Bill Tracker – 082017

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


H.R. 3397 – Building Blocks of STEM Act

Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

Cosponsor: Rep. Stephen Knight [R-CA], Rep. Dwight Evans [D-PA], Rep. Gregory W. Meeks [D-NY], Rep. Paul Tonko, [D-NY], Rep. Colleen Hanabusa [D-HI], Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr. [D-VA], Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, [D-CT], Rep. Charlie Crist [D-FL], Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter [D-NY], Rep. Darren Soto [D-FL], Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo [D-GU], Rep. Tim Ryan [D-OH]

Synopsis: Bill to direct the National Science Foundation to support STEM education research focused on early childhood. In awarding grants under the Discovery Research PreK–12 program, the Director of the National Science Foundation shall consider age distribution in order to more equitably allocate funding for research studies with a focus on early childhood.

Action: Introduced in House on 7/25/2017, referred that day to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Sponsor Comments: “With tech companies like Tesla, SWITCH, and Google leading the way to create the jobs of the future across our state, the demand for a highly skilled workforce could not be higher right now,” said Congresswoman Rosen. “I built my own career as a computer programmer for major companies in Southern Nevada, and that’s why I want to find ways to invest in our students at an early age by encouraging them to take an interest in STEM subjects in school. Building the blocks for careers in STEM will prepare Nevadans for better jobs and help us to meet the demands of our 21st century economy.”

Jessica’s Take: According to the text of Rosen’s bill, studies have found that children who engage in scientific activities from an early age develop positive attitudes toward science and are more likely to pursue STEM careers later on in life.

H.R. 3397 would direct the NSF to more equitably allocate funding for research in the Discovery Research PreK-12 program to studies with a focus on early childhood (under age 11). Though specific measures with regard to percentages or amounts of funding aren’t listed in the bill’s text, it directs the NSF to take a strategic approach and consider age when awarding grants and more equitably spread funding across the grade levels, with the goal of increasing research towards early childhood. This vagueness may help the bill, but it also may hurt it, because it leaves much open to interpretation.

This is a bipartisan bill co-led by Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA), a fellow Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (the only Republican to sign on). It’s one of two bills introduced by Rosen, a former computer programmer who is working to address the vast gender gap in the field.

H.R. 3316 – Code Like a Girl Act

Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

Cosponsor: Rep. Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-VA), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Rep. Stephanie N. Murphy (D-FL), Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty (D-CT), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ)

Synopsis: A bill to direct the National Science Foundation to award grants to encourage young girls to participate in computer science and other STEM activities, and for other purposes. It calls for the director of the NSF to award two types of grants—one for research and one for development and testing of preK and elementary school interventions—in order to increase understanding of the factors that contribute to the willingness or unwillingness of young girls to participate in STEM activities.

Action: On 7/19/2017, bill was introduced in House and referred to Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, as well as to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Rosen made introductory remarks on the measure on 7/20/2017.

Sponsor Comments: “When I started my career as a computer programmer, I was one of very few women in a male-dominated industry,” said Congresswoman Rosen. “Despite the progress we’ve made, fewer than 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women. This disparity is depriving our country of talented minds that could be working on our most challenging problems. Given the ever increasing importance of computer science in today’s economy, it’s critical we find ways to break down barriers and level the playing field for women everywhere.”

Jessica’s Take: According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce, even though they make up half the American workforce. The text of Rosen’s bill says this disparity can be traced back to K-12 education, where boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to take a computer science course and nearly three times as likely to take an engineering course. Why this disparity exists is a question that has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scratching their heads—is it nature, nurture, or both? In an atmosphere where politics and science increasingly seem at war with each other, this bill makes increasing the science workforce a priority, and this on its own may be its biggest downfall. Still, it comes with bipartisan support, most likely because it puts money into researching WHY this disparity exists, which is different from previous failed attempts to simply throw money at filling the gap. It is being endorsed by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W), which supports and advocates for the full engagement of women in all aspects of computer science.

S. 1752 – A bill to amend the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 to expedite wildfire prevention projects to reduce the risk of wildfire on certain high-risk Federal land, and for other purposes.

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Co-sponsor: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. James E. Risch (R-ID), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Synopsis: A bill to help prevent wildfires by expediting the review process for prevention projects when risks on public lands pose a threat to critical infrastructure, private land holders, and endangered species habitats. The legislation amends the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, a law aimed at reducing the threat of wildfires, by adding a new categorical exclusion for authorized fuel-management projects. Such projects would include the removal of insect-infected or dead trees and lands containing critical habitat for endangered or threatened species.

Action: On 8/3/2017, introduced in Senate, read twice, and referred to Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

Sponsor Comments: “Over the past several months, catastrophic wildfires have devastated homes, businesses, and rural communities in Nevada and that threat continues to grow year after year,” said Heller. “The Emergency Fuel Reduction Act will allow Nevada to better prepare before disaster strikes by speeding up the review process for critical wildfire prevention projects. Furthermore, my commonsense bill will mitigate the threat of wildfires on public lands and strengthen protections for communities in Nevada and across the West.”

Jessica’s Take: As Nevada reels from an extraordinarily high number of summer forest fires—the worst fire season in 15 years, thanks to a particularly wet winter—Senator Heller’s legislation aims to help Nevada and the West contend with fires going forward. In just the first seven months of this year, a total of nearly 450 fires have burned almost one million acres across the Silver State. About 85 percent of Nevada’s land is owned by the U.S. government, and most wildfires start and end on federal land, so Heller’s bill hopes to eliminate hurdles associated with forest thinning as a means of fire prevention. Not known as much of an environmentalist, Heller has frequently stood with Mark Amodei and other Republicans against former Senator Harry Reid and others who have blocked economic development projects in the name of environmental protection. (Just ask the sage grouse.) However, in light of this year’s fire season, it may be an easier row to hoe for this all-Republican contingent to get Democrats to expedite approval to perform such measures as controlled burns and forest thinning if it means protecting the lands that distinguish Nevada’s natural beauty.

S.1362 – Guard and Reservists Education Improvement Act

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Co-sponsor: None

Synopsis: A bill to amend title 38 of the United States Code to consolidate certain eligibility tiers under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure changes the language of the bill so that it increases the education benefit payable to Guardsmen and Reservists who served less than 12 months of active duty, instead of the less than 36 months that the code currently allows for.

Action: On 6/15/2017, read twice in Senate and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Sponsor Comments: “Many Nevada veterans and service members have relied on the G.I. bill as a critical tool in furthering their education and improving their skills to access good-paying jobs. Our National Guard and Reserve members are no exception, and nearly one million of these heroes have been mobilized since the Post-9/11 G.I. bill was enacted. This legislation recognizes their contributions to protecting America and provides an increase in educational benefits to ensure they have opportunities to improve and advance their careers after returning from service,” said Heller. “As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee representing 300,000 veterans living in Nevada, I will work to see that the VA does everything it can to empower veterans with the education and skills they need to compete and succeed in the workforce.”

Jessica’s Take: Nevada has a large number of Guardsmen and Reservists who have been called into service, yet that service may have fallen short of the 36-month threshold for GI Bill educational assistance. This legislation addresses that, and steps up the benefits payable for the 90 days – 6 months service periods, and for the 6 – 12 months service periods. The Reserve Officers Association, American Legion, Student Veterans of America, National Guard, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Enlisted Association of the National Guard all support the measure. As a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Heller has frequently made servicemembers’ issues a priority, including the Veterans Choice Program recently signed into law that enables veterans to seek health care outside the VA medical system, and another reform to the GI Bill that eliminates the use-it-or-lose-it clause (which Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto jointly supported). Though many issues may be contentious across party lines these days, support of veterans tends to bring the parties together, and it’s likely S.1362 could see a similar result.

H.R.3636/S.1694- Educator Preparation Reform Act

House Sponsor: Rep. Ruben Kihuen

House Co-sponsors: Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT)

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)

Senate Co-sponsors: Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)

Synopsis: A bill to modify federal laws governing teacher preparation, including reporting requirements, accountability provisions, and the TEACH Grant scholarship program.

Improves the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Program:

  • Maintains the core mechanism of the program providing for partnerships between institutions of higher education, high-need LEAs, and high-need schools to recruit and prepare teachers, principals, and other educators who commit to serve at least three years in a high-need school.
  • Requires that partnership grants be used to reform undergraduate teacher preparation programs, establish teacher or principal residency programs, or a combination of those activities.
  • Allows partnership grants to support and improve programs to develop other educators needed by school districts, such as librarians, literacy specialists, and school counselors.

Strengthens Accountability for Programs that Prepare Teachers:

  • Streamlines the data reporting requirements of indicators of program quality and performance for states as well as both institutions of higher education and other entities offering teacher preparation programs.
  • Offers states and institutions the option to utilize a valid and reliable teacher performance assessment to determine candidate profession readiness.
  • Requires reporting on candidate selectivity as measured by grade point averages for admitted students.
  • Requires the state to evaluate the capacity of the state longitudinal data system to report outcome indicators on program graduates and report what is available.  
  • Strengthens the state’s role in not only identifying at-risk and low-performing teacher preparation programs, but includes provisions to supply technical assistance to low-performing programs and close programs which, given technical assistance and time to implement change, fail to improve.
  • Engages key state-level and community stakeholders in the determination of the criteria necessary to determine the performance level of the teacher preparation programs in the state. Clarifies what it means for a program completer to be profession ready. Streamlines Reporting Reforms TEACH Grants in Title IV of the Higher Education Act
  • Amends the TEACH Grants to limit the eligibility for grants to juniors, seniors, and master’s degree level students.
  • Allows for partial payback based on the length of service completed for TEACH Grant recipients who do not finish the four-year service requirement.

Action: Introduced in House on 8/1/2017 and immediately referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Sponsor Comments: “As a product of the Clark County public schools, making sure all Nevadans have access to a quality education is not only one of my top priorities but important to me personally. Giving our young students the best shot at a quality education begins with investing in our teachers and ensuring they have the support they need to succeed,” Kihuen said. “School districts across the country, including the Clark County School District, are struggling to recruit and retain high-quality and fully-prepared teachers. If we want to guarantee our kids have a strong foundation, we must provide teachers, principals, and other educators with the tools they need — a comprehensive system that supports their preparation, professional growth, and development. This bicameral piece of legislation would help ensure that all students have access to fully prepared and effective educators.”

Jessica’s Take: According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 2016 and 2026, the nation will need 1.6 million new teachers to take the place of those who retire. But as funding for schools increasingly is tied to teacher performance, it’s critical to ensure that the quality of teachers coming into the workplace is sufficiently high to prepare the next generations of students. Yet the consumer evaluation National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review, in partnership with U.S. News & World Report, from 2013 shows that training programs lack relevance to real-world classroom needs, lack adequate content preparation, fail to ensure high-quality teaching experiences, and provide little to no classroom management training, among other problems. The study recommends that programs be more selective and rigorous, increase requirements for licensure, and place student teachers only with classroom teachers.

Efforts to overhaul the educator preparation system go back to President Obama and Senator Reid, thus far without much success. In this bicameral bill, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Kihuen take up the mantel to improve the transparency and quality of teacher training programs. Here in the state, Nevada lawmakers are searching for ways to readjust the importance of student achievement on teacher evaluations. Teaching is unique in that it’s one of very few professions where lawmakers who have never done the work demand performance and determine the methods for its measurement. But as long as teacher performance is tied to educational funding, it’s critical to ensure appropriate training, which this legislation seeks to do.