Bill Tracker 032016

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

H.R. 1815 – Eastern Nevada Land Implementation Improvement Act

Sponsor: Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV)

Synopsis: The Eastern Nevada Land Implementation Improvement Act will:

–  Position the BLM to more fully implement the Ely District Resource Management Plan;
–  Fix errors in Wilderness Areas in White Pine and Nye Counties;
–  Allow the City of Mesquite to finish and implement a conservation plan to preserve critical wildlife habitat and fish species;
–  Enable implementation of a land reconfiguration in the Coyote Springs Valley that will protect critical habitat and allow for needed economic development.

Action: Introduced in House on 5/15/15; referred to Subcommittee on Federal Lands on 4/30/15; committee consideration and mark-up session held on 2/2-2/3/16, and committee discharged; Ordered to be reported by unanimous consent on 2/3/16.

Sponsor Comments: “This act is something both Democrats and Republicans can support for the way it will help the federal government be a more effective partner in managing public lands with Eastern Nevada communities,” said Congressman Hardy. “The Eastern Nevada Land Implementation Improvement Act will benefit the economic and environmental health of Nevada by diversifying local economies, mitigating risks associated with catastrophic wildfire, and improving critical habitats for wildlife.”

Jessica’s Take: One of the (some say) unfortunate realities of Nevada, a state in which 81 percent of land is federally owned, is that planning decisions are removed from the hands of state and local entities. This often means exceedingly long wait times for approvals, which holds up economic development plans in rural areas. This legislation, which is supported by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), along with Representatives Joe Heck (NV-03), Mark Amodei (NV-02), and Dina Titus (NV-01), as well as the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, the White Pine County Board of Commissioners, and the Mesquite City Council, is intended to make federal restrictions more compatible with local needs, while encouraging conservation of Eastern Nevada lands. Unilateral support from Nevada politicians on this somewhat innocuous bill may stand a good chance of passing, but in this contentious election year, there’s no telling what action, if anything, might happen in Congress this year.

H.J.Res.79 – Proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Sponsor: Rep. Cresent Hardy (D-NV)

Synopsis: This joint resolution proposes a constitutional amendment prohibiting total outlays from exceeding total receipts for a fiscal year unless Congress authorizes the excess by a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber. The prohibition excludes outlays for repayment of debt principal and receipts derived from borrowing.

The President must submit a balanced budget to Congress annually. If the President does not submit a balanced budget for a fiscal year, no executive orders may be issued until the earlier of the submission of a balanced budget or the first day of the fiscal year.

A three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber of Congress is required to increase the public debt limit.

Congress may waive the requirements for any period during which the United States is engaged in military conflict that causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security.

Action: Introduced in House on 12/16/15, referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. On 1/15/16, referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.

Sponsor Comments: “When I came to Congress, I promised to do what was necessary to rein in government spending and preserve our nation for our children and generations to come,” said Hardy. “This spending package may include some useful policy changes, but it continues to borrow from the future and adds to the already massive federal debt. Congress continues to ignore the reality that our debt will eventually catch up to us.

“Every business and every family balances their budget. Additionally, a total 45 states – including Nevada – already have a balanced budget requirement on the books. Comparatively, Washington has run a deficit for all but 5 of the last 50 years. It’s time for Washington to get our house in order and follow the states’ example on spending,” said Hardy.

Jessica’s Take: The Hardy camp of Tea Party conservatives offers up some useful supporting evidence for this House Joint Resolution. Our national debt is worth $18.7 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury, and at this rate, in 25 years, our federal debt is estimated to exceed 100% of GDP. Nevada’s constitution requires a balanced budget, and those on the other side of the aisle from Hardy love to tout how Bill Clinton balanced the budget and turned over the reins to George W. Bush with a surplus.

Yet while reducing debt seems an obvious goal, some also argue that it doesn’t make sense to pay down debt, that likening a nation’s budget to that of a household is wrong-headed. The International Monetary Fund has issued a report that instead argues in favor of growing the economy so that the debt is a smaller and smaller percentage of the GDP. It would be more like a homeowner borrowing at today’s low interest rates for a mortgage in order to live with debt that comprises a smaller ratio of income. Put more simply, these folks argue that we should take on more debt when the price is right in order to pay for things we need.

Suffice it to say that while the national debt is a scary number that seems insurmountable, it’s arguable that it helped us reverse the Great Recession. Regardless, it would seem that in this election year with huge fundamental rifts between the two parties, the prospect that it will be balanced in the near future is slim indeed.

H.R. 3974 – Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015

Sponsor: Rep. Ann M. Kuster (D-NH)

Co-sponsor: Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV)

Synopsis: This bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out the Grow Our Own Directive or G.O.O.D. pilot program to provide educational assistance to certain former members of the Armed Forces for education and training as VA physician assistants.

An individual is eligible to participate in the program if the individual:

–  has medical or military health experience gained while serving in the Armed Forces;
–  has received a certificate, associate degree, baccalaureate degree, master’s degree, or postbaccalaureate training in a science relating to health care;
–  has participated in the delivery of health care services or related medical services; and
–  does not have a degree of doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, or doctor of dentistry.

The VA shall: provide educational assistance to program participants for the costs of obtaining a master’s degree in physician assistant studies or a similar master’s degree, ensure that mentors are available for program participants at each VA facility at which a participant is employed, and seek to partner with specified government programs and with appropriate educational institutions that offer degrees in physician assistant studies.

The VA shall: establish specified standards to improve the education and and hiring of VA physician assistants, and implement a national plan for the retention and recruitment of VA physician assistants that includes the adoption of competitive pay standards. VA physician assistant pay grades are established.

Action: Introduce in House on 11/5/2015, referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. One 12/3/15, referred to Subcommittee on Health.

Sponsor Comments: “With 23% of PA slots within the VA open, a program like this is long overdue,” Rep. Heck said. “This bill will help achieve two critically important goals: improving access to care at the VA and providing job opportunities for separated service members. No one is better qualified to care for our veterans than veterans themselves because they understand military culture and can relate to those seeking care. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Kuster to expand job opportunities for our veterans and improve access to care at the VA.”

“Our military provides service members with a range of skills,” said Rep. Kuster. “As these service members leave the military, they often seek ways to employ their expertise in continued service to their country. This bill will allow veterans with medical skills to apply their training and knowledge in the service of fellow veterans, while at the same time helping to reduce shortages in one of the VA’s top five critical occupations. I encourage my colleagues to join Congressman Heck and me in offering a pathway for veterans to continue serving their fellow veterans, while expanding access to care at the same time.”

Jessica’s Take: This bill is fully supported by the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Academy of Physicians Assistants, and numerous other reputable organizations in the health care and veteran service fields. It’s a two-birds-with-one-stone measure that not only provides needed employment to a sector of the population that occasionally struggles with this, but it would help to stem the crisis-level shortage of physician assistants in the health care system—particularly in the VA. A September 2015 report in USA Today says that one in three jobs are vacant at eight of the nation’s regional Veterans Affairs health care systems, meaning that vets are waiting weeks to get the care they need. “Nationally,” the story by Meghan Hoyer reads, “one in six positions—nearly 41,000—for critical intake workers, doctors, nurses and assistants were unfilled as of mid-July, in part due to complex hiring procedures and poor recruitment.” This bill would streamline and ease that process to quickly get vets in jobs.

It’s also a measure that could lend strength to Heck’s campaign as he prepares to run for Sen. Harry Reid’s seat. The bill looks strong and I would estimate that its bipartisan nature gives it a good chance of passing.

H.R. 1937 – National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)

Synopsis: Intended to address America’s independence on foreign minerals and to enable the U.S. to more efficiently develop its own mineral resources. This measure would streamline the permitting process to initiate mining projects, which is currently estimated at seven to 10 years.

Specifically, The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act:

— Requires the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to more efficiently develop domestic sources of strategic and critical minerals and mineral materials, including rare earth elements.

— Defines strategic and critical minerals as those that are necessary:

(a) For national defense and national security requirements.
(b) For the Nation’s energy infrastructure including pipelines, refining capacity, electrical power generation and transmission, and renewable energy production.
(c) To support domestic manufacturing, agriculture, housing, telecommunications, healthcare and transportation infrastructure.
(d) For the Nation’s economic security and balance of trade.

— Facilitates a timely permitting process for mineral exploration projects by clearly defining the responsibilities of a lead agency.

— Sets the total review process for issuing permits to 30 months.

Ensures American mining projects are not indefinitely delayed by frivolous lawsuits by setting reasonable time limits for litigation.

— Sets a 60 day time limit to file a legal challenge to a mining project, gives standing to project proponents, and limits injunctive relief to what is necessary to correct the violation of a legal requirement, and prohibits the payment of attorney’s fees, expenses and other costs by the U.S. taxpayer.

— Respects and upholds all environmental laws while setting timelines that ensure these laws do not become tools for lawsuits or bureaucrats to block or delay responsible projects.

Action: Introduced in House on 4/22/15. Reported by the Committee on Natural Resources on 9/8/15, and the Committee on the Judiciary discharged. On 10/22/15, the measure was passed in the House 254-177. Received in the Senate on 10/26/15, read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Sponsor Comments: “It’s not hyperbole to say our national security and way of life depend on mineral production,” said Amodei. “From military technology, such as aircraft and missiles used by service men and women to defend our country, to the cars, smartphones and televisions we use every day, they all contain strategic and critical minerals such as rare earth elements, gold and silver, to name a few.

“Nevada is rich in strategic and critical minerals. Permitting delays stand in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local, often rural, communities. This legislation does nothing to circumvent environmental regulations or public input. It would simply streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic, national security and environmental concerns. This legislation has received nearly 800 bipartisan votes, passing the House multiple times the past two Congresses. I look forward to the Senate joining the fray this Congress and helping the House solve this important issue for the country.”

Jessica’s Take: As I reported in the January 2015 issue of Nevada’s Washington Watch, the National Mining Association says it takes 35 different minerals to make a TV, 15 to make a car and 40 to make a telephone. Yet supply-chain issues are the number-one threat to manufacturing cited by 400 manufacturing executives. Nevada fulfills about 16 percent of the nation’s demand for mineral resources. Amodei’s bill would require that federal agencies take no longer than 30 months to make decisions related to mining permits, and limit the ability of groups to legally challenge them.

The success this bill faced in the House, however, does not guarantee its success in the Senate, where the bill has sat for some time. Meanwhile, the Energy Policy Modernization Act also is in the Senate, and it includes provisions to spur new energy production and embraces nuclear power and renewables. It may be a more “all-in-one” policy that is desired by the Senate.