Bill Tracker – May 2018

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


S.2170 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the deduction for local lobbying expenses.

Sponsor: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

Synopsis: This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to eliminate the tax deduction for lobbying expenditures to influence the legislation of any local council or similar governing body,including an Indian tribal government.

Actions: On 11/29/2017, read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.

Sponsor Comments: “It’s time we eliminate loopholes that put everyday Americans on the hook for special interests’ lobbying and backroom deals. The tax code doesn’t allow big corporations to write off their federal lobbying expenses and it shouldn’t allow corporations to deduct lobbying to influence local policy. This bill ends taxpayer subsidies for lobbyists and special interests and closes a loophole that gives unnecessary tax breaks for lobbyists. As we work on tax reform, I urge my colleagues to make sure the current tax code works for Nevada’s hardworking families, not for special interests.”

Jessica’s Take: In a time when the lines between the corporate world and the political world are increasingly blurred and corruption lurks around every corner, there’s a desire growing among Democrats to enhance transparency and eliminate perks for the wealthy. Under the current tax code, lobbyists and businesses aren’t allowed to deduct their expenses when they try to sway local or federal lawmakers, but they are still deductible when those expenses are used to sway tribal, county or local governments. In one of the few pieces of legislation Cortez Masto has actually sponsored since taking office, this loophole would be closed. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that closing that loophole would increase federal revenues by nearly $1 billion over a 10-year period. The right-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute has gone on record as saying that this is indicative of how convoluted the current tax code is, and that it is a matter the public is likely to support. Whether the Republicans in Congress—whose support needed in order for the measure to pass but who also may benefit from the existing loophole—agree with this remains to be seen.

S.2548 – Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)Co-Sponsors: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Related bill: H.R.918 – The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare ActHouse

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO)

Synopsis: A bill that would require the VA to provide veterans who were released from the military with an “other-than-honorable” discharge a mental health assessment and treatment. Under current law, veterans who received an “other-than-honorable” discharge may not be eligible for mental health services from the VA unless the department has deemed otherwise. The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act also allows veterans to receive mental health treatment outside the VA health system if the Secretary deems treatment at the designated facility“clinically advisable” or too far from a veterans’ residence. Additionally, the bill requires the VA to establish a formal “character of service” process, in which the Secretary would review the veterans’ discharge or release.

Action: On 3/14/2018, read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.Sponsor Comments: “The men and women who fight to defend this country and protect our freedoms deserve the support that they need when they return home,” said Heller. “Our legislation would help ensure that veterans who are struggling and in need of mental health care services have access to the treatment that they require. I’m proud to work with Senator Cornyn on this legislation, and I urge my colleagues to join us in recognizing the importance of taking care of our combat veterans, particularly those who are most in need.”

Jessica’s Take: Mental health—particularly the access to and availability of mental healthcare—is under particular scrutiny these days as the nation reels from repeated mass shootings and wrestles to come up with a solution. Among the many mental health issues plaguing our nation is what service members call a “catch-22”: A service member begins showing signs of PTSD, acts out, and is discharged under the heading of “less than honorable.” The problem is, this category of discharge prohibits these service members who have sacrificed their mental health in service to our country from receiving VA benefits, so they can’t come home and receive the mental healthcare they deserve. The military granted 260,000 less-than-honorable discharges to Vietnam vets, but about 30% of those vets have struggled with PTSD in their lifetimes, according to the VA (as reported by CNN). More than 125,000 post-9/11 vets are exclude from basic VA services while up to 20% are said to suffer from PTSD. This bill not only would provide this needed access to treatment but it would enable them to potentially receive care outside the VA system if they are located too far from such a treatment center, and it would open up their discharge status for another review. The related House bill passed unanimously, and it’s hard to find fault with a such a bill, so it’s chance of passing the Senate is good.

H.R.5231 – No Free Campaigns for Congress Act of 2018

Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)Synopsis: A bill to limit the use of taxpayer-funded mailings by federal lawmakers.

  • The bill would cap the amount of taxpayer dollars that may be spent on “franked mail” at $10,000 per member annually.
  • It would prohibit any taxpayer-funded mailings from being used on purely campaign-oriented content.
  • It would prohibit physical mass mailings from being used at any time during a calendar year in which a member is up for election or re-election, including for another office.
  • It would prevent the use of photos in all physical mailings to constituents.

Action: Introduced in House on 3/8/2018, and on the same day it was referred to the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Sponsor Comments: “Since joining Congress, I’ve been looking for commonsense areas where we can cut back on wasteful government spending and make Washington more accountable,” said Rosen. “This legislation would reform the franked mail program in Congress by significantly limiting the amount of taxpayer money that can be used on a program that’s increasingly been described as producing campaign-style advertisements. Members of Congress should be using their office budgets to fight for their constituents and serve the people they represent, not help themselves get re-elected.”

Jessica’s Take: Rep. Rosen seems to be playing the role of de facto watchdog in Congress. As she faces an election battle with Republican Senator Dean Heller, one may wonder whether her hawkishness regarding political loopholes and abuses is merely a way to lay the groundwork for her senatorial campaign against the controversial Heller. Earlier this year, she introduced the Pulled Pork Act to prevent Congress from reinstating earmarks, and she’s a cosponsor of the No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act. For years, ethics watchdog groups have criticized the franked mail practice and the potential abuses of this practice, though some lawmakers argue that the privilege may be needed to inform constituents of legislative changes to programs and to educate communities about certain changes that may not be covered in the media. Rosen is the sole proponent in shepherding this bill, and its numerous restrictions may—unfortunately for taxpayers—be too much for lawmakers to swallow.

H.R.5251 – Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere Act, or NURSE Act

Sponsor: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Related bill: S.2532 – NURSE Act Senate

Sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)Synopsis: A bill to allow public elementary and secondary schools to apply for grants to reduce the cost of hiring a nurse, providing districts, boards, and state agencies the ability to participate if more than 20% of students within their jurisdictions are eligible for low-cost or free lunch.

Action: On 3/13/2018, introduced in House, referred to Committee on Education and the Workforce and Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Sponsor Comments: “School nurses are on the front lines, promoting wellness, managing chronic diseases, administering medication, and addressing issues that affect students in and out of the classroom,” said Rep. Titus. “But data show that nurses in Nevada and the nation are spread thin. More than 40 percent of Clark County School District schools are without a full-time nurse and the same goes for districts across the nation. Besides caring for thousands of students at a single school, many nurses also have to travel from school to school in order to care for our kids. This bill will ensure that we have more medical professionals focusing on smaller numbers of students. We can all agree: Healthier students are better prepared to learn.”

Jessica’s Take: Findings reported in the language of Titus’ bill show that in 2017, only 39.3 percent of schools employed full-time school nurses, while 35.5. percent employed one part-time and 25.2 percent employed none at all, according to the National Association of School Nurses. Meanwhile, national data show that between 15 and 20 percent of children in school have chronic health conditions. In a time when school violence is at an all-time high and activists on both sides of the fence are screaming for more mental health services, school nurses spend roughly 32 percent of their already thinly spread time providing mental health services, including interventions to identify early warning signs and provide referrals and plan crises. Rep. Titus, a former teacher who repeatedly introduces legislation targeted at improving education, has introduced this bill to increase funding for the employment of school nurses in areas where they are most needed. Clark County, Titus’ home territory, serves as a primary example for such a need: The district educates 310,000 students in more than 350 schools, but yet it only employs 200 school nurses. Meanwhile, the district provides free or reduced-price lunches to a whopping 62 percent of students. Under this new law, CCSD would qualify for these NURSE Act grants. While it may not on the surface appear to be a law that will take top priority among congressional representatives, the political climate regarding school violence should make passage of this bill appetizing to those who would like to see students’ mental health addressed first.