November 4, 2013

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus: Anti-Discrimination Bill, Nominations

The Senate convened at 2:00 p.m. to resume consideration of S. 815 and two judicial nominations.

Today the Senate will begin consideration of a motion to proceed to S. 815, a bill to ban employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. Also today, the Senate will consider the nominations of Gregory Howard Woods and Debra M. Brown as United States District Judges. After two nominations stalled in the Senate last week, Democratic leadership is reportedly weighing changes to Senate rules for breaking filibusters on nominees.

Last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated that the Senate may consider H.R. 3204 later this week. The bill would regulate pharmacy compounding and establish a framework for tracing medicines throughout the supply chain.

The House is in recess, returning on November 12.


KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:  The Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources Subcommittee of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hold a hearing titled “Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Risk of Wildfire;”
Tuesday, November 5th at 2:30 p.m. 328 Russell Building.

Armed Services:  The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine the impact of sequestration on the national defense;
Thursday, November 7th at 9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Building.

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs:  The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a series of hearings on housing finance:
Tuesday, November 5th at 10:00 a.m. in 538 Dirksen Building the committee will hold a hearing on protecting small lender access to the secondary mortgage market, and on Thursday, November 7th at 10:00 a.m. in 538 Dirksen Building the committee will hold a hearing on essential elements to provide affordable options for housing.

Finance:  The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the health insurance exchanges created within the Affordable Care Act; Wednesday,
November 6th at 10:00 a.m., 215 Dirksen Building.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions:  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Online Federal Health Insurance Marketplace: Enrollment Challenges and the Path Forward;”
Tuesday November 5th at 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Building.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs:  The Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations and the District of Columbia Subcommittee of The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “One Year Later: Examining the Ongoing Recovery from Hurricane Sandy;”
Wednesday, November 6th at 2:30 p.m., 342 Dirksen Building.

Veterans Affairs:  The Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining Higher Education Institution’s Services to Veterans;”
Monday, November 4th at 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time), Hall of Fame Room, Bradshaw Building, Riverside Community College: 4800 Magnolia Ave., Riverside CA.

The Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Texas’ Innovative Approaches to Jobs and Employment for Veterans;”
Wednesday, November 6th at 10:00 a.m. (Central Time), Bill Daniel Student Center, Baylor University: 1311 S. 5th Street, Waco, TX.

The Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee of The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Complications of Geography: Focusing on VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration] Outreach, Accessibility, Leadership and Staffing Efforts to Meet the Needs of Veterans Living in Areas Remote from a Regional Office;”
Thursday, November 7th at 2:00 p.m. (Pacific Time), Las Vegas City Hall, 3rd Floor Conference Room: 495 S. Main St., Las Vegas, NV.



FHWA RELEASES FUNDING NOTICES FOR ICM AND AID GRANTS

  
On Friday the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released two notices of funding opportunities for states related to Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) and Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) Demonstrations. MAP-21 authorized funding for both of these programs. States, metropolitan planning organizations and local governments that intend to initiate or continue ICM development are eligible to apply for ICM deployment planning grants. Funding will cover up to 80 percent of each proposed program or project, for which the total costs should not exceed $200,000. FHWA anticipates making up to 10 awards. Applications must be submitted by December 31, 2013, and more information can be found here

In the proposed notice of funding availability for the AID Demonstration grants, FHWA proposes to provide up to $14 million in funding to state departments of transportation and up to $1 million in funding to federal land management agencies and tribal governments. The award amount may be up to the full cost of the innovation to a maximum of $1 million. States are encouraged to use Section 1304 of MAP-21, Innovative Project Delivery Methods, to increase the federal share on these projects up to 5 percent. Eligible projects may involve any aspect of highway transportation that address specific goals, such as accelerating the adoption of innovative technologies in surface transportation and improving highway efficiency, safety, reliability, service life, environmental protection and sustainability. Comments about the AID Demonstration notice are due by November 22, 2013, and more information can be found here.




EXECUTIVE ORDER: STATES AND CLIMATE CHANGE


President Obama on Friday issued an executive order instructing federal agencies and states to consider climate change when building federally financed roads, bridges and other infrastructure; intending infrastructure to withstand another Sandy or Katrina. The order also sets up a new interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, involving 20 departments, agencies and other federal offices.  The order also establishes a new ‘climate preparedness and resilience’ task force made up of federal, state and local officials charged with making recommendations.  The taskforce will include the governors of California, Hawaii, Washington, Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Vermont and Guam.



SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE ADVANCES BILL RENEWING CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAMS


On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.822, the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2013, which reauthorizes a number of criminal justice grant programs that support federal, state and local law enforcement. This legislation renews a number of programs related to improving the accuracy and collection of DNA evidence, such as the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program which helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. The bill also extends grants for the enforcement of crime victims’ rights and access to quality legal representation for defendants in state capital cases and directs the National Institute of Justice to work with states to adopt best practices for biological evidence retention. In addition, the bill requires Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program applicants to submit a state-wide plan for how the grants will be used to improve the administration of the criminal justice system. A full agenda and a list of bills considered in the markup may be found here.



FRA PUBLISHES FUNDING AVAILABILITY FOR RAILROAD DISASTER ASSISTANCE


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for disaster assistance to short line railroads. State departments of transportation are invited to submit applications for grants to repair and rehabilitate Class II and Class III railroad infrastructure damaged by hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters in areas for which the President declared a major disaster after January 1, 2008. These projects must have already exhausted all other federal and state resources in order to be eligible for funding. Approximately $1.87 million is available to be expended and FRA may fund one grant or multiple grants of any amount within this limit. Funding will cover up to 80 percent of project costs and the 20 percent match can be provided in non-federal cash, equipment or supplies. The application period will open on November 6 and will close at 5pm EST on December 9. The NOFA can be found here



HOUSE COMMITTEE ADVANCES FEMA REAUTHORIZATION BILL


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked-up a reauthorization bill, H.R. 3300, for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Tuesday. Much of the bill focuses on expanding liability coverage for state and local members of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams who are deployed by FEMA to assist with disasters nationwide. The bill designates members of USAR teams as “federal employees” while activated under FEMA, making them eligible for federal benefits in the case of injury or death while on the job. The bill also addresses modernization of the integrated public alert and warning system (IPAWS). 

Specific to states, the bill requires FEMA to provide IPAWs training for state and local officials and designates a state and local representative on the system’s advisory board. Several amendments were added to the measure, including one adopted by voice vote that would add houses of worship as a type of private nonprofit facility under current law and eligible for FEMA disaster aid. 



HOUSE PASSES VETERANS LEGISLATION

Last Tuesday, the House passed six veterans-related bills under suspension of the rules. 

A bill to address the backlog of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims, H.R. 2189, passed by a roll call vote of 404-1. H.R. 2189 is intended to address a number of issues related to eliminating the veterans benefit claims backlog and expands the use of contract physicians to provide examinations for evaluating claims. 

The Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education Improvement Act, H.R. 2011, a bill that reauthorizes an advisory committee for veterans’ educational issues, passed by a roll call vote of 404-2. 

The Veterans Economic Opportunity Act, H.R. 2481, a bill that would create a new Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration to administer the VA’s vocational, education and other non-compensation programs, passed by voice vote. 

Three other bills that address more minor issues related to the VA’s fiduciary program, H.R. 1405, eligibility for rental assistance for disabled veterans, H.R. 1742, and a Medal of Honor request for two Vietnam service members, H.R. 3304, also passed by voice vote.