Bill Tracker 01012016

jessica_santinaCongressional Delegation Legislation Update
Bills From The Hill That Matter To Nevadans
Compiled by Jessica Santina

H.R. 3419: Support for Student Veterans with Families Act

Sponsor: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Synopsis: This bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make grants to eligible educational institutions to provide child care services on campus.

Action: On 7/29/2015, referred to House committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Sponsor Comments: “We have got to face the fact that women veterans are increasing in number. They have special education, health care and other kinds of needs like child care,” Titus said. “We have to have the VA recognize that, accept it and do something about it.”
The “Support for Student Veterans with Family Acts” would create a program through the Department of Veterans affairs to offer grants to colleges and universities to fund child care services for veterans on campus. The money could be used to build new facilities, expand class sizes or even provide direct aid to veterans shopping for child care, Titus said.

Jessica’s Take: Titus conceded in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun that it may be difficult these days to secure funding for this program with our current congress encountering gridlock and partisanship. She is concerned that existing GI benefits may be diverted in order to fund it, which she does not support.

Nonetheless, she’s optimistic the bill can find bipartisan support because it deals with veteran and family issues.

Currently, 524 students enrolled at UNR are using the GI bill, and UNLV has more than 950 students taking advantage of it. Titus says that statewide, there are about 22,000 female veterans.

Although any bill calling for increased funding will be met with skepticism in Congress these days, a bipartisan-friendly issue such as veterans, especially in today’s exceedingly pro-veteran climate, stands as good a chance as any.

New Actions: On 7/29/2015, referred to House committee on Veterans’ Affairs; on 8/6/2015, referred to Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

H.R. 3193 – Animal Emergency Planning Act of 2015

Sponsor: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Synopsis: Requires entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act to develop emergency contingency plans, using federally established standards, in order to better protect the safety and well-being of animals during natural and manmade disasters.

Action: Introduced on July 23, 2015 in House, where it was immediately referred to the House Committee on Agriculture. On Aug. 26, 2015, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

Sponsor Comments: “Whether a catastrophic event that impacts an entire region or a fire at a local breeding facility, when disaster strikes, commercial animal facilities should be prepared to protect the animals under their care,” said Titus. “It is only fair and reasonable to require some demonstration of readiness from those who earn a living from animal-related businesses.”

Jessica’s Take: There are a whopping 20 cosponsors on this bill, from members of both parties around the country, which may indicate the groundswell of support that this bill could receive in Congress. GovTrack forecasts a 7% chance of the bill becoming enacted, which may not seem high until you consider that the majority of bills proposed stand a 0%-1% chance on GovTrack.

Bottom line, as we head into what many predict will be an El Niño year, with potentially catastrophic storms, few residents or lawmakers are anxious to deal with the fallout that a lack of emergency preparedness could have on animals or animal care facilities. Though there is no assurance ever that a bill will pass, my opinion is that this one stands a better chance than most.

H.R. 1676: Weekends Without Hunger Act

Sponsor: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Synopsis: Amends the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to direct the Secretary of Agriculture, subject to the availability of appropriations, to implement a pilot program providing commodities, on a competitive basis, to nonprofits for the provision of nutritious food to at-risk school children on weekends and during extended school holidays during the school year. (At-risk school children are those who participate in the school lunch program and reside in an area served by a school in which at least 50% of the students receive free or reduced-price meals under the school lunch or breakfast programs.)

Includes elementary and secondary schools, school food authorities, food banks or pantries, homeless shelters, and other Secretary-approved emergency feeding agencies as eligible nonprofit recipients of such commodities.

Requires commodity recipients to satisfy safe food storage, handling, and delivery standards established by the Secretary.

Directs the Secretary to: (1) complete an interim evaluation of the pilot program by November 30, 2018, and (2) submit a final report to Congress by December 31, 2020, that contains an evaluation of such program and any recommendations the Secretary may have for legislative action.

Authorizes appropriations for the pilot program.

Action: On 3/26/15, was introduce to the House and immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Sponsor Comments:  “With 58 percent of Clark County school children relying on free and reduced-price lunch programs, more than 170,000 students in Southern Nevada are facing hunger at home, and many depend on school meals as their main source of food throughout the week,” Titus said when the bill was introduced last spring. “As students across Southern Nevada start their week-long spring break, far too many of these young men and women will go hungry without access to the school meals they depend on as their main source of food throughout the week.”

“Vacation from school should never mean hunger for children,” she added. “This legislation will fill a gap in federal programming and provide funding for nutritious meals to ensure that vacation from school does not mean hunger for children.”

Jessica’s Take: This bill would create a five-year program to give eligible agencies, such as schools and food banks, food commodities to provide to hungry kids on weekends and holidays. Titus introduced similar legislation in the 113th Congress. It comes soon after complaints made about the federal government’s poor nutrition standards (many among the GOP), which many say don’t do enough to keep kids from being hungry.

According to Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who proposed a similar bill that would feed kids over the summer, “[D]uring the summer, hunger goes up in this country about 34 percent for families with school-aged kids.”

However, the school lunch program cost the government $11 billion in 2011, according to the USDA. Although many Republicans were complainants in the issue of school lunch nutrition standards, and Nevadans would certainly benefit from the act, Republicans have generally opposed increases in nutrition spending, and similar legislation has struggled.

H.R. 1724 – Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015

New Action:  On 3/26/15, was introduce to the House and immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; on 11/16/2015, referred to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

H.R. 1724 – Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Synopsis: Directs $415 million to be spent in the Tahoe Basin over the next 10 years to protect this ecosystem. Funding goes toward:
Wildfire Prevention: $150 million for fire risk reduction and forest management; The Environmental Improvement Program (EIP): $80 million to jumpstart projects including new bike trails, creek restoration and fire treatment; The Invasive Species Management Program: $45 million to prevent the introduction of such harmful invasive species as the Asian clam and quagga mussel, including species control and watercraft inspection; Stormwater Projects: $113 million to implement storm water management, erosion control, and watershed restoration projects;The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Program: $20 million to recover this threatened species that is Nevada’s state fish;Increase Accountability and Oversight: $5 million to ensure projects will have monitoring and assessment in order to determine the most cost-effective projects and responsible utilization of funds;Overall Management Improvement: $2 million to cover the cost of land exchanges and sales on California and Nevada sides of the Tahoe Basin to improve efficiencies of public land management.

Action: Introduced to Senate on 7/9/15, read twice, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which will consider it before sending it to the Senate floor for consideration.

Sponsor Comments: “If Nevadans and Californians can all agree upon one issue, it is the protection of Lake Tahoe. Anyone who has been to the Basin understands why it is important we protect its natural beauty for future generations – the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act will do just that,” said Senator Dean Heller. “As a lifelong Nevadan and an avid outdoorsman, I have grown up enjoying Lake Tahoe, but I have seen firsthand numerous threats take a toll on the region. It is an honor to collaborate with Senators Reid, Feinstein, and Boxer on this critical legislation to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our states shared national treasure.”

“Lake Tahoe is truly one of Nevada’s treasures, and I have made its protection and restoration a top priority throughout my career. The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act will continue to provide the resources needed to protect its unique ecosystem and natural beauty. By guarding against pollution, wildfires and invasive species, we can ensure the Jewel of the Sierras will continue to be a thriving tourist destination for those who enjoy Lake Tahoe’s crystal clear waters for many years to come,” said Senator Harry Reid.

“Lake Tahoe is an awe-inspiring natural wonder, and I can think of no other place that is as worthy, or in as much need, of our protection. My fondest memories from childhood are bicycling around the lake, exploring the backcountry by horse and taking in the views at Emerald Bay. Since then I’ve seen pollution and sedimentation reduce its famous water clarity, the threat of wildfires grow and invasive species wreak havoc. Through bipartisan initiatives and exemplary public-private partnerships, we’ve made progress over recent years, but the Jewel of the Sierras deserves our continued care and admiration. This bill—and the funds it authorizes—will work wonders to help restore the lake to greatness and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. I want all future generations to enjoy its beauty just as I did, in all its pristine glory,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“Lake Tahoe has always been one of our country’s most magnificent treasures. Our bill builds on more than a decade of work to help restore the clarity of Lake Tahoe’s waters, reduce the threat of wildfires, and prevent the spread of harmful invasive species,” said Senator Barbara Boxer.

Jessica’s Take: This bipartisan bill was introduced by Heller along with Senators Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and is supported by numerous local stakeholders, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and the University of Nevada. It comprises years of input from various stakeholders around the region. Its companion bill in the House, H.R. 3382, authorizes far less many and few than half the programs, which some feel could actually be a step back in terms of protections for Lake Tahoe. This may be the only thing muddying the waters on this issue; otherwise, in my opinion, this bill stands an excellent chance of passing.

Action: On 10/6/2015, this bill was introduced in the House and referred to several committees and subcommittees. The most recent action took place on 10/26/2015, when it was referred to the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

H.R. 3177 – Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act

Sponsor: Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV)

Synopsis: Seeks to simplify the application used for estimating and determining financial aid eligibility for postsecondary education:
Allows students to use family income data from two years prior to the date of the FAFSA application. This process will help students apply for financial aid earlier so they can better prepare for their college costs.Improves the ability to link between the online FAFSA form and income tax data stored by the Internal Revenue Service to automatically input income data into the FAFSA form, reducing the need to manually input information that often prevents low-income students from applying for aid.Strengthens the integrity of federal financial aid by providing institutions more time to verify the income of their students.Action: Introduced to House on 7/23/15, then referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which will consider it before sending it to the House floor for consideration.

Sponsor Comments: “Anyone who has ever filled out the FAFSA form knows it is a complicated, frustrating process which often causes students and families to skip the process altogether, therefore disqualifying themselves from receiving needed aid,” said Heck on his Facebook page. “We can do better than the current federal financial aid process. The bill I introduced called the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act will streamline and improve the process, helping students make more timely decisions about their education.”

Jessica’s Take: This bipartisan bill is one of four pieces of legislation comprising the Higher Education Act Reauthorization, which seeks to improve the nation’s higher education system by simplifying the financial aid process, improving consumer information, providing financial aid counseling, and creating a more flexible Pell Grant program. The bill has 19 co-sponsors (10 Democrats, 9 Republicans), and almost universal agreement among lawmakers, educators and citizens that the language of 10-page FAFSA form and its stringent requirements for reporting (with more than 100 questions about family finances) are difficult and create barriers to receiving financial aid. The 2020 College Completion Goal set by President Obama makes approving this bill appealing to all, so it seems to me that it has a good shot of passing.

Action: Introduced to House on 7/23/15, then referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. On 11/16/2015, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.