October 28, 2013

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus: Legislative Focus: Farm Bill and Budget Conferences, Veterans and NLRB Nomination

This week, the House and Senate are expected to begin conferences on the farm bill, the budget, and potentially, on a water resources development bill. The opening session of the budget conference committee agreed to in the October 17th deal ending the federal government shutdown will occur Wednesday.

The Senate convened at 2:00 p.m. with a vote on the nomination of Richard F. Griffin Jr. to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board expected around 5:30 p.m.

Today the Senate will consider the nomination of Richard F. Griffin Jr. to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. The President previously appointed Griffin as an NLRB member in a recess appointment in January of 2012, but withdrew his nomination as a board member in July as part of an agreement to end Senate filibusters of other executive branch nominees. The Senate is expected to meet the 60-vote threshold narrowly today to confirm Griffin as general council. Later this week the Senate may also clear legislation, H.R. 3204, to regulate pharmacy compounding and establish a framework for tracing medicines throughout the supply chain.

The House convened at noon with legislative business starting at 2:00 p.m. to take up six bills related to veterans’ issues under suspension. Votes are postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Today the House is scheduled to consider six veterans-related bills under suspension of the rules. Bills to be considered include H.R. 2189 to create a commission to study and recommend ways of reducing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) backlog of disability claims, and H.R. 2481 to establish a new office within VA to administer certain existing vocational, educational and other assistance programs for veterans.


KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Armed Services:  The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled “Twenty-Five Years of Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Building.

Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs:  The Securities, Insurance and Investment Subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “The JOBS [Jumpstart Our Business Startups] Act at a Year and a Half: Assessing Progress and Unmet Opportunities;”
Wednesday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m., 538 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Essentials of a Functioning Housing Finance System for Consumers,”
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 538 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Essential Elements of a Government Guarantee for Mortgage-Backed Securities;”
Thursday, October 31 at 10:00 a.m., 538 Dirksen Building.

Commerce, Science & Transportation :  The Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to examine broadband adoption;
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:30 a.m., 253 Russell Building.

Conference Committee(s):  The House and Senate Farm Bill conferees will meet to consider legislation that would overhaul and provide appropriations for agriculture and other programs of the Department of Agriculture;
Wednesday, October 30 at 1:00 p.m., 1100 Longworth Building.
The House and Senate conferees will meet to consider the Fiscal 2014 budget resolution;
Wednesday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m., HC-5 Capitol Building.

Education & the Workforce:  The Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Strengthening the Multiemployer Pension System;”
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Building.

Energy & Commerce:  The Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the North American Energy Infrastructure Act;
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Building.

Finance:  The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership;
Wednesday, October 30 at 11:00 a.m., 215 Dirksen Building.

Financial Services:  The Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on legislative proposals intended to create more accountability and transparency to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau;
Tuesday, October 29 at 3:00 p.m., 2128 Rayburn Building.

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions:  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will mark up pending legislation (H.R. 2094, S. 1557, S. 1562, S. 1302, and H.R. 2747) and nominations;
Wednesday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “Attaining a Quality Degree: Innovations to Improve Student Success;”
Thursday, October 31 at 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Building.

Homeland Security:  The House Homeland Security Committee will mark up pending legislation (H.R. 1095, H.R. 1204, H.R. 1791, H.R. 2719, H.R. 2952, and H.R. 3107);
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 311 Cannon Building.

The Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee and Emergency preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “Cyber Incident Response: Bridging the Gap Between Cybersecurity and Emergency Management;”
Wednesday, October 30 at 9:00 a.m., 311 Cannon Building.

Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs:  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Navy Yard Tragedy: Examining Government Clearances and Background Checks;”
Thursday, October 31 at 10:00 a.m., 342 Dirksen Building.

Judiciary: The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 3309 to change the patenting system;
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Building.

Natural Resources:  The Water and Power Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing on increasing water and hydropower supplies;
Tuesday, October 29 at 2:00 p.m., 1324 Longworth Building.

Science, Space & Technology:  The Energy Subcommittee and Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled “EPA Power Plant Regulations: Is the Technology Ready?”
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Building.

Transportation & Infrastructure:  The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on Coast Guard and maritime transportation authorization issues;
Tuesday, October 29 at 10:30 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Building.

Veterans’ Affairs:  The Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Focused Issues on Dignified Burials: A National Cemetery Update;”
Wednesday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Building.



HOUSE TO CONSIDER SIX VETERANS-RELATED BILLS UNDER SUSPENSION

 
Today the House will consider six veterans-related bills under suspension of the rules. The Address Backlog of VA Disability Claims Act (H.R. 2189), is intended to address a number of issues related to eliminating the veterans benefit claims backlog. H.R. 2189 establishes a 15-member commission to study the issue and the appeal process, prioritizes the claims process for certain sets of service members and also includes certain public disclosure and strategic planning requirements. The bill also expands the use of contract physicians to provide examinations and would allow licensed physicians to perform examinations at any location in an state or territory, as long as it is within the scope of their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contract. 

The Veterans Economic Opportunity Act (H.R. 2481) would pull vocational, education and other non-compensation programs at the VA out of the Veterans Benefits Administration and put them under the management of a new Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration. H.R. 2481 would also expand eligibility of certain mortgage protections to certain categories of military spouses and veterans. 

The four other bills: H.R. 1405, H.R. 1742, H.R. 2011, and H.R. 3304 address more minor issues related to the VA’s fiduciary program, eligibility for rental assistance for disabled veterans, reauthorizing an advisory committee for veterans educational issues, and a Medal of Honor request for two Vietnam veterans, respectively. 



LABOR RELEASES UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE GUIDANCE


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released guidance on unemployment claims filed by furloughed federal employees during the government shutdown. The memo states that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management directed that a federal employee furloughed during the lapse in appropriations from October 1-16 shall now be considered to have been in pay status. Due to this status, furloughed federal employees are rendered ineligible for unemployment insurance. States are required to take appropriate action that is consistent with state law to recoup payments of unemployment insurance claims to federal employees. State workforce administrators must review unemployment claims to determine if payments were made to federal employees, initiate all overpayment recovery actions and fully cooperate with federal agencies conducting overpayment determination and recovery activates. This guidance does not address many questions and concerns that states have communicated to DOL and further guidance is expected. The guidance may be accessed here



HOUSE PASSES WATER RESOURCES AUTHORIZATION


Last week, the House passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, by a vote of 417 to 3. The bipartisan bill would establish a new process by which nonfederal interests, including states, would submit proposals to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to be presented to Congress for authorization, place a limit of three years on project studies and require coordination among all three levels of ACOE and federal agencies. The bill also would revise aspects of the current environmental impact review and permitting process in an effort reduce delays, among other provisions. 

The House added a manager’s amendment that allows expedited completion of any ongoing feasibility study for a project initiated prior to enactment; the amendment also requires nonfederal interests to carry out work subject to state or federal permitting requirements and allows them to carry out work at their own expense when a final feasibility report has been completed but not received authorization. The House also approved a package of amendments that include requiring the ACOE to coordinate with FEMA on emergency communication, adding Puerto Rico to the inflation adjustment calculation under Section 137, allowing nonfederal entities to sell water oversupply, requiring multiagency coordination to fight the spread of Asian carp, requiring a GAO study of both invasive species and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund effectiveness and expanding reporting requirements for mitigating current problems and limiting backlog. The text of all amendments can be found here. Appointment of a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences between S. 601 and H.R. 3080 should be forthcoming. 



ADMINISTRATION DELAYS HEALTH INSURANCE PENALTY


The Administration announced that people will not face tax penalties if they sign up for health insurance coverage before March 31, 2014, the end of the open enrollment period. Under an earlier interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, the Administration said individuals would need to sign up by February 15, 2014, to avoid penalties. The Administration is expected release guidance clarifying the policy change. 


FEMA RELEASES INFORMATION ON TRIBES AND DISASTER ASSISTANCE

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided states and tribal governments with information on current procedures to allow a tribal government to directly request federal disaster assistance. Due to a provision included in the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act that was enacted earlier this year, federally-recognized tribal governments now have the option to request federal disaster assistance directly or through a state. Previously, tribes could only receive disaster assistance under a state’s request for a national emergency or major disaster declaration. FEMA intends to publish draft guidance on this topic for comment in the coming months and will conduct consultation with tribal governments on its implementation. A copy of the FEMA overview for tribal governments can be found here.



SCHOOL BACKGROUND CHECK BILL PASSES HOUSE

The U.S. House of Representatives passed, by voice vote, H.R. 2083, a bill requiring states to conduct criminal background checks on school employees. The bill would mandate that state education agencies receiving Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) funds set up a process requiring all school employees in the state to receive a background check. These checks would require a search of state and federal criminal databases to include a fingerprint check. 

State education agencies would also be required to mandate local education agencies to: set up a timely appeals process, update background checks for current employees at least once every five years and provide each school employee with a copy of their background check. Schools would also be prohibited from employing individuals accused of certain crimes and would be required to notify local law enforcement if a sex offender applies for a position. SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, supported background checks for school employees, but expressed concern over the duplicative, expensive and burdensome method for checks proposed in H.R. 2083. H.R. 2083 now moves to the Senate where the bill’s prospects remain unclear. The legislative text of H.R. 2083 may be accessed here.