shootings. Ultimately, the government did not see the case to resolution, instead paying “gray hat” hackers one-time fee to unlock the phone. So far, the FBI has not found anything useful on the phone, but it is not done analyzing the obtained information.

Puerto Rico debt bill stalls in markup

House Natural Resources Committee began marking up Puerto Rico debt crisis bill this week but then "abruptly cancelled" day two of markup after tensions arose.

Sponsor: Rep. Sean Duffy [R, WI-7]

Speaker Paul Ryan convened a special conference meeting today to educate members and bring them on board with the bill. Lawmakers now look to pass legislation by May 1, when Puerto Rico's next debt payment is due.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico proposed a new plan to restructure its debt: asking its creditors to accept $32.6B to $37.4B up front by exchanging existing bonds for two new classes of bonds, up from previous offer of $26.5B.


House Ways and Means cleared IRS related bills

House Committee on Ways and Means kicked off tax week by approving four bills related to the IRS.

Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
Bill would require the IRS to complete a customer service strategy before paying out bonuses, meaning bonuses would be earned through improvements in responsiveness to taxpayers.

Sponsor: Rep. Kristi Noem [R, SD-0]
Bill would prohibit the IRS from rehiring former employers who had been fired for cause.

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Smith [R, MO-8]
Bill would require the IRS to deposit fees for services in general fund of the Treasury and provide Congress with the authority to determine how to spend user fees.

Sponsor: Rep. David Rouzer [R, NC-7]
Bill would require the Treasury Secretary to certify that no IRS employees have serious delinquencies with respect to their own tax obligations. (similar measure has failed in recent years)

House and Senate Appropriations Committees hold markups

Appropriations season was in full swing this week, with both House and Senate saying no budget, no problems and proceeding with spending bills. Lawmakers discussed several bills to fund the government in 2017, with the House failing to reach today’s deadline to pass a budget. The new talk of the town is the 1070 number, referencing the $1.070T spending level agreed upon in last year’s budget deal.

House Appropriations marked up its first measure of the year: a package for veterans’ programs and military construction. All three released House appropriations bills adhere to spending level of $1.070T agreed upon in last year’s budget deal.

Senate Appropriations cleared an energy spending bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the motion to proceed to energy and water appropriations bill, steering the Senate toward taking up its first appropriations bill of the year.

New Bills on the Block



Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Maryland General Assembly passed bill to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, increase penalties for some violent crimes, and allow some nonviolent offenders to be released from prison earlier. Bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan [R], who intends to sign the bill into law.
  • Hawaii legislature passed bill to allow women to obtain up to a year of birth control at a time, as opposed to current policy that allows for up to three months at a time.
  • See how your state compares — where women have the most and least political representation in the U.S.
  • New York State Senate unanimously passed bill to exempt feminine hygiene products from the 4 percent state sales tax. Assembly passed the bill last month, and now it's off to Gov. Andrew Cuomo [D] to be signed into law.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory [R] signed an order to clarify legislation that would restrict restroom use to the sex listed on birth certificates, rather than that of gender identity. 
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe [D] signed into law new regulations with regards to the collection, storage and analysis of the critical evidence of rape kits. 
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam [R] vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the state's official book, citing constitutional and personal reasons.

Weekend Reads

"Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families, and the Economy" from U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee

"Additional Consideration of Prior Conduct and Performance Issues Is Needed When Hiring Former Employees"  from Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

"The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction"  from Congressional Research Service


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.

ISSUE SPOTLIGHT: Equal Pay Legislation

Equal Pay Day occurs on April 12 each year, a day that marks the number of days into the year the average woman must work for her salary to equal that of a man's salary. We've compiled the latest updates regarding equal pay legislation and the gender wage gap.


New Congressional Report

According to new U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) report, the wage gap between men's and women's median earnings has closed substantially since the 1960s, but at the current rate of change, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059. On average, women earn about $10,800 less per year than men, based on median annual earnings, which adds up to nearly half a million dollars in lost wages over a career.

Graphic of Equal Pay report

Read the full report.


Equal Pay Legislation: Federal 

Let your lawmakers know what you think about related bills currently in Congress!

Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 862 / H.R. 1619) requires employers to demonstrate that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons.

Gender Advancement in Pay Act (S. 2070) expands exceptions to the prohibition against sex discrimination to include payments pursuant to a differential based on expertise, shift, or a business-related factor other than sex, including but not limited to education, training, or experience.

Fair Pay Act of 2015 (H.R. 1787) amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on account of sex, race, or national origin. 

Recognizing the Significance of Equal Pay Day to Illustrate the Disparity Between Wages Paid to Men and Women (H.Con.Res. 35 ) highlights the disparity between wages paid to men and women and its impact on women, families, and the nation.


Equal Pay Legislation: States

Equal pay legislation is surfacing at the state level as well. Last year, 76 equal pay related bills were introduced in 33 states.

Seven states saw equal pay legislation become law:

  • North Dakota: makes it more difficult for employers to use non-work-related defenses to defeat pay discrimination claims
  • Oregon: prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who discuss their wages or who are involved in proceedings to fix pay discrimination
  • Delaware: requires contractors to pay all employees equally
  • Connecticut: increases remedies paid to victims of discrimination and prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who discuss their wages
  • California: prohibits employees from facing retaliation for discussing their pay rates at work and allows workers to challenge disparities in pay between people doing similar jobs at the same company
  • Illinois: expands existing equal pay laws (which only apply to employers with more than four employees) to cover all employers, regardless of how many workers they employ and increases penalties against second and third time offenders of pay discrimination
  • New York: strengthens existing law prohibiting gender-based pay differentials by closing loopholes; increases penalty for violating law; prohibits employers from requiring workers to keep pay rates confidential


Learn more about equal pay legislation in your state — sign up for POPVOX / States!


President Obama Honors Women's Rights Movement

President Obama designated the country's first national monument to women's history. The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, headquarters for the National Woman's Party, will now be known as the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument. The designation honors former party president and suffragist Alva Belmont and party founder and chief strageist Alice Paul.

Photo of Sewell Belmont building

Source: Sewall-Belmont House & Museum

President Obama announced the new monument on Equal Pay Day: "I have faith because what this house shows us is that the story of America is a story of progress," said President Obama. "I want young girls and boys to come here, 10, 20, 100 years from now, to know that women fought for equality, it was not just given to them."

The designation is another step in a series by the Obama administration on women's rights and pay. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (S. 181), legislation that makes it easier for women to sue employers for pay discrimination. Sen. Barbara Mikulski [D, MD] introduced the bill, gaining 53 Cosponsors, including current presidential candidates Clinton and Sanders.


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 Weekly Update_The Week Ahead in Congress_April_11_15_2016

WEEKLY UPDATE: The Week Ahead in Congress

For the first time in a month, the House and Senate are back in at the same time. The Senate will continue working on a two-year FAA reauthorization (without the airplane legroom amendment) and the House will dive into financial regulations, homeland and border security, and potential limits on the FCC. It will also take up bills to reauthorize USAID's "Feed the Future" work, protect vets from fraudulent schemes, and to fast-track FDA consideration for a Zika treatment. 

Protecting Veterans from Fraud

Sponsor: Rep. Thomas Rooney [R, FL-17]

Some financial predators have targeted veterans with fraudulent offers to help with recovering VA benefits . These schemes typically target the elderly or those in public housing, charge thousands of dollars, and do little, if anything, to actually help the veterans. If the schemes were promoted through the mail or via telephone, they could be investigated as wire or mail fraud. However, some are exploiting a loophole in federal law by conducting in-person seminars or meeting in-person at a veteran’s home or assisted living facility, according to the bill's sponsor.

H.R. 4676 would impose a fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both for anyone engaging in a scheme to defraud a veteran of his or her benefits.

A "whole government" strategy to fight hunger and malnutrition

Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Smith [R, NJ-4]

H.R. 1567 reauthorizes a program, "Feed the Future," begun under President G.W. Bush and continued in the Obama Administration, to combat hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. The bill authorizes a U.S. global food and nutrition security strategy to help farmers and their families feed themselves. By sharing U.S. expertise in agriculture development and supporting programs that work with smallholder farmers and women, the bill seeks to tackle hunger and malnutrition and improve agricultural productivity.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is responsible for administering Feed the Future, the initiative helped more than 12.5 million children receive nutrition interventions and provided nearly 7 million farmers with new technologies and management practices in 2013 alone. 

The bill passed the House Foreign Services Committee unanimously.

Priority FDA Review for Zika treatments

Sponsor: Sen. Alan Franken [D, MN]

Since 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a handful of special "priority review" vouchers which allow its recipient to expedite the review of any one of its new drug products. According to a draft guidance on tropical disease priority review vouchers, the program is designed to spur development of new drug and biological products to treat certain tropical diseases. This bill would add the ZIka virus to the list of tropical diseases for which the vouchers may apply. 

The bill passed the Senate on March 17, 2016.

Border and Airport Security

The House will take up several bills related to border, maritime, and airport security.

Sponsor: Rep. Candice Miller  [R, MI-10]

The bill would authorize, enhance, and reform certain port security programs through increased efficiency and risk-based coordination within the Department of Homeland Security, specifically between the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, and other State and local partners.

Sponsor: Rep. Martha McSally [R, AZ-2]

The bill instructs the Department of Homeland Security to submit an assessment of current and potential terrorist or criminal threats posed by individuals or groups seeking to unlawfully enter the southern border and improvements needed at or between ports of entry.

Sponsor: Rep. Donald Payne [D, NJ-10]

The bill seeks to improve coordination between state and local partners on funding priorities for homeland security grants by ensuring that decision-makers work together, requiring that planning committees and high-risk urban area working groups include representatives from each of the following stakeholder communities: (1) local and tribal government officials; (2) emergency response providers (fire service, law enforcement, emergency medical services and emergency managers); (3) public health officials and appropriate medical practitioners; (4) individuals representing educational institutions, including elementary schools, community colleges, and other institutions of higher learning; (5) State and regional interoperable communications coordinators, as appropriate; and (6) State and major urban area fusion centers, as appropriate.

Sponsor: Rep. Will Hurd [R, TX-23]

H.R. 4403 would authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State to develop open-source software that would be designed to screen travelers by checking law enforcement databases and terrorist watch lists. The software would be shared with foreign governments and multilateral organizations. The bill would require DHS and the Department of State, within 60 days of enactment, to submit to the Congress a plan to develop and share such software.

Sponsor: Rep. Greg Walden [R, OR-2]

The bill would require the TSA to restore screening services to any airport that lost service after January 1, 2013, and has commitment of return from a commercial airline.

The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is one of the small airports that has been unable to bring back TSA screening after losing commercial air service in 2014. (Source)

Changes to Financial Regulations

Sponsor: Rep. Dave Trott [R, MI-11]

The measure is the product of a bipartisan coalition within the House Judiciary Committee to "strengthen our nation’s bankruptcy laws so that the process will be well-equipped to administer bankruptcy cases related to financial institutions.” 
The bill "would allow for a speedy transfer of the operating assets of a financial firm tp allow the financial firm to continue to operate in the normal course, which preserves the value of the enterprise for the creditors of the bankruptcy without a significant impact on the firm's employees, suppliers, and customers." (Source)

Sponsor: Rep. Mia Love [R, UT-4]

The bill would raise the consolidated assets threshold under the small bank holding company policy statement to $5 billion. Currently the policy statement applies to bank holding companies with less than $1 billion in total consolidated assets. (Source: CBO)

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Emmer [R, MN-6]

As  established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Council provides comprehensive monitoring of the stability of our nation's financial system. The Council is charged with identifying risks to the financial stability of the United States; promoting market discipline; and responding to emerging risks to the stability of the United States' financial system. The Council consists of 10 voting members and 5 nonvoting members and brings together the expertise of federal financial regulators, state regulators, and an independent insurance expert appointed by the President. (Source: FSOC

Under current law, the FSOC is funded through the Financial Research Fund (FRF). H.R. 3340 would change the law so that spending from the FRF would be subject to the annual appropriations process. The bill also would direct FSOC to prepare financial reports that would be submitted to the Congress each quarter and allow the public to comment on FSOC’s proposed rules and reports.


The Senate will continue its work on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs out of funding on July 15.

SponsorSen. John Thune [R, SD]

As we noted in last week's Gavel Down, the Senate has adopted two bipartisan amendments to the bill:

  1. 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.
  2. To increase the number of bomb-sniffing dog teams in non-secure areas, such as check-in counters and baggage claim. 

An amendment from Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] to address seat sizes on airplanes failed 42-54.

This week, the big question is expected to be whether a package of green energy tax credits will be added to the bill.

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_Apr_4_8_2016

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the week in Congress

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