The Week Ahead in Congress: Feb. 23 – 27

By Rachna Choudhry, 2/22/15

From our Hill Sources: Congress is back from its President’s Day recess, in time to work on Homeland Security appropriations, which expires on Friday, Feb. 27. The big sticking point in the Senate is whether to fund the President’s immigration executive actions. The House will hold two hearings related to the President's executive actions addressing undocumented immigrants. It will also vote on replacing No Child Left Behind.

This week, residents of the District of Columbia (DC) are looking to Congress to see if it will respond to the District’s new marijuana legalization initiative, which voters overwhelmingly passed last November. Congress has 30 business days to review District proposals before they become law. In this case, the review period ends on Thursday, Feb. 26. Many DC residents and some in Congress question whether Congress should be involved in local governance. Some even support statehood for the District of Columbia, including President Obama.

Share your voice on POPVOX!

The President’s Immigration Executive Actions

On February 16, a federal judge issued an order halting an expanded deferred action program, DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), that was to begin last Wednesday. While Judge Andrew Hanen did not consider the merits or constitutionality of the program, he found that the action constituted a rulemaking by the Department of Homeland Security, which would require a period of public comment. The Obama Administration plans to appeal and will request expedited review, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The Judge's order does not affect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which began in 2012 and was not under consideration in the case.

The House will hold two committee hearings this week on President Obama's executive actions shielding certain undocumented immigrants from deportation. The House Judiciary Committee will hear from a panel of law professors and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt at their hearing, the "Unconstitutionality of Obama's Executive Actions on Immigration," and the House Oversight Committee will hold a “Review of the Department of Homeland Security’s Policies and Procedures for the Apprehension, Detention, and Release of Non-Citizens Unlawfully Present in the United States.” 

Here’s a look at some of the proposals in Congress responding to the President’s Executive Actions:

  • Uphold the Oath Americans Trust and Honor (OATH) Resolution (HRes 21)

    “Would authorize legal action against the Administration for President Obama’s latest immigration overreach,” according to the bill sponsor

  • Authorizing a Lawsuit against the President on his Immigration Actions (HRes 11)

    According to the resolution’s sponsor, “I have reintroduced legislation to authorize the House of Representatives to initiate litigation against the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional executive amnesty for illegal aliens. The federal courts are best suited to determine if President Obama is exceeding his authority, and, if so, how to reverse it.” 

  • Repeal Executive Amnesty Act (HR 191 and S 129 in the Senate)

    According to bill sponsors, it would: defund President Obama’s executive amnesty; prohibit DHS or any other federal agency from using funds or fees made available to them to implement, administer, enforce, or carry out any amnesty policies established through executive memos; cut off funding for the president's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty and the broader executive amnesty program announced on Nov. 20, 2014; bar illegal immigrants granted deferred action or parole by the Obama administration from accessing certain public benefits including Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare; and prevent illegal immigrants who are granted deferred action from gaining work authorization. 

  • Defund Executive Amnesty Act (HR 227)

    According to the resolution’s sponsor, “My bill defunds all of the President's illegal and unconstitutional actions regarding immigration. Beginning with the Morton Memos and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and covering all of his most recent illegal and unconstitutional acts to expand DACA to 5 million more illegal immigrants. To make sure President Obama doesn't attempt to find other ways to circumvent the Constitution, my bill also has a catch-all provision that bars any similar actions in the future and has language to make it clear illegal immigrants are not authorized to work in the United States. This preserves the Constitution, reinforces the separation of powers, and fulfills Republican promises to the American people in the 2014 election." 

  • Immigration Accountability Act (HR 206)

    “Prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from using any fees to implement its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive order which the president – without the consent of Congress – dramatically expanded in November,” according to the bill sponsor

  • Defund Amnesty Act (HR 155)

    “It prohibits the use of any appropriated funds for the purpose of carrying out the president’s executive order,” according to the bill sponsor. “This is something every member of Congress, regardless of party, should be supporting because at its core, it maintains an all-too-fragile balance of power among the branches and reinforces Congress’ constitutional role in these matters.” 

  • Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act (HR 38)

    To prohibit the executive branch from exempting from removal categories of aliens considered under the immigration laws to be unlawfully present in the United States.

  • Prevention of Executive Amnesty Act (HR 31)

    “To block the president's executive amnesty plans by prohibiting funding from being used to implement the orders,” according to the bill sponsor

Homeland Security Appropriations

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson again urged Congress to pass a clean, full-year appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security on or before February 27, when the current funding bill expires:

I continue to stress the need for a clean, full-year DHS appropriations bill for FY 2015, unburdened by politically charged amendments that attempt to defund our executive actions on immigration reform. The President has made plain that he will veto a bill that includes such language. DHS is operating on a continuing resolution that expires on February 27. As I have said many times now, as long as DHS is funded by a CR, there are a whole series of activities vital to homeland security and public safety that cannot be undertaken.– Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson 

 

For several weeks, the Senate has been working on the House-passed Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which includes language to defund President Obama’s immigration executive actions:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 – House-passed version (HR 240)

    Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Jeanne Shaneen (D-NH) have introduced a “clean” appropriations funding bill:

  • ”Clean” Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 (S 272)

    “A complete, clean bill to fund DHS operations through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2015. Shaheen and Mikulski used the House and Senate’s December DHS compromise to write their bill (S 272), and kept it free of extraneous policy riders that would threaten vital homeland security operations. DHS funding is set to expire at the end of February,” according to the sponsors. “Incorporates critical increases in funding and support for border security, cybersecurity, the Secret Service and other national security initiatives. The legislation would fully fund DHS operations for the remainder of FY 2015, and also includes complete disaster funding.”

Also in the House…

The House is expected to vote on these bills:

  • Student Success Act (HR 5)

    Will replace No Child Left Behind and “reduce the federal footprint, restore local control, and empower parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable for effectively teaching students,” according to the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Replaces the current national accountability scheme based on high stakes tests with state-led accountability systems, returning responsibility for measuring student and school performance to states and school districts. Ensures parents continue to have the information they need to hold local schools accountable. Eliminates more than 65 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary programs and replaces this maze of programs with a Local Academic Flexible Grant, helping schools better support students. Protects state and local autonomy over decisions in the classroom by preventing the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other common standards or assessments, as well as reining in the secretary’s regulatory authority. Empowers parents with more school choice options by continuing support for magnet schools and expanding charter school opportunities, as well as allowing Title I funds to follow low-income children to the traditional public or charter school of the parent’s choice. Strengthens existing efforts to improve student performance among targeted student populations, including English learners and homeless children.”

  • Drinking Water Protection Act (HR 212)

    — Bipartisan — Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) introduced this bill following last summer’s water emergency in Toledo, Ohio caused by the increased presence of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill “would require the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and submit a strategic plan to Congress within 90 days of enactment for assessing and managing the risk associated with harmful algal toxins in drinking water.” 

  • Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act (HR 734)

    — Bipartisan — “To reduce the reporting workload and increase efficiency at the Federal Communications Commission,” according to the House Energy & Commerce Committee. “The bill consolidates eight discrete reports into one thorough and holistic review of the communications marketplace, with the aim of giving a more accurate view of the advancements and challenges in the fast moving and innovative communications and technology sector. It also reduces the burden on the FCC by eliminating outdated and unnecessary reports.” 

  • STEM Education Act (HR 1020)

    — Bipartisan — To define STEM education to include computer science, and to support existing STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation.

  • Strengthening Education through Research Act (S 227)

    — Bipartisan — “Would reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which authorizes funding for the research activities of the U.S. Department of Education, including the Institute for Education Sciences, and will help to improve the quality of education research in the United States and make research more relevant and usable for teachers, principals, school districts and states,” according to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)

  • HR 529

    — Bipartisan — “Would expand, modernize, and strengthen tax-free 529 college savings plans,” according to the bill sponsor. “The importance and popularity of 529 college savings plans have grown substantially as more middle class families have used them to save for college. Since the bipartisan creation of Section 529 in 1996, these plans have gone from nothing to nearly 12 million accounts and resulted in college savings of more than $225 billion.” 

The District of Columbia’s Marijuana Initiative and Congressional Review

As early as this week, marijuana may become legal in the District of Columbia. Last November, voters in the District overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which would legalize the limited possession (up to two ounces, or 100 joints according to the Washington Post) and cultivation of marijuana (up to six plants) by adults who are 21 or older. Unlike marijuana laws in other states, the initiative did not create a legal, regulated market for marijuana sales, but left it up to District Council.

Then, Congress got involved.

Under the District’s Home Rule government, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the Council before it can become law. It can disapprove a District measure within a review period of 30 business days, which in this case ends on approximately Feb. 26, 2015.

Congress’s federal FY 2015 funding bill known as “cromnibus”, which passed in December 2014, included provision introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that challenged the District’s ability to enact marijuana laws by blocking it from spending funds to legalize or regulate the sale of marijuana. As a result, barring any additional Congressional intervention, the District’s marijuana law will go into effect as early as Thursday, Feb. 26—without any regulations in place governing a marijuana marketplace.

This month, President Obama proposed his budget for FY 2016, which would limit the prohibition passed by Congress to federal funds only—allowing the District to use local funds to enact marijuana laws or regulations. More broadly, the Administration supports the principle of Home Rule for the District, as well as statehood, and believes Congress should not interfere with local decisions. As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “we do not believe that Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the ability of the citizens of the District of Columbia to make decisions related to how they should govern their community.” 

Related Bills in Congress

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to address how the District of Columbia is governed:


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

The Week Ahead in Congress: Feb. 16 – 20

By Rachna Choudhry, 2/16/15

It’s President’s Day – and Congress will be in recess this week. The deadline to fund the Department of Homeland Security looms ahead. Lawmakers have until Feb. 27 to avoid an agency shutdown. When Congress returns next week, they may also consider the President’s Draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force. And yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration released a set of draft regulations for the legalization of commercial drone flight. 

Learn more from our Hill Sources, then share your voice on POPVOX!

(On the right is a photo of the Thomas Jefferson statue in the US Capitol.)

Homeland Security Appropriations

The Senate again failed to pass the House Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which included language to defund President Obama’s immigration executive actions:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 – House-passed version (HR 240)

    Makes appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations Committee. (Bill text)

    Background: In January, the House passed its version of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill – the last of the 12 annual funding bills to be considered for the remainder of FY 2015. The other 11 bills were approved in 2014, but Congress “punted” on this one to move the discussion around the President’s immigration executive actions to the 114th Congress. Lawmakers now have until Feb. 27 to pass a Homeland Security Appropriations bill – and avoid an agency shutdown.

Last week, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged her colleagues to take up and pass the “clean” appropriations funding bill that she introduced with Senator Jeanne Shaneen (D-NH):

  • ”Clean” Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 (S 272)

    “A complete, clean bill to fund DHS operations through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2015. Shaheen and Mikulski used the House and Senate’s December DHS compromise to write their bill (S 272), and kept it free of extraneous policy riders that would threaten vital homeland security operations. DHS funding is set to expire at the end of February,” according to the sponsors. “Incorporates critical increases in funding and support for border security, cybersecurity, the Secret Service and other national security initiatives. The legislation would fully fund DHS operations for the remainder of FY 2015, and also includes complete disaster funding.”  (Bill text)

    From our Hill Sources: The entire Democratic caucus is calling on Congress to pass a clean DHS funding bill. Forty-five Senators, including two Independents, who caucus with Democrats, signed a joint letter stating their support. (Read the letter)

Use of Military Force Against ISIL

Last week, the President submitted to Congress a draft resolution that “would authorize the continued use of military force to degrade and defeat ISIL.”

I have directed a comprehensive and sustained strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. As part of this strategy, US military forces are conducting a systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Although existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions, I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with the Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIL.” – President Obama

  • The President’s Draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)

    Would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving US or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. Would also authorize the use of US forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces. (Source: Letter from the President to Congress

Background on Congressional Authorization and the Constitution

The Constitution separates the power to declare war (Legislative Branch) from the power to conduct war (Executive Branch). In other words, Congress decides whether to fight, and the President, as Commander-in-Chief, manages the fight authorized by Congress. In the last century, Congress has authorized major military actions, including World War I and II, the Gulf War, the response to the 9/11 attacks, and the Iraq War. The 2001 authorization for the use of military force is the longest continuously used Congressional use of force authorization.

According to the President, his newly proposed AUMF does not address the 2001 AUMF, but he is “committed to working with the Congress and the American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the 2001 AUMF.” In his letter to Congress, he states that “enacting an AUMF that is specific to the threat posed by ISIL could serve as a model for how we can work together to tailor the authorities granted by the 2001 AUMF.” 

Related Bills in Congress

Here are some related proposals introduced in Congress:

  • Sunset of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act (S 526)

    Would sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force after three years. Would “set out a three-year timeline that would allow Congress and the next President to review what is being accomplished, have appropriate consultations, and decide on a forward course of action,” according to the bill sponsors. (Bill text)

  • Comprehensive Solution to ISIL Resolution (HJRes 30)

    “Requires the President to submit to Congress a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” ISIL within 90 days of enactment, according to the sponsor. “Advances a comprehensive strategy that is regionally-led and incorporates critical political, economic and diplomatic components and “re-establishes Congress’s Constitutionally-mandate role in war making.” (Bill text)

    From our Hill Sources: The sponsor, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), was the only Member of the House who voted against the AUMF in 2001.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a set of draft regulations for the legalization of commercial drone flight. The aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, not fly over 500 feet in latitude or faster than 100 miles per hour. And, “at all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.” In addition, operators would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. (See the summary of proposed regulations)

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds.

Related Bills in Congress

There have been several bills introduced in Congress related to unmanned aircraft or drones – for civilian and government use:

  • Designating Requirements On Notification of Executive-ordered Strikes Act (DRONES Act) (HR 137)

    “Will limit preplanned lethal operations deliberately targeting citizens of the United States,” according to the bill sponsor. “Currently, the President can delegate decisions about targeting citizens for lethal strikes. The DRONES Act prohibits this delegation in order to ensure the President is accountable and requires him to personally confirm a citizen’s status as an enemy combatant and the necessity of lethal force. To further ensure that accountability and adequate oversight, it also requires the President, after the attack, to notify Congress of such operations with a detailed explanation of how enemy combatant status was determined and why lethal force was necessary.” (Bill text)

  • Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act (HR 819 and S 387)

    “Opens the door for public-private partnerships to support UAS research, allowing universities to accept research funding from the private sector, and saving American taxpayers money. Requires the FAA to remove bureaucratic hurdles to research operations for safe beyond ‘line of sight’ flying, an important research tool for medium- and long-distance applications,” according to the bill sponsors. (Bill text)

  • Responsible Skies Act (HR 798)

    To prohibit the flying of unmanned recreational aircraft near commercial airports. (Bill text)

  • HR 466

    To prohibit the Central Intelligence Agency from using an unmanned aerial vehicle to carry out a weapons strike or other deliberately lethal action and to transfer the authority to conduct such strikes or lethal action to the Department of Defense. (Bill text)

  • Unmanned Aircraft System Improvement Act (S 159)

    A bill to improve the operation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Unmanned Aircraft System Program. “Would prohibit the procurement of new UAS, require DHS to conduct continuous, 100 percent surveillance of the Southern border and coordinate with the Department of Defense to ensure the program is utilizing “best management practices” to improve national security and require DHS to submit a detailed report to Congress regarding the program’s effectiveness, according to the bill’s sponsors. (Bill text)

 


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a set of draft regulations for the legalization of commercial drone flight.

The aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, not fly over 500 feet in latitude or faster than 100 miles per hour. And, “at all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.” In addition, operators would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. (See the summary of proposed regulations)

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds.

Related Bills in Congress

There have been several bills introduced in Congress related to unmanned aircraft or drones – for civilian and government use:

  • Designating Requirements On Notification of Executive-ordered Strikes Act (DRONES Act) (HR 137)

    “Will limit preplanned lethal operations deliberately targeting citizens of the United States,” according to the bill sponsor. “Currently, the President can delegate decisions about targeting citizens for lethal strikes. The DRONES Act prohibits this delegation in order to ensure the President is accountable and requires him to personally confirm a citizen’s status as an enemy combatant and the necessity of lethal force. To further ensure that accountability and adequate oversight, it also requires the President, after the attack, to notify Congress of such operations with a detailed explanation of how enemy combatant status was determined and why lethal force was necessary.” (Bill text)

  • Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act (HR 819 and S 387)

    “Opens the door for public-private partnerships to support UAS research, allowing universities to accept research funding from the private sector, and saving American taxpayers money. Requires the FAA to remove bureaucratic hurdles to research operations for safe beyond ‘line of sight’ flying, an important research tool for medium- and long-distance applications,” according to the bill sponsors. (Bill text)

  • Responsible Skies Act (HR 798)

    To prohibit the flying of unmanned recreational aircraft near commercial airports. (Bill text)

  • HR 466

    To prohibit the Central Intelligence Agency from using an unmanned aerial vehicle to carry out a weapons strike or other deliberately lethal action and to transfer the authority to conduct such strikes or lethal action to the Department of Defense. (Bill text)

  • Unmanned Aircraft System Improvement Act (S 159)

    A bill to improve the operation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Unmanned Aircraft System Program. “Would prohibit the procurement of new UAS, require DHS to conduct continuous, 100 percent surveillance of the Southern border and coordinate with the Department of Defense to ensure the program is utilizing “best management practices” to improve national security and require DHS to submit a detailed report to Congress regarding the program’s effectiveness, according to the bill’s sponsors. (Bill text)

 


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

The Week Ahead in Congress: Feb. 9 – 13

By Rachna Choudhry, 2/8/15

It’s a warm (60s) day in Washington, DC – a good break from the cold winter – as Members of Congress prepare for a busy week of votes.

From our Hill Sources: The Senate will continue to work on a bill to fund the Dept. of Homeland Security. If lawmakers don’t pass a bill by Feb. 27th, the agency will shut down. The House Majority’s theme for the week is “Planting the Seeds of Growth in our Local Economies,” and they plan to vote on two tax bills. In addition, the House will consider the Senate’s version of the Keystone XL approval bill.

Share your voice on POPVOX – and check out our newly redesigned “New Bills” page!

“Planting the Seeds of Growth in our Local Economies”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s memo to House Republicans outlined their February agenda. This week’s theme is “Planting the Seeds of Growth in our Local Economies.” The House will vote on a bill to "update and make permanent provisions of the tax code related to charitable giving” and another to “make permanent the increased expensing benefits for small businesses.” (Read the McCarthy memo.)

  • Fighting Hunger Incentive Act (HR 644)

    To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permanently extend and expand the charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory. According to the bill sponsor: “I have heard from food bank volunteers, farmers, small business employees, and restaurateurs about the positive impact this bill will have on their ability to donate food to the food banks and help their neighbors in need. Instead of wasting perfectly good food, the goal is to have it donated by providing a tax deduction over the cost of goods sold if the food is donated to a charitable organization.” (Bill text)

  • America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act (HR 636)

    —Bipartisan— According to the bill sponsors: “From 2010-2013, the expensing rules outlined in Section 179 of the tax code allowed small business owners, farmers, and ranchers to immediately deduct up to $500,000 in investments in property, equipment, and computer software rather than depreciating such costs over time. Late last year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a measure to retroactively extend these levels for 2014. However, over the years, the deduction limit has varied; this year it dropped to $25,000 of qualifying property. The Tiberi-Kind bill would make permanent the levels effective during the 2010-2014 tax years allowing taxpayers to expense up to $500,000 in investments in property, equipment, and computer software with the deduction phased out after investments exceed $2 million. These amounts would be adjusted for inflation.” (Bill text)

Transportation Safety

The House may also vote on several bills related to the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and airport security:

  • TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act (HR 719)

    —Bipartisan— “Ensures that funding is used wisely by TSA,” according to the bill sponsor. “It would require that TSA Criminal Investigators spend at least 50 percent of their time investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected of committing a crime. Currently, TSA does not necessitate that its Criminal Investigators meet this requirement, despite being considered law enforcement officers and receiving premium pay.” (Bill text)

  • Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act (HR 720)

    —Bipartisan— “Directs the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a variety of activities to enhance security and communication at domestic airports, specifically requiring TSA to verify that all airports have appropriate security response plans. The bill is named after the TSA agent who tragically lost his life in the line of duty in a Nov. 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport,” according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text)

  • Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act (HR 710)

    —Bipartisan— To require the Secretary of Homeland Security to prepare a comprehensive security assessment of the transportation security card program. (Bill text)

Also in the House…

The House may also vote on:

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act (HR 810)

    To authorize the programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Intended to reaffirm Congress’s commitment to NASA as a multi mission agency with programs in science, aeronautics, exploration, and human spaceflight, and make clear that Mars should be NASA’s primary goal,” according to the House Science Committee.  (Bill summaryBill text)

  • Congressional Gold Medal (HR 431)

    —Bipartisan— To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Bill text)

  • Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act (S 1)

    — Bipartisan — "Authorizes TransCanada to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the US Gulf Coast, transporting an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day to US refineries, which includes 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Upon passage, a presidential permit would no longer be needed to approve the project," according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text.)

In the Senate…

Last week, the Senate failed to pass the House Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which included language to defund President Obama’s immigration executive actions:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 – House-passed version (HR 240)

    Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations Committee

    Background: Earlier in January, the House passed its version of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill – the last of the 12 annual funding bills to be considered for the remainder of FY 2015. The other 11 bills were approved in 2014, but Congress “punted” on this one to move the discussion around the President’s immigration executive actions to the 114th Congress. Lawmakers now have until Feb. 27 to pass a Homeland Security Appropriations bill – and avoid an agency shutdown.

The Senate may also consider a hunting and habitat package:

  • Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (S 405)

    —Bipartisan— “Includes a broad array of measures to enhance opportunities for hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts; reauthorize key conservation programs; improve access to public lands; and help boost the outdoor recreation economy,” according to the bill sponsors. (Bill text)

    Among the provisions in the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act are:
    Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act: Makes the existing exemption from EPA regulation for lead shot permanent, and adds lead tackle to the exempted products, leaving regulatory authority to the US Fish & Wildlife Service and state game and fish agencies.
    – Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act: Extends and increases states’ authority to allocate Pittman-Robertson funding for shooting ranges on public lands, and encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local governments to maintain shooting ranges.
    – Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act: Enables the Secretary of the Interior to authorize import permits of 41 Polar Bears legally harvested from approved populations in Canada before the polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.
    – Farmer and Hunter Protection Act: Authorizes state extension offices to determine “normal agricultural practices.” This will remedy recent situations in which the Fish and Wildlife Service has interpreted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to include hunting of migrating birds on rolled rice fields as illegal baiting, resulting in fines up to $10,000 for farmers and hunters.
    – Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act: Requires Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands to be open for recreational hunting fishing and shooting unless specifically closed. National Parks and Wildlife Refuges will remain exempt from this provision, and the BLM or Forest Service will retain authority to implement restrictions when needed.
    – Permits for Film Crews of Five People or Less: Directs the US Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to issue permits and assess fees on an annual-basis for commercial filming on federal land for crews of five people or fewer. This will allow for greater access for small media groups and individuals. – Carrying guns according to state law on Corps of Engineers water resource projects.
    – Equal Access to Justice Act and Judgment Fund Transparency: Requires public reporting of fees, awards, and payments provided under the Equal Access to Justice Act, as well as payments made from the Judgment Fund for claims against the federal government, along with relevant information pertaining to each case. The report would be made accessible online, with protections for private information regarding individual litigants.
    – Transporting Bows Across National Park Service Lands: Authorizes the lawful transportation of bows and crossbows on National Park Service lands. The National Park Service is prohibited from restricting the lawful transportation of bows and crossbows that remain in the vehicle while in a National Park unit.
    – Making Public Lands Public: Requires the greater of 1.5 percent or $10 million of annual Land and Water Conservation Funds be made available for the improvement of recreational access to existing federal lands with significantly restricted public access.
    – HUNT Act: Directs all federal public land management agencies to identify high priority federal lands where hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are permitted but where access is non-existent or significantly restricted, and develop plans to provide access.
    – Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization (FLTFA): Reauthorizes FLTFA, enabling the government to sell public land for ranching, community development, and other projects. The revenue allows federal agencies to acquire high-priority in-holdings from willing sellers.
    – North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA): Reauthorizes NAWCA through 2019, providing matching grants to organizations, state/local governments, and private landowners for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands critical to migratory birds. This program generates three additional dollars for every federal dollar and reduces the annual authorization level from $75 to $50 million.
    – National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Reauthorization: Reauthorizes NFWF through 2019, directing conservation dollars to pressing environmental needs with matching private funds. NFWF supports conservation projects across the country and administers the Gulf Environmental Fund established to remedy harm from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

And Answers to the Super Bowl Trivia

Last week, we shared House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s trivia question to the House Republicans in honor of Super Bowl Sunday. Thanks to those of you with responses! Here’s the answer:

  • Which 4 universities sport both a Super Bowl-winning QB and a US President?

    The University of Michigan (President Gerald Ford and quarterback Tom Brady); the U.S. Naval Academy (President Jimmy Carter and quarterback Roger Staubach); Stanford University (President Herbert Hoover and quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and John Elway); and Ohio's Miami University (President Benjamin Harrison and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Top 20: January 2015

Congress survived the first month of the 114th Congressional session! In January alone, Members of the House introduced 720 bills and resolutions, and Senators introduced 384. And yet Congress managed to pass only one bill which became law in January: the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (HR 26), which extends of terrorism insurance for commercial buildings.

The First Month in the Senate

The Senate already made history in January. It voted on more amendments than it considered in all of 2014. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained: “We’ve actually reached a milestone here that I think is noteworthy for the Senate. We just cast our 15th roll-call vote on an amendment on this bill, which is more votes — more roll-call votes on amendments than the entire United States Senate in all of 2014.” (The reason for the series of votes was the Keystone XL pipeline approval, which was passed by the Senate last week.)

The First Month in the House

The House passed 27 bills in January, which are now pending in the Senate. However, House Speaker John Boehner – despite having the largest majority in the House since the 1940s –pulled two bills off the House floor this month: one restricting abortions after 20 weeks, and the other, a border security bill. 

The House, in its first month, is also considering another lawsuit against the President, this time over his executive actions that gave legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. In a conference meeting, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said House members would vote on a resolution authorizing the House to take legal actions, including filing a new lawsuit against the President or joining the lawsuit filed by 26 states against the executive action. (The House has another lawsuit pending against the President regarding the Affordable Care Act, which it filed last year.)

The House did work together in a bipartisan fashion to pass a series of bills related to human trafficking awareness and prevention. These 10 bills – which make up more than a third of all bills the House passed this month – now go to the Senate for consideration. (See the list of bills.)

The First Month on POPVOX

On POPVOX, the Fair Tax Act has gotten the most attention among our users in January. More than 2,100 verified constituents shared their voice about the bill – the vast majority supporting it. The Responsible Body Armor Possession Act (HR 378) also received significant attention among POPVOX users. (Incidentally, this bill was also the most searched bill on Congress.gov, the Library of Congress’s website.) Here’s a look at January’s Top 20 list of bills on POPVOX.

POPVOX Top 20: January 2015

Here are the bills and proposals that POPVOX users weighed in on with Congress in January. 

  • #1 Fair Tax Act (HR 25)

    "To promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national sales tax to be administered primarily by the States," according to the bill summary. Repeals the income tax, employment tax, and estate and gift tax. Imposes a national sales tax on the use or consumption in the United States of taxable property or services. Sets the sales tax rate at 23% in 2017, with adjustments to the rate in subsequent years. Allows exemptions from the tax for property or services purchased for business, export, or investment purposes, and for state government functions. Prohibits the funding of the Internal Revenue Service after FY2019. On POPVOX: 2,028 Support | 106 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on the first day of the Congressional session, 1/6/2015.

  • #2 Responsible Body Armor Possession Act (HR 378)

    To prohibit the purchase, ownership, or possession of enhanced body armor by civilians, with exceptions. On POPVOX: 13 Support | 1,340 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/14/2015.

  • #3 Fair Tax Act (S 155)

    "To promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national sales tax to be administered primarily by the States," according to the bill summary. Repeals the income tax, employment tax, and estate and gift tax. Imposes a national sales tax on the use or consumption in the United States of taxable property or services. Sets the sales tax rate at 23% in 2017, with adjustments to the rate in subsequent years. Allows exemptions from the tax for property or services purchased for business, export, or investment purposes, and for state government functions. Prohibits the funding of the Internal Revenue Service after FY2019. On POPVOX: 1,017 Support | 77 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/13/2015.

  • #4 Keystone XL Pipeline Act (S 1)

    — Bipartisan — "Authorizes TransCanada to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the US Gulf Coast, transporting an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day to US refineries, which includes 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Upon passage, a presidential permit would no longer be needed to approve the project," according to the bill sponsors. On POPVOX: 420 Support | 167 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the Senate on 1/29/2015. Sent to the House for consideration. (The House passed its own version of the bill.)

  • #5 Repeal Executive Amnesty Act (S 129)

    A bill to repeal executive immigration overreach, to clarify that the proper constitutional authority for immigration policy belongs to the legislative branch. On POPVOX: 332 Support | 43 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/8/2015.

  • #6 Authorizing a Lawsuit Against the President  (HRes 11)

    Providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President or other executive branch officials inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution of the United States with respect to the implementation of the immigration laws. On POPVOX: 264 Support | 54 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on the first day of the Congressional session, 1/6/2015.

  • #7 Defund Executive Amnesty Act (HR 227)

    Prohibits the use of funds for certain immigration-related policies, including executive orders or any other executive policy issued after March 11, 2011, that provides for parole, employment authorization, deferred action, or any other immigration benefit or relief for individuals who are unlawfully present in the United States (with exceptions for asylum, temporary protected status, or cancellation of removal by an immigration judge). On POPVOX: 276 Support | 41 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/8/2015.

  • #8 Keystone XL Pipeline Act (HR 3)

    To approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the House on 1/9/2015. The Senate passed its version, and the two version will be reconciled before going to the President for consideration. On POPVOX: 217 Support | 83 Oppose

  • #9 Free Trade with Cuba Act (HR 403)

    “Would lift the long-standing embargo on trade with Cuba to give American companies their fair share,” according to the bill sponsor. Cuba sits 90 miles off the US coast and has a GDP of $60 billion. On POPVOX: 82 Support | 182 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/16/2015.

  • #10 Clay Hunt SAV Act (HR 203)

    — Bipartisan — Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all VA mental health services for veterans. Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists. Requires evaluations of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care. Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning Servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services. (Source: Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN)). On POPVOX: 194 Support | 61 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the House on 1/21/2015; and by the Senate on 2/3/2015. Now goes to the President for his signature.

  • #11 Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act (HR 37)

    A package of 11 bills introduced in the 114th Congress "which make it easier for small businesses to grow and hire, creating more opportunity for all," according to the bill sponsorOn POPVOX: 191 Support | 55 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the House on 1/14/2015. Now goes to the Senate for consideration.

  • #12 Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 (HR 240)

    Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations CommitteeOn POPVOX: 41 Support | 179 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the House on 1/14/2015. Now goes to the Senate for consideration.

  • #13 Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act (HR 196)

    Would “require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban so-called “paid prioritization” agreements between a broadband provider and a content provider,” according to bill sponsorsOn POPVOX: 71 Support | 148 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/7/2015.

  • #14 Save American Workers Act (HR 30)

    — Bipartisan — Would repeal the 30-hour definition of "full-time employment" in the Affordable Care Act and restore the traditional 40-hour definition, according to the bill sponsor. On POPVOX: 156 Support | 62 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Passed by the House on 1/8/2015. Now goes to the Senate for consideration.

  • #15 Secure Our Borders First Act (HR 399)

    “The Secure Our Borders First Act will be the most significant and toughest border security bill ever set before Congress. We are putting fencing where fencing is needed and technology where technology is needed to ensure a smart, safe, and cost-effective border. We tell the government how to secure the border step-by-step, and put in place real penalties for ignoring the will of Congress,” according to the House Homeland Security CommitteeOn POPVOX: 143 Support | 74 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Was scheduled for a House floor vote the week of Jan. 26 – 30, 2015 but was postponed indefinitely.

  • #16 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36)

    — Bipartisan — “Seeks to afford basic protection to mothers and their unborn children entering the sixth month of gestation,” according to the bill sponsors. Prohibits the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater, except: (1) where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, excluding psychological or emotional conditions; or (2) where the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor, if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency, or if the incest has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency or to a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect. On POPVOX: 143 Support | 74 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Was scheduled for a House floor vote the week of Jan. 19 – 23, 2015 but was pulled from consideration. Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC) actively opposed some of the language in the bill: “I remain disappointed that the concern for the language of mandatory reporting of rape to law enforcement held by House Republican women and many men were not addressed before our leadership made the decision to pull the bill from the House floor in the eleventh hour.” 

  • #17 National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (HR 402)

    — Bipartisan — To provide a national standard in accordance with which nonresidents of a State may carry concealed firearms in the State. On POPVOX: 204 Support | 11 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/16/2015.

  • #18 Prevention of Executive Amnesty Act (HR 31)

    To prohibit the use of funds to implement the immigration policies set forth in the memoranda issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security on Nov. 20, 2014, or the memoranda issued by the President on Nov. 21, 2014. On POPVOX: 196 Support | 18 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/16/2015.

  • #19 Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act (HR 52)

    To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to comprehensively reform immigration law. Provides a path to earned access to legalization for those who meet certain eligibility requirements, among them: 1. Residency requirement (The alien was physically present in the United States for a continuous period of not less than 5 years immediately preceding the date on which this provision was enacted and has maintained continuous physical presence since then); and 2. Community service (if older than 18, has performed at least 40 hours of community service.) On POPVOX: 33 Support | 174 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/16/2015.

  • #20 Repealing the Affordable Care Act (HR 370)

    To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. On POPVOX: 166 Support | 37 Oppose

    Action in the 114th Congress: Introduced on 1/14/2015.


** Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system.**

The Week Ahead in Congress: Feb. 2 – 6

By Rachna Choudhry, 1/31/15

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in a memo to House Republicans, outlined their agenda for February. (Read the full memo.) The House will focus on “passing bills to expand individual freedom, hold the government accountable so that we can unshackle small businesses, and promote greater opportunities for children and middle-class families.”

He also asked a trivia question to the House Republicans in honor of Super Bowl Sunday… (Let’s see how quickly a POPVOX user can answer this question!)

  • House Majority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) asks: Which four universities sport both a Super Bowl-winning QB and a US President?

Now for the Week Ahead in Congress. Share your voice on POPVOX! (New to POPVOX? Here's a tutorial.)

It’s Super Bowl Weekend!

Whether you're a Patriots fan or a Seahawks fan, here are some proposals in Congress that you'll want to consider, or even discuss with your friends during halftime (unless you're a Katy Perry fan!).

  • The Pro Football Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act (HR 602)

    (Also S 294 in the Senate) Authorizes the Dept. of Treasury to issue commemorative coins in recognition and celebration of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, according to bill sponsors. The coin would be issued to coincide with the Hall of Fame’s celebration of the National Football League’s centennial season in 2019 and the 100th anniversary of the league’s birth. The NFL was founded in downtown Canton, Ohio on September 17, 1920.

  • Resolution Honoring 2015 National Football Champion, The Ohio State Buckeyes (SRes 50)

    A Senate Resolution “honoring The Ohio State University Buckeyes on their title as the first ever College Football Playoff National Champions. The Buckeyes walloped the University of Oregon Ducks 42 to 20,” according to the resolution’s sponsors.From our Hill Sources: Before the game, Ohio Senators Brown and Portman made a “friendly wager” on the outcome of the game with the Senators from Oregon, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. They agreed that if Ohio State won, Wyden and Merkley would join Brown and Portman in spelling out “O-H-I-O.” (For all you Ducks fans, if the University of Oregon had won, Brown and Portman were to have learned how to “throw the O” alongside the Oregon Duck.) (See photos from the O-H-I-O event.)

 

  • Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act (HR 582)

    To provide for the establishment and implementation of guidelines on best practices for diagnosis, treatment, and management of mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBIs) in school-aged children.

January 2015 was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. On POPVOX, we spotlighted various bills related to human trafficking prevention in our Issue Spotlight. Here’s one related to this weekend’s events:

  • Resolution related to Child Trafficking (SRes 43)

    A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that children trafficked in the United States should be treated as victims, and not criminals, especially during the upcoming Super Bowl, an event around which many children are at risk for being trafficked for sex.

    From our Hill Sources: According to resolution sponsors in the 113th Congress, “traffickers aggressively advertise and sell sex trafficking victims on websites like Backpage.com during the Super Bowl in order to meet the increased demand from visitors to the host city.”

The House's Theme for the Week: "It's time for a change — we don't have to settle for the way Washington works now."

Based on House Majority Leader McCarthy’s memo, this week's "time for a change" theme includes these bills, which will be voted by the House: 

  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act (HR 596)

    Would “protect individuals from government-imposed cost increases and reduced access to care and coverage by repealing Obamacare. This legislation will also include instructions to the relevant committees to develop our patient-centered health care reforms,” according to the McCarthy memo. (Bill text.)

    From our Hill Sources: This vote will be the fourth stand-alone, full-scale Affordable Care Act repeal vote in the last four years. It will serve as an opportunity for the new Republican freshmen who pledged to repeal the health care law to get on the record as doing so. (And if you’re still counting, this is nearly the 60th time the House has voted to repeal, defund or undermine the Affordable Care Act since it passed in 2010.)

  • Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (HR 50)

    Would “hold agencies accountable for the true cost of federal mandates,” according to the McCarthy memo. “Will impose stricter requirements for how and when federal agencies must disclose the cost of federal mandates and equips both Congress and the public with tools to determine the true costs of regulations.” (Bill text.)

  • Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (HR 527)

    “Requires federal agencies to consider the economic effects of regulations on small business before imposing overly burdensome mandates that prevent growth and job creation,” according to the McCarthy memo. (Bill text.)

Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations

Earlier in January, the House passed its version of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill – the last of the 12 annual funding bills to be considered for the remainder of FY 2015. The other 11 bills were approved in 2014, but Congress “punted” on this one to move the discussion around the President’s immigration executive actions to the 114th Congress. Lawmakers now have until Feb. 27 to pass a Homeland Security Appropriations bill – and avoid an agency shutdown.

  • Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 – House-passed version (HR 240)

    Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations Committee. (Bill text.)

In his memo, House Majority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) mentioned that the Republicans “hope that the Senate will send the House-passed Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to the President. In the event the Senate passes something different than the House-passed bill, we will be discussing with the Conference the best way to continue to challenge the President’s unconstitutional amnesty." Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will bring the House-passed version to the Senate floor for consideration in the week ahead. 

In the Senate, nearly all Democrats have signed a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling for a “clean” DHS funding bill, without any proposals aimed at blocking President Obama’s executive action on immigration. (Read the letter.) Here is their proposal:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security Appropriations, 2015 – Senate version (S 272)

    Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. Provides a total of $47.8 billion, $1.2 billion more than the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. Of this total, $46.32 billion is for discretionary programs, including $213 million for Coast Guard overseas contingency operations and $6.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund. After excluding these two adjustments, the net discretionary appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is $39.67 billion, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill sponsors used the House and Senate’s December DHS compromise to write this bill, “and kept it free of extraneous policy riders that would threaten vital homeland security operations,” according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. (Bill text)

From our Hill Sources: If Congress fails to pass a DHS appropriations bills by the Feb. 27th deadline, very little of DHS would actually shut down. In fact, about 86 percent of DHS employees reported to work during the 2013 government-wide shutdown.

Another Lawsuit Against the President

The House is preparing to sue President Obama over his executive actions that gave legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. In a conference meeting last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said House members would vote on a resolution authorizing the House to take legal actions, including filing a new lawsuit against the President or joining the lawsuit filed by 26 states against the executive action.

Weigh in on a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against the President, which is pending before the House:

Also in the Senate

The Senate will also consider the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which passed the House in early January:

  • Clay Hunt SAV Act (HR 203)

    — Bipartisan — Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all VA mental health services for veterans. Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists. Requires evaluations of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care. Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning Servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services. (Source: Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN).)

    From our Hill Sources: The Senate had considered this bill in the 113th Congress but then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) had blocked a vote on the bill based on his view that the VA could improve services without new legislation, which would cost $22 million.

Also in the House

The House will also vote on:

  • Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (HR 361)

    To codify authority under existing grant guidance authorizing use of Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funding for enhancing medical preparedness, medical surge capacity, and mass prophylaxis capabilities. (Bill text)

  • Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act (HR 615)

    To require the Under Secretary for Management of the Dept. of Homeland Security to take administrative action to achieve and maintain interoperable communications capabilities among the components of the Dept. of Homeland Security. (Bill text)

  • Social Media Working Group Act (HR 623)

    Authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to establish a social media working group. (Bill text– Previously passed by the House in the 113th Congress. –


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

National Data Privacy Day: Jan. 28

By Rachna Choudhry, 1/27/15

January 28 is National Data Privacy Day. (A resolution in the 113th Congress, which passed last year, proclaimed it. ) Data Privacy Day began in the United States in January 2008. The Day commemorates the 1981 signing of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. Since 2011, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has assumed leadership of Data Privacy Day. Learn more or download Data Privacy Day posters and buttons at www.staysafeonline.org.

The Administration's Proposals

This month, the President announced a series of proposals to safeguard Americans' privacy online. Among them, he is proposing the Personal Data Notification & Protection Act, which "clarifies and strengthens the obligations companies have to notify customers when their personal information has been exposed, including establishing a 30-day notification requirement from the discovery of a breach, while providing companies with the certainty of a single, national standard." He is also proposing a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which the White House plans on releasing in February. (Learn more about the President's proposals.)

Privacy Bills in Congress

Already, data privacy and cybersecurity has been an important issue for the 114th Congress. Several related bills have been introduced — and we can expect many more in the coming months. Here are a few recently introduced privacy bills. Share your voice on POPVOX. (New to POPVOX? Check out this slideshow tutorial.) 

  • Data Security and Breach Notification Act (S 177)

    "To set a national standard for data breach notification, and to require businesses that collect and store consumers’ sensitive personal information to safeguard that information from cyber threats," according to the bill's sponsor. (Bill text)

  • Secure Data Act (S 135)

    Would "prohibit Federal agencies from requiring that private entities design or alter their commercial information technology products for the purpose of facilitating government surveillance," according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text)

  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act (HR 283)

    To improve the provisions relating to the privacy of electronic communications. According to the bill sponsor, “the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of security from unreasonable searches of our ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ does not disappear because we’ve invented new ways to communicate. Now more than ever it’s important to make sure government doesn’t trample our rights by using those same innovations to see and record every email, instant message, tweet, post, and comment we write."  (Bill text)

  • Cyber Privacy Fortification Act (HR 104)

    Amends the federal criminal code to provide criminal penalties for intentional failures to provide required notices of a security breach involving sensitive personally identifiable information. (Bill text)

  • Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act (the GPS Act) (HR 491)

    — Bipartisan — (Also S 237.) To specify the circumstances in which a person may acquire geolocation information. "The GPS Act applies to all domestic law enforcement acquisitions of the geolocation information of individual Americans without their knowledge, including acquisitions from private companies and direct acquisitions through the use of ‘Stingrays’ and other devices. It would also combat high-tech stalking by creating criminal penalties for surreptitiously using an electronic device to track a person’s movements, and it would prohibit commercial service providers from sharing customers’ geolocation information with outside entities without customer consent," according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text)

  • Federal Exchange Data Breach Notification Act (HR 555)

    "Would simply require the government to notify consumers if their personal information is breached on the Healthcare.gov exchanges. Currently there is no such requirement under federal law – despite similar standards being in place for the private sector and state-run exchanges," according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text.)


 Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system.

The Week Ahead in Congress: Jan. 26 – 30

By Rachna Choudhry, 1/25/15

From our Hill Sources: The 114th Congress has already made history. The Senate voted on more amendments in the past one week than it considered in all of 2014! As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained: “We’ve actually reached a milestone here that I think is noteworthy for the Senate. We just cast our 15th roll-call vote on an amendment on this bill, which is more votes — more roll-call votes on amendments than the entire United States Senate in all of 2014.” The reason for the series of votes is the Keystone XL pipeline, which may get its first Senate floor vote as early as this week.

Meanwhile, the House will be considering bills related to human trafficking, in recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Keystone XL in the Senate

It’s been more than six years since TransCanada first submitted an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The House passed legislation earlier this month approving the pipeline’s construction, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on whether to approve it this week.

From our Hill Sources: On Jan. 22, Senate Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on the underlying bill, triggering an additional 30 hours of debate before a final vote. We can expect a final Senate vote on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline as early as this week.

  • Hoeven-Manchin Keystone XL Pipeline Act (S 1)

    — Bipartisan — "Authorizes TransCanada to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the US Gulf Coast, transporting an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day to US refineries, which includes 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Upon passage, a presidential permit would no longer be needed to approve the project," according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text.)

Background: TransCanada has proposed laying 1,179 miles of pipe, 36 inches in diameter, that would connect oil producers in Canada’s tar sands region with refineries along the American Gulf Coast. The project has been extensively debated and studied — and the Obama Administration has not yet decided whether to approve the pipeline.

The House has passed legislation approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline ten times. Most recently, they passed the Keystone XL Pipeline Act (HR 3) in early January by a 266 to 153 vote. Twenty-eight Democrats and all but one Republican supported the bill. In the Senate, things are more complicated. On Jan. 12, the Senate voted 63 to 32 to begin debate on their Keystone XL bill – a significant step, as it was the first time a Keystone bill had cleared this hurdle. While 63 Senate supporters are three more than what was needed to send the bill to a Senate vote, it’s not enough to override a veto. The new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is allowing the bill to go through "regular order," enabling Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments — and the ensuing debate has lasted weeks, and set a vote record for the 114th Congress. 

Learn more about the Keystone XL pipeline in this Issue Spotlight.

Human Trafficking

January 2015 is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. “Today, millions of women, men, and children around the world are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude, or the sex trade at the hands of human traffickers,” according to the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), including in the United States. (Learn more about the DHS’s Blue Campaign, which works in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations to combat human trafficking.)

Background: According to the FBI, sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. As many as 300,000 American youth are at risk of becoming a victim of sex trafficking. While the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking has often been carried out by state and local law enforcement, the enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 made child sex trafficking in interstate commerce a federal crime. The TVPA is the primary legislative vehicle authorizing services to victims of trafficking and was most recently reauthorized in 2013. (Source: House Judiciary Committee)

This week, Congress will be voting on several bills related to human trafficking:

  • Human Trafficking Prioritization Act (HR 514)

    To prioritize the fight against human trafficking within the Department of State according to congressional intent in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 without increasing the size of the Federal Government. (Bill text)

  • International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking (HR 515)

    “A serious attempt to mitigate child sex tourism by noticing countries of destination concerning the travel plans of convicted pedophiles. And to protect American children, the bill encourages the President to use bilateral agreements and assistance to establish reciprocal notification so that we will know when convicted child-sex offenders are coming here,” according a floor statement by the sponsor in 2014. “In 1994, a young girl in my home town and district was lured into the home of a convicted pedophile who lived across the street from her home. Megan Kanka, seven, was raped and murdered. No one, including Megan Kanka’s parents, knew that their neighbor had been convicted and jailed for child sexual assault. The combination of concern for children and outrage towards those who abuse led to enactment of Megan’s Laws—public sex offender registries—in every state in the country.” (Bill text)

  • Human Trafficking Prevention Act (HR 357)

    “Requires additional training for Department of State officials related to human trafficking,” according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text)

Also in the House…

The House will also consider:


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Photo credit: Route map is from TransCanada.

Human Trafficking Prevention in Congress

By Rachna Choudhry, 1/25/15

January 2015 is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“Today, millions of women, men, and children around the world are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude, or the sex trade at the hands of human traffickers,” according to the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), including in the United States. (Learn more about the re-launched DHS’s Blue Campaign, which works in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations to combat human trafficking.)

Background: According to the FBI, sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. As many as 300,000 American youth are at risk of becoming a victim of sex trafficking. While the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking has often been carried out by state and local law enforcement, the enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 made child sex trafficking in interstate commerce a federal crime. The TVPA is the primary legislative vehicle authorizing services to victims of trafficking and was most recently reauthorized in 2013. (Source: House Judiciary Committee)

Bills in Congress

This week, Congress will be voting on several bills related to human trafficking:

  • Human Trafficking Prioritization Act (HR 514)

    To prioritize the fight against human trafficking within the Department of State according to congressional intent in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 without increasing the size of the Federal Government. (Bill text)

  • International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking (HR 515)

    “A serious attempt to mitigate child sex tourism by noticing countries of destination concerning the travel plans of convicted pedophiles. And to protect American children, the bill encourages the President to use bilateral agreements and assistance to establish reciprocal notification so that we will know when convicted child-sex offenders are coming here,” according a floor statement by the sponsor in 2014. “In 1994, a young girl in my home town and district was lured into the home of a convicted pedophile who lived across the street from her home. Megan Kanka, seven, was raped and murdered. No one, including Megan Kanka’s parents, knew that their neighbor had been convicted and jailed for child sexual assault. The combination of concern for children and outrage towards those who abuse led to enactment of Megan’s Laws—public sex offender registries—in every state in the country.” (Bill text)

  • Human Trafficking Prevention Act (HR 357)

    “Requires additional training for Department of State officials related to human trafficking,” according to the bill sponsor. (Bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Keystone XL Pipeline

 

By Rachna Choudhry, 1/22/15

It’s been more than six years since TransCanada first submitted an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

TransCanada has proposed laying 1,179 miles of pipe, 36 inches in diameter, that would connect oil producers in Canada’s tar sands region with refineries along the American Gulf Coast. The project has been extensively debated and studied — and the Obama Administration has not yet decided whether to approve the pipeline.

Here’s an update on what the key decision-makers are considering:

The White House

The White House has indicated the President would veto the Keystone bill because it "conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the President and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests (including serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications)." (Read the White House statement.) White House officials also point out that they are waiting for a State Department review. And, in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to "set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline."

The House and Senate

The House has passed legislation approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline ten times. Most recently, they passed the Keystone XL Pipeline Act (HR 3) in early January by a 266 to 153 vote. Twenty-eight Democrats and all but one Republican supported the bill. In the Senate, things are more complicated. On Jan. 12, the Senate voted 63 to 32 to begin debate on their Keystone XL bill – a significant step, as it was the first time a Keystone bill had cleared this hurdle. While 63 Senate supporters are three more than what was needed to send the bill to a Senate vote, it’s not enough to override a veto. The new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is allowing the bill to go through "regular order," enabling Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments — and the ensuing debate has lasted weeks. 

Learn more about the Senate's Keystone bill – and share your voice on POPVOX:

  • Hoeven-Manchin Keystone XL Pipeline Act (S 1)

    — Bipartisan — "Authorizes TransCanada to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the US Gulf Coast, transporting an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day to US refineries, which includes 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Upon passage, a presidential permit would no longer be needed to approve the project," according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text.)

On Jan. 22, Senate Majority Leader McConnell filed "cloture" on the underlying bill, a procedural move that will trigger an additional 30 hours of debate before a final vote. We can expect a final Senate vote on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in late January.

The Courts

A group of landowners in Nebraska filed two new lawsuits last week over TransCanada’s proposed route after they received a warning that the company would gain access to their land. (In early January, the Nebraska Supreme Court tossed an earlier lawsuit filed by landowners against then-Gov. Dave Heineman who had approved the Keystone route in Nebraska.) Attorneys for the landowners have said the latest lawsuits could take about two years to resolve, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Meanwhile, TransCanada has filed court papers to gain access to the land owned by people who haven’t voluntarily complied through “eminent domain” – “a process where compensation for a pipeline easement is determined in local courts, in conjunction with local appraisers,” according to the company

The State Department and Federal Agencies

In 2012, the State Department received a proposed pipeline application from TransCanada that would run from the Canadian border to connect to a pipeline in Nebraska. The State Department’s responsibility is to determine if granting a permit for the proposed pipeline would serve the national interest, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic and foreign policy concerns. (See the State Dept. Keystone website.) As part of their review, the State Department is requesting input from other federal agencies by Feb. 2, 2015, according to Reuters

On POPVOX

Among verified POPVOX users who weighed in on the House and Senate bills, three in four support approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Read their comments and share your voice on the Senate bill (S 1) and the House-passed bill (HR 3). You can also see which organizations and trade associations support and oppose the bill.


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Photo credit: Route map is from TransCanada.