December 12, 2016

Legislative Focus: Government Funding, Water Infrastructure Projects

Late Friday night, the Senate passed the short-term funding bill (H.R. 2028) that will keep the government open through April 28, 2017. The Senate then passed The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act (previously known as the Water Resources Development Act) for its final act of business in the 114th Congress. The bill authorizes 30 new Army Corps of Engineers projects, approves major watershed restoration programs from the Great Lakes to Lake Tahoe and authorizes $150 million to help the city of Flint, Michigan, recover from a lead contamination crisis.

Both chambers will return for the start of the 115th Congress on Jan. 3rd. The House and Senate will continue to hold pro forma sessions to preclude recess appointments.

The Week in Review

The 21st Century Cures Agreement
The comprehensive medical omnibus bill, the 21st Century Cures act, passed the Senate last week, 94-5.  The agreement modifies current federal processes for medical research, drug development and medical innovations to cure and treat diseases and medical conditions. The bill reauthorizes the National instates of Health (NIH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and changes FDA procedures and processes for drug distribution and approval. The bill provides a total $6.3 billion for NIH medical research ($4.8 billion), FDA activities ($500 million) and opioid abuse response ($1 billion over two years for state grant programs). The funding is not mandatory, meaning it would be subject to the traditional appropriation process. The bill provided mental health reform, changes to Medicare and Medicaid and allows small employers to provide certain reimbursement plans for employees to purchase their own health insurance. A link to the section-by-section can be found here.

Administration Releases Final Rules on the Implementation of Assessments in ESSA and Additional Resources 
The U.S. Department of Education released two final rules for implementation of state assessment systems under Title I, Part A and Title I, Part B of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title I, part A addresses annual statewide assessments and Title I, part B provides additional framework for a pilot program that will allow seven states to develop innovative new approaches to statewide assessments. A summary from the department of both the final rules can be found here.

EPA Releases WIFIA Rules
Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released two rules related to its implementation of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. The first rule, the Credit Assistance for Water Infrastructure Projects (interim-final rule), provides the administrative framework for implementing the WIFIA program and establishes guidelines for the application process, selection criteria, and project selection. It also defines threshold requirements for credit assistance, limits on credit assistance, reporting requirements, and the application of other federal statutes. The second rule, Fees for the Water Infrastructure Project Applications under WIFIA (proposed rule), would establish the fee schedule for the application process. For more information on the two rules, please click here. For additional information on implementation of the WIFIA program, please click here.

House Committee Discusses State Preemption in Regulating Driverless Cars 
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a roundtable to discuss the impact of autonomous vehicles on the nation’s surface transportation systems. The committee heard from five participants, including the Under Secretary for Policy at the Department of Transportation, Hon. Blair Anderson, who was asked by Rep. Garret Graves (R-IL-6) and Rep. Lipinski (R-IL-3) whether the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) needs additional authority to ensure the long-term goal of automation. Anderson noted the “concept of state preemption” will be discussed further at NHTSA upcoming public meeting on Dec. 12, 2016 in Arlington, VA. NHTSA will be seeking input on the Model State Policy and Modern Regulatory Tools sections of the policy guidance on highly automated vehicles (HAVs) released this September.

White House Announces Actions Supporting Computer Science for All Initiative
In recognition of Computer Science Education Week, the administration announced two new actions by federal agencies supporting the Computer Science for All initiative. The National Science Foundation (NSF) will invest $20 million in fiscal year 2017 in the Computer Science for All: Researcher Practitioner Partnerships program, which seeks to develop best practices to provide teachers with the preparation, professional development and ongoing support they need to teach rigorous computer science courses and incorporate computer science in classroom instruction. In addition, an interagency workgroup stood up by the National Science and Technology Council will develop a strategic framework to guide federal efforts to support the integration of computer science and computational thinking into K-12 education. The administration also announced efforts to expand other STEM learning opportunities, unveiled new commitments from more than 250 organizations to expand students’ access to computer science learning opportunities and highlighted the work of 70 districts and more than 280 schools to expand computer science programs. For more information, see the administration’s fact sheet on Computer Science for All here.