Focused Almost Exclusively on Mitigating the Health and Economic Impact of the Coronavirus

HR 6074, HR 6201, HR 4998, S 3548Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 6074) – Introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), this was the first bill passed to authorize funding in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was introduced on March 4 and signed into law on March 6. The legislation provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. It includes appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department and the Small Business Administration for the development, manufacture and procurement of vaccines and other medical supplies; grants for state, local and tribal public health agencies and organizations; loans for affected small businesses; evacuations and emergency preparedness activities at U.S. embassies and other State Department facilities; and humanitarian assistance and support for health systems in affected countries.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201) – Introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) on March 11, this bill authorizes funding and support for Americans suffering from the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. Specifically, the legislation includes allocations for: 1.) $500 million to provide access to nutritious foods for low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency; 2.) $400 million to assist local food banks to meet increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency; 3.) approve state plans to provide emergency food assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals at school; 4.) $100 million for nutrition assistance grants to Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; 5.) $82 million to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing for beneficiaries receiving care through the Defense Health Program; 6.) $15 million for the IRS to implement tax credits for paid sick and paid family and medical leave; 7.) $64 million for the Indian Health Service to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing; 8.) $250 million for the Senior Nutrition program to provide additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors; 9.) $1 billion to reimburse the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing and services provided to individuals without health insurance; 10.) $60 million to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing for veterans. The Act also includes provisions to enhance unemployment insurance and increase federal Medicaid funding. This legislation passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the president on March 18.

Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (HR 4998) – This legislation prohibits the federal government from obtaining communications equipment or services from a company that poses a national security risk, such as from the Chinese company Huawei Technologies. The bill also establishes a reimbursement program to supply small communications providers with funds to replace this type of prohibited equipment or services from their networks with more secure options. The Act was introduced on Nov. 8, 2019, by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) and signed into law by the president on March 12.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S 3548) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced this legislation on March 19. The bill is designed to address the economic impact of the coronavirus by providing direct cash payments to Americans, loan guarantees for impacted businesses and more resources for testing and development of vaccines. The current version of the bill includes: 1.) a substantial boost in unemployment insurance benefits (expanded eligibility and an additional $600 a week for four months); 2.) $367 billion loan program for small businesses; 3,) $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds; 4.) $130 billion for hospitals; 5.) $500 billion lending fund for large employers – subject to independent oversight with exclusions for members of Congress and the executive branch. The bill is expected to pass in both houses and be signed by the president.

Supporting Veteran Careers, Protecting the Food Supply, and Reducing Wasted Government Spending

Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (S 153) – This bill encourages veterans to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields in a variety of ways, including making veterans eligible for certain National Science Foundation (NSF) programs. The Act directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to improve veteran and military spouse representation in STEM fields, and authorizes funding for the Government Accountability Office to study 1) the academic success rates of student veterans pursuing an undergraduate degree in STEM and related fields; and 2) the barriers faced by such students in pursuing such degrees. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (D-FL) on Jan. 16, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in December, the House in January, and was signed into law by the president on Feb. 11.

Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 (S 2107) – This legislation directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire and train more agricultural inspectors at land, air, and seaports to prevent African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases from entering the United States. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). It was introduced on July 11, 2019, passed the Senate (October) and then-House (February) and is currently waiting to be signed by the president.

Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 (S 375) – This bipartisan bill is designed to reduce federal government waste in the form of overpayments, underpayments, payments made to ineligible recipients or payments that are not properly documented. It authorizes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish pilot programs to test potential accountability mechanisms for compliance requirements, such as updating a plan to improve the integrity and usage of Social Security death data. The Act was introduced on Feb. 7, 2019, by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE); it passed the Senate in July, the House in February and is currently waiting to be enacted.

Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 (S 394) – This law requires eligible presidential candidates (as of September of an election year) to develop and release transition team ethics plans, including how they will address their own conflicts of interest, prior to election day. It also is designed to focus a transitioning government on ongoing issues in the public interest during the changeover so that priorities are not shifted to solely address those of special interest lobbyists. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Feb.7, 2019, was passed by the Senate in August and the House in February. It is awaiting signature by the president.

United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (HR 5340) – Introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), this legislation represents the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. This bill passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the president on Jan. 29. Mexico has also signed the agreement. However, Canada is still in the process of getting it ratified through Parliamentary procedures.

PIRATE Act (HR 583) – This bill dramatically increases the fine for operating a “Pirate Radio” station, in which people set up their own stations outside the official Federal Communications Commission (FCC) system. The maximum fine increases from $19,639 to $100,000 per day, with a maximum total fine, capped at $2 million, up from $147,290. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) in January 2019. It passed in the House in February 2019 and in Senate in January 2020. The bill was signed into law on Jan. 24.

Blocking Robocalls, Stepping Up Suicide Prevention for Vets, and Appropriating Funds for a New Space Force

Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (S 151) – Approximately 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year, a 22 percent increase over 2018. That works out to an average of 178.3 robocalls per person, per year. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this law was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. The legislation requires that phone companies ensure all calls come from real numbers, do not charge extra to block robocalls, and authorize government regulators to punish scammers with fines of up to $10,000 per call. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ); it was signed into law by the president on Dec. 30, 2019.

Building Blocks of STEM Act (S 737) – This bill modifies National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs that support STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to promote the role of teachers and caregivers in encouraging participation by female students in STEM activities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the development of gender-inclusive computer science enrichment programs in pre-kindergarten through elementary school. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). It was introduced on March 11, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 24.

Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act (HR 2333) – This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators. The bill responds to reports that coordinators are overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities, particularly in light of the recent increase in veteran suicides. The Act was introduced on April 18, 2019, by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY); it passed the House in May, the Senate in December and was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 1865) – This annual appropriations bill sets government spending limits for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020). Among a myriad of provisions, the bill extends funding for various health-related programs; deters pharmaceutical companies from blocking lower-cost generic alternatives from entering the marketplace; and repeals the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plans, the medical device excise tax, and the health insurance fee that was initially imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the bill was passed by the House and Senate in mid-December and signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2019.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – This $738 billion defense bill authorizes fiscal year 2020 appropriations and policies for the Department of Defense. Provisions include authorization for a sixth, stand-alone branch of the U.S. military service (Space Force); guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; allows for Liberian nationals living in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure to apply for permanent residency; funding for improvements to military housing and health care; funding to purchase 60 F-35s for the Air Force; and a dictate that prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it maintains a Russian-made missile system. Note that passage of this bill does not provide budget appropriations, which is authorized in subsequent legislation. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 17, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

FUTURE Act (HR 5363) – This bill permanently authorizes funding for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and increases appropriations for Pell Grants. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) on Dec. 9, 2019, passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019.

Protecting TV Viewers, Whistleblowers and Supreme Court Justices; New Status Provisions for Immigrant Workers; and OTC Drugs

Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019 (HR 4258) – This bill reauthorizes the Marshal of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Police to protect the Justices of the Supreme Court, their employees and official guests outside of the Supreme Court grounds. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ). It was introduced on Sept. 9, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Nov. 27, 2019.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (HR 5038) – This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for terms and conditions for nonimmigrant workers performing agricultural labor. Under this law, certified agricultural worker (CAW) status may be granted to someone who 1) performed at least 1,035 hours of agricultural labor during the two-year period prior to Oct. 30, 2019, 2) was inadmissible or deportable on that date, and 3) has been continuously present in the United States from that date until receiving CAW status. The CAW status is valid for five and a half years with the option to extend, and the Department of Homeland Security may grant dependent status to the spouse or children of a principal alien. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Nov. 12, 2019, and passed in the House in December 2019. It is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (HR 5035) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Doyle Jr. (D-PA) on Nov. 12, 2019, passed in the House of Representatives and currently awaits review in the Senate. The legislation would ban hidden fees from cable providers by requiring them to disclose all itemized charges, fees and estimated taxes in the total price before a consumer signs up for a video package (whether offered individually or as part of a bundle). The bill also would give customers the right to cancel service without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing the service plan.

The Over-the-Counter Monograph Safety, Innovation and Reform Act (S 2740) – Introduced on Oct. 30, 2019, by Sen. John Isakson (R-GA), this bill would add new incentives to the FDA’s process for approving drugs that do not require a prescription. It would allow an over-the-counter drug manufacturer to request 18 months of exclusivity upon FDA approval for products that are new to the OTC market. The application would require a user fee ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of OTC product. This legislation passed the Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and is currently under consideration in the House.

Engineering Biology Research and Development Act of 2019 (HR 4373) – This bill would establish a federal engineering biology research initiative to bolster U.S. leadership in engineering biology, among other provisions. The bill was introduced on Sept. 18, 2019, by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) and passed the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently in the Senate.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act (HR 4713) – Following the emergence of whistleblowers worried about their civil rights, this legislation would give the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office new authority to ensure that the rights of individuals subject to its programs and activities are protected. Specifically, the bill would allow each Homeland Security department to appoint its own civil rights and liberties officer and grant them the authority to access all relevant department records, as well as subpoena non-federal entities. The bill was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and passed in the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Hanging Flags, Awarding Geniuses, Supporting Hong Kong Protestors and Criminalizing Animal Cruelty

National POW/MIA Flag Act (S 693) – This bill amended title 36 of the United States Code to require that the POW/MIA flag be displayed on all days that the flag of the United States is displayed on certain federal properties. Previously, the POW/MIA flag was displayed only on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Elizbeth Warren (D-MA) on March 7. It was passed in the Senate on May 2, passed in the House on Oct. 22 and signed into law by the president on Nov. 7.

Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act (HR 1396) – This legislation awards Congressional Gold Medals to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden, and posthumously to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, as well as all of the women who contributed to the success of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the Space Race. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX). It was introduced on Feb. 27, passed in the House on Sept. 19, in the Senate on Oct. 17 and then signed into law by the president on Nov. 8.

Rebuilding Small Businesses After Disasters Act (S 862) – Introduced on March 25 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), this bill makes permanent the increased collateral requirements for major-disaster loans issued by the Small Business Administration. It passed the Senate on Aug. 1, the House on Nov. 20, and is currently awaiting signature by the president to enact into law.

Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (S 1838) – In response to the millions of Hong Kong citizens who have protested and demonstrated for government reform since last June, this bill authorizes three actions. 1) Requires the State Department to recertify Hong Kong’s autonomous status each year in order to continue receiving special treatment by the United States; 2) mandates the U.S. government identify anyone involved in abductions or extraditions of Hong Kong protesters or citizens to mainland China, plus freezes any U.S.-based assets and denies them entry into the United States; and 3) clarifies under federal law that no one should be denied a visa to the United States on the basis of participating in Hong Kong protests. The bill was introduced on June 13 by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and passed both Houses of Congress in November. It is currently with the president, who may sign or veto the bill.

A bill to prohibit the commercial export of covered munitions items to the Hong Kong Police Force (S 2710) – This legislation prohibits the issuance of licenses to export certain munition items to the Hong Kong Police Force and the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and handcuffs. The bill does allow for the president to make an exception upon certifying to Congress how such exports would be advantageous to U.S. national interests and foreign policy goals. This prohibition would expire one year after enactment. The bill was introduced on Oct. 24 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and passed in Congress on Nov. 20. It is currently awaiting signature by the president.

Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act or the PACT Act (HR 724) – This bill expands criminal provisions with respect to animal crushing (torture by stepping on an animal). It subjects violators to criminal prosecution for intentionally crushing an animal, or knowingly creating or distributing an animal crush video using interstate commerce. Criminal penalties include a fine, a prison term of up to seven years, or both. The bill was introduced by Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-FL) on Jan. 23, passed the two Houses of Congress in October and November, and is currently awaiting to be signed into law.