Bill Tracker – Sept 2017

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


S. 1363 A bill to streamline the process for broadband facility location applications on Federal land, and for other purposes.

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Cosponsor: Sen. Joe Manchin, III (D-WV)

Synopsis: Bill to address delays in the application process required to construct broadband infrastructure on federal lands.

Stipulations include: 

  • Expedites the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service approval process for applications, by implementing a 270-day clock for both departments to respond the applications. If this deadline is missed, the application would be deemed approved, and if the application is denied, the agency must notify applicant of reason for denial.
  • Requires these agencies to establish regulations within one year of passage that reflect a streamlined, consistent, and standardized process for application review.
  • Requires Government Accountability Office to examine the accuracy of and improvements to the National Broadband Map to examine whether this data is accurate and how it is relied upon to award grants for broadband expansion in rural areas. Action: Introduced in Senate on 6/15/2017.

Sponsor Comments: “Access to high-speed broadband is a pillar of economic growth in the U.S., yet Nevada’s rural communities continue to lag behind because bureaucratic red tape prevents expansion of broadband infrastructure,” Heller said in a news release. “Given that nearly 85 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, many applications to deploy broadband on federal lands remain stalled in a lengthy interagency approval process. “From Ely to Pahrump, I continue to hear that this bureaucratic hurdle is stifling innovation and job creation in our rural communities,” Heller said. “Our legislation addresses the federal agencies’ inefficient and inconsistent approval process in order to expand broadband access to keep and attract new residents and businesses to Nevada’s rural communities.”

Jessica’s Take: We continue to hear of sharp divides between urban and rural America—here’s another one: the so-called “digital divide” that refers to access to high-speed broadband. Though the federal courts have deemed that Internet access is a utility, as vital as power or phone service, only 55 percent of people living in rural areas have access to speeds that qualify as broadband, compared to 94 percent among urban residents. Part of the problem is that the application process to implement broadband is cumbersome and lengthy, and that the National Broadband Map may not be accurately reflecting the nation’s broadband coverage. This bipartisan legislation proposed by Heller and Manchin—two senators with rural areas struggling to gain appropriate broadband coverage—hopes to address the problem and improve access. Paired with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-W. Va.) Gigabit Opportunity, or GO, Act, which would help bolster investment in rural broadband opportunities, the result would be sorely needed economic development in rural areas, as well as greater governmental accountability—both popular buzzwords these days. It doesn’t hurt that the measure is bipartisan—especially not for Heller, which will be a real battleground for him during the midterm election cycle as Nevada’s Jacky Rosen (D-NV) prepares to square off.

S. 114 – Department of Veterans Affairs Bonus Transparency Act

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) Cosponsor: Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)

Synopsis: This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit an annual report to specified congressional committees on the performance awards and bonuses presented to Regional Office Directors of the VA, Directors of Medical Centers of the VA, and Directors of Veterans Integrated Service Networks.

Each report shall include: 

  • the amount of each award or bonus,
  • the job title of each recipient, and
  • the location where each recipient individual works. Action: Introduced in Senate on 1/12/2017; Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs discharged by unanimous consent on 5/25/2017; Passed/agreed to in Senate and passed without amendment by unanimous consent on 5/25/2017.

Sponsor Comments: “Like many veterans around the country, Nevada’s veterans continue to face challenges when it comes to the VA, and that’s why I work closely with my Veterans Advisory Councils to identify problems at the local level and solutions to fix them,” said Heller. “While I have no doubt that many of the VA’s employees work hard to take care of our veterans, we need to ensure their bonuses only reflect high-quality performance. We know that greater transparency will improve the quality of care our veterans receive, and the Senate’s passage of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bonus Transparency Act is a positive step forward toward achieving it.”

Jessica’s Take: Another bipartisan bill for Heller as he works to reach across the aisle in an increasingly blue state, it’s also a bid to step up accountability in government—a smart move in today’s atmosphere of mistrust of government, especially where bonuses are concerned, and especially when it comes to care for veterans. It’s also why this bill passed quickly, unanimously and without amendment, just four months after being introduced to the Senate. It’s a no-brainer that there should be greater oversight in the Veterans Affairs bonus process, since the agency has been under great scrutiny in recent years.

H. R. 2101 – Prior Approval Reform Act

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)

Co-sponsor: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA)

Synopsis: A bill to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to expand the ability of trade associations to solicit contributions from the stockholders and executive or administrative personnel of their member corporations, and for other purposes. The amendment would strike “to the extent that” and all that follows in the act’s language, and end with a period. It would become effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Action: Introduced in House on 4/17/2017, and was referred to the House Committee on House Administration on the same day.

Jessica’s Take: The issue of campaign contributions is heated. While labor organizations, including associations of contractors, movers, healthcare workers, retailers and many more, would like the ability to solicit prior approval from member companies before soliciting employees for financial support to PACs, others argue that removing this stipulation puts votes up for sale and erodes the democratic process. These trade associations argue that they are discriminated against because their PACs are the only political committees required to obtain permission from member companies—no other group is subject to this requirement. Amodei, for his part, was also cosponsor on another FEC-related bill called The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act, designed to ensure oversight of the FEC, including term limits on its members, requirements for bipartisanship of the commission and the creation of an advisory panel to nominate replacement members. He seems determined to clean up the election process and ensure fairness, but how that aligns with his sponsorship of H. R. 2101 is hard to tell. At first blush, this bill appears as if it might financially taint the process—after all, Amodei himself was a grateful recipient of somewhere around $22,000 in campaign contributions in the last election cycle, and a bill like this could potentially help him raise even more—though it’s possible his goal is simply to ensure fairness across the board in the way the laws are written.