Bill Tracker – oct/nov 2017

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


H.R. 1106 – Small Tracts Conveyance Act

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)

Synopsis: This bill requires the Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a state (respecting certain public lands) or the Regional Forester with jurisdiction over the National Forest System (NFS) land of a specific Forest Service Region (respecting certain NFS lands) to select an eligible federal lands parcel for conveyance: (1) in response to a request by an adjacent landholder (any holder of non-federal land that shares one or more boundaries with such a parcel and who requests to purchase such a parcel), or (2) upon the recommendation of the BLM District Office or NFS unit that exercises administration over such parcel.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior shall each create a process by which an adjacent landholder may request to purchase an eligible parcel.

A conveyed eligible parcel may not exceed 160 acres unless the BLM or the Forest Service approves a request for additional acreage. An adjacent landholder may only acquire one eligible parcel a year, subject to an exception.

The BLM or the Forest Service, as consideration for the sale of an eligible parcel, shall require a cash payment that is equal to at least the fair market value of such parcel, including the mineral estate, being conveyed.

The purchaser of an eligible federal lands parcel under this bill shall cover the costs to be incurred, or to reimburse the BLM or the Forest Service for the costs incurred, in carrying out the conveyance.

A conveyance of an eligible federal lands parcel under this bill is categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Action: On 2/16/2017, introduced in House, referred that day to the House Natural Resources committee and House Agriculture committee. On 3/1, referred to Subcommittee on Federal Lands, and on 3/10, referred to Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

Sponsor Comments: “This legislation has been introduced the past three Congresses and seeks to address the issue of small conveyances of federal land where there are no environmental issues, exceptional resources, or valid existing rights present. It will facilitate the conveyance of small tracts, 160 acres or less, for adjoining land owners or political subdivisions – rather than the present process which essentially requires congressional legislation to transfer a single square foot of land in some cases,” said Congressman Amodei.

“Nevada has many instances where this is the only process available to meet those needs, and quite frankly, it’s unworkable and doesn’t result in responsible, non-environmentally sensitive lands being put toward a legitimate public priority. This bill would save the taxpayers, the BLM, and the USFS the expense of managing an excessive portfolio of federal lands, while generating revenue for local governments. Most importantly, it would give states like Nevada the freedom to determine how best to use their own lands, whether it’s for economic development, agriculture, recreation, or conservation.”

Jessica’s Take: This is another attempt by Amodei to streamline the process by which unused—and not environmentally important—parcels of federally owned land are transferred to private owners. Widely known as a bull on matters of federal land ownership, particularly as it impedes private efforts at economic development, Amodei drafted this bill after his National Forest Small Tracts Act Amendments Act of 2015, otherwise known as H.R. 1214, passed the House, hit the Senate, and fizzled out after committee hearings were held and then a new Congress took over. This bill is similar, but not the exact same: It includes BLM lands as well as the National Forest Service’s lands and eliminates the “under $500,000” stipulation on land values. It also stipulates that the purchaser covers the costs of the conveyance process, so as to ensure the government undertakes no further expense than necessary. The National Association of State Foresters supported H.R. 1214, citing many instances of small parcels that have become “no-man’s lands” where the public has committed vandalism or dumped trash and which it has become costly and unwieldy to manage. Amodei’s passion for public land conveyances isn’t contagious, but he’s hoping the fourth time’s the charm. With so many other weightier matters to address, it isn’t likely Congress will prioritize this one, but it may be worth their while to get this more comprehensively written bill off their plates through speedy passage.

S. 1809 – Moving and Fostering Innovation to Revolutionize Smarter Transportation, or Moving FIRST Act

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

Cosponsor: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

Synopsis: To ensure all our communities are planning for the future, the Moving FIRST Act would authorize the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Cities Challenge competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, for the first time, set aside funding for communities of varying sizes. From large (populations ranging from 400,000 to 1 million) and mid-sized (75,000 to 400,000) cities to our rural communities and regional partnerships (populations ranging from 10,000 to 75,000), every corner of the country will be able to compete for resources that improve the quality of life of their residents with next generation transportation technology. In addition, the legislation will make applicants eligible for additional federal funding opportunities to advance their innovative projects. Whether it’s Wi-Fi access or eased transportation to the nearest health care center, urban and rural residents get multiple opportunities under the Moving FIRST Act.  

Allocations under the Moving FIRST Act:

  • Large and mid-sized city awards: 2 awards annually, up to $50 million for a jurisdiction of each size, capped at $80 million total annually
  • Rural community and regional partnerships: 2 awards annually, totaling up to $20 million total, which a requirement that no less than 20% of the available funding go to rural projects.

In addition, the Moving FIRST Act makes SMART Challenge applications eligible to apply for other federal funding opportunities under other current USDOT programs.

Action: On 9/14/2017, bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Sponsor Comments: “Updating inefficient transportation systems by applying new technology will help our communities become better connected and improve our way of life,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “I am pleased to introduce a bill that will encourage cities to innovate, address their communities’ unique challenges and help residents with their day-to-day transportation needs. This bill will establish the successful SMART Cities Challenge and exciting projects by our Regional Transportation Commissions, by ensuring more communities can participate, while also cultivating more public-private partnerships that will address specific challenges facing our communities big and small.” 

“Our ability to harness technology and innovation is the key to overcoming the problems we face in the 21st Century,” said Sen. Burr. “This bill will provide cities and towns throughout North Carolina the opportunity to leverage technology and private investment to tackle their most pressing issues. Last year, Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte all put forward excellent proposals to make substantial technological improvements to these growing cities. This legislation will continue and expand the program for five more years, giving cities in North Carolina more opportunities to win the Smart Cities designation and funding. The proposals from our fast-growing cities included smart grids, expanded wifi hot spots, and self-driving commuter pods, which were all geared toward allowing data and technology to drive innovation in our cities. I’m supportive of expanding this Department of Transportation program because I know that North Carolina’s cities have even more ideas to offer to make these metropolitan areas more vibrant and cutting edge.”

Jessica’s Take: As background, according to a press release issued by the Cortez Masto camp: “The 2015 Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Cities Challenge was a competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation that received 78 applications from cities around the country. Mid-sized cities were asked to submit applications that would implement integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation systems that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. Cities of varying size from across the nation submitted their proposals, and in the end, Columbus, Ohio, won a $40 million grant to implement their plan.”

Though America has seen great technological strides in the last several decades, transportation remains stuck in the 20th century, with more and more Americans stuck in gridlock every day and our transportation infrastructure crumbling with alarming speed. President Trump made some great promises about overhauling our transportation infrastructure, but only time will tell if, or how, that will play out.

In the meantime, this bill introduced by Cortez Masto and Burr is an effort to build upon an Obama-era grant program, and that alone may create problems—though bipartisan sponsorship certainly helps. And the fact that a challenge grant enabled the City of Columbus to deploy three electric, self-driving shuttles is proof positive that the program is working, and this bill would provide some stability and growth for the program, at a time when a plan to fulfill that Republican promise about transportation would make good sense.

H.R. 3343 – Servicemember Voting Protection Act

Sponsor: Rep. Rubin Kihuen (D-NV)

Co-sponsor: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)

Synopsis: A bill to ensure that servicemembers, their families and overseas residents who register to vote are automatically mailed absentee ballots for all subsequent federal elections. Would amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to require states to provide absentee ballots to members of the uniformed services and overseas voters for all federal elections held within the state.

Action: On 7/20/2017, introduced in House and referred to the House Committee on House Administration.

Sponsor Comments: “Our servicemembers have sacrificed so much for our country, and it’s important that we do all we can to ensure they have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said Rep. Kihuen. “Being deployed, stationed overseas, or aboard ships at sea is hard enough on our military families. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their right to vote just because they volunteered to defend our freedom. Giving servicemembers, overseas voters, and their families the opportunity to fully participate in our most treasured and fundamental constitutional right is a crucial part of our democracy, and everyone should be able to participate freely.”

Jessica’s Take: This bill deals with a small formality in the existing Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act that provides absentee voting for servicemembers. The existing law passed after a line allowing absentee ballots to be sent in all subsequent elections was struck out. This amendment Kihuen proposes would put that line back in, allowing one request to remain effective for all future elections, as long as the servicemember needs to utilize the absentee function. It’s a formality that is, frankly, hard to argue with and would simplify the voting process, so it seems likely to pass without much fuss.

H.R. 2602 – Secure Our Skies Act of 2017

Sponsor: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Synopsis: This bill requires each air carrier providing passenger air transportation to provide flight attendants, pilots, and dispatchers who are employees or contractors of the carrier with training to combat human trafficking in the course of carrying out their duties. Such training shall cover: (1) common indicators of human trafficking, and (2) best practices for reporting suspected trafficking to law enforcement officers.

To assist in such training, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation shall provide information, including the Blue Campaign training module, for use by air carriers.

The Federal Aviation Administration shall report recommendations for improving the identification and reporting of human trafficking by air carrier personnel while protecting the civil liberties of passengers.

The bill grants immunity to an air carrier for reporting any suspicious transaction relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation relating to human trafficking.

Action: On 5/23/2017, it was introduced in House and referred to House Judiciary committee. On 5/24, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Aviation, and on 6/23, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Sponsor Comments: “Human trafficking, which affects more than 21 million people worldwide, is an insidious crime that must we must root out wherever it occurs,” said Rep. Titus, calling the Secure Our Skies Act, “a bipartisan bill that will give our airline employees the tools they need to combat human trafficking and close off avenues to perpetrators of this heinous crime.

“The Secure Our Skies, or SOS Act, ensures that all airlines develop training for their front-line employees on the best ways to recognize and report the often subtle signs of human trafficking.

“This legislation builds on the work of the Blue Lightning campaign, a voluntary program developed by the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation and the leadership of the Association of Flight Attendants a champion for this training.

“Sadly, reported cases of human trafficking are only growing in the United States and around the world. We all have a role to play in stopping human trafficking, and this legislation will ensure our airline personnel can spot the signs and stop the crimes.”

Jessica’s Take: Human trafficking is today’s slavery, a $150 billion-dollar industry, according to Polaris—one that forces young men and women into horrific situations, including forced labor and prostitution. And Nevada is one of the 10 worst states in the nation for its rates of human trafficking, which is likely related to our sex trade. The aviation industry is uniquely situated to make an impact on the industry by being alert to the signs and helping to alert authorities. This legislation proposed by a Democratic Nevada congresswoman could stand a good chance of passage—after all, Ivanka Trump has designated this a cause dear to her heart, and her president father has recently announced his commitment to stopping the epidemic. It’s a bill that promotes vigilance, which is a hard one to find fault with.