December 15, 2014

Legislative Focus: Nominations, Tax Extenders, TRIA

The Senate convened at 10 a.m. today with votes beginning at 5:30 p.m.  On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on twenty three nominations and the Senate will vote on them throughout the week.  After voting on the nominations, the Senate could consider the House passed tax extenders legislation along with the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, and the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).

The House is in recess for the remainder of the calendar year.

News and Notes

Senate Funds Government for 2015

Saturday night the Senate passed the omnibus appropriations bill 56-40.  The bill funds the government through September 30, 2015 except for the Department of Homeland Security, which will be funded through February 27, 2015.   The House passed the bill on a 219-206 vote.  67 Republicans voted against it, and 57 Democrats voted for the measure.

Senate Passes Defense Authorization Bill 

Last week the Senate passed H.R. 3739, the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), by a vote of 89-11. Several governors’ priorities were included in the bill, such as limiting cuts to Army National Guard end strength and combat aviation capability in FY 2015, and establishing an Army commission to examine future force structure requirements. The NDAA text is available here, along with an explanatory statement and a committee summary. The bill passed the House on December 4 and the president is expected to sign it this week.

Congress Approves Several Cybersecurity Bills

Congress approved several bills that would codify certain federal cybersecurity missions and other initiatives that improve engagement with state and local governments and the private sector. Both the House and Senate passed (via suspension of the rules and unanimous consent, respectively) S. 2519, theNational Cybersecurity Protection Act of 2014, a bill that authorizes the operations of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCICC) and other programs. The bill requires state and local government representation in the NCCIC and requires coordination with state and local governments during the development of cyber incident response plans. Both chambers also passed S.1353, the Cybersecurity Act of 2013, a bill that authorizes the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to work with private sector critical infrastructure owners and operators to implement NIST’s cybersecurity framework, released earlier this year. The bill requires NIST to consult with state and local governments in carrying out its engagement program. S.1353 also authorizes NIST to work with state and local governments on cybersecurity workforce development and education programs such as the federal Scholarship for Service program.

House Introduces Comprehensive Response to Opioid Addiction

A bipartisan group of House members introduced legislation last week designed to support comprehensive state and local efforts to address opioid addiction. Introduced by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Tom Marino (R-PA), Karen Bass (D-CA), David Joyce (R-OH) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is the companion to legislation (S. 2839) introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in September. CARA would provide planning and implementation grants to help states strengthen their prescription drug monitoring programs, enhance prevention and public education efforts, educate providers and expand access to treatment. Among other provisions, the bill would establish best-practice guidelines for prescribing opioid painkillers, increase the availability of naloxone to law enforcement and other first responders and expand prescription drug take-back programs.

FERC Announces Technical Conferences on EPA’s Proposed Rule

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced plans to hold a series of technical conferences to discuss energy infrastructure and potential reliability effects on the power grid resulting from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan proposed rule for existing power plants. In addition to a national overview technical conference on February 19, 2015, at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., FERC will hold three regional conferences in the following cities on dates to be announced: Washington, D.C., (Eastern Region); St. Louis, MO, (Central Region); and Denver, CO, (Western Region). Each of the regional conferences will provide an opportunity for states and interested stakeholders to discuss: potential reliability effects in each region under various compliance approaches; potential effect on power system operations and generation dispatch within each region; and potential effect on each region’s current infrastructure, as well as additional infrastructure that may be required (for example,  electric transmission, generation, or natural gas pipelines). For more information on the technical conferences, please click here.

Obama Launches Competitive Grant Competition for Apprenticeships

Thursday, President Obama, in conjunction with the Department of Labor, launched a competitive grant program – the American Apprenticeship Grants – which will provide more than $100 million of HB-1 visa funds to support 25 grants for interested stakeholders, including state and local governments. Specifically, the apprenticeship program will focus on three core principles: support innovative apprenticeship models in new, high-growth fields such as health care or advanced manufacturing; ensure apprenticeship programs provide a pathway for career advancement; and identify and scale out apprenticeship models that work. Applications will be accepted until April 30, 2015. For more information on how to apply, please click here.

Senate Passes Death in Custody Act

Last week, the Senate passed H.R. 1447, the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, ​by unanimous consent. The bill requires states to provide quarterly reports to the Department of Justice (DoJ) with certain information regarding the death of any person who is detained, arrested or incarcerated in a state or local correctional facility or jail. Non-compliance with the reporting requirement can result in a ten percent penalty to a state’s allocation of Byrne Justice Grant program funding. Federal law enforcement and corrections facilities are also required to meet the bill’s reporting requirements. The House passed the measure last year, so the bill now moves to the President’s desk for signature.

Preschool Development Grant Winners Announced

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that 18 states have been awarded a total of $226 million under the Preschool Development Grants program.  Nevada was among the winning states.  Under the grant program, states with either relatively small or no state-funded preschool programs were eligible for development grants while states with more comprehensive preschool programs were eligible for expansion grants. Out of the 36 states that applied, five will receive development grants and 13 will receive expansion grants. States receiving grants will develop or expand high quality preschool programs in regionally diverse areas chosen by the state and ranging from urban neighborhoods to small towns. Through these new grants, more than 33,000 additional children are estimated to be served in state preschool programs. In the omnibus appropriations bill released yesterday, Congress provided $250 million for another round of the program in FY 2015.

Senate Clears Newborn Screening Bill

Last week, the Senate approved a bill (H.R. 1281) to reauthorize and expand federal programs that help states improve their newborn screening programs. The Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act, passed by unanimous consent, would provide $19.9 million annually through fiscal year 2019 to support state efforts to ensure that every newborn is tested for certain conditions at birth. The measure would also support the continuation of a panel that sets screening recommendations for states, a federal clearinghouse for newborn screening information and new efforts to ensure laboratory quality and surveillance for newborn screening programs. Passed by the House in June, the bill now awaits the President’s signature.

Departments of Education and Justice Release Correctional Education Guidance

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a correctional education guidance packagedesigned to aid states and local agencies in their efforts to strengthen the quality of education services provided to incarcerated youth. The guidance was derived from recommendations provided in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force reportreleased in May. The package includes guiding principles for providing quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings as well as several dear colleague letters addressing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for students with disabilities in correctional facilities, the civil rights of juvenile justice students and information regarding access to federal Pell Grants.