Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of January 2, 2019  
Congressional Outlook

The new 116th Congress convenes at noon on Thursday with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives (235 out of 435 seats) and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate (53 out of 100 seats). The new Congress begins with a parliamentary ceremony where lawmakers swear their oath of office and ratify rules changes for the 116th Congress. Following her expected election as Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will preside over the opening of a new Congress and administer the oath of office - en masse - to all new and returning House members. In the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence will swear in newly elected senators.
On December 31, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman-designate Nita Lowey (D-NY) released a legislative package that would reopen the federal government and end the partial government shutdown that has now entered its 12th day. The House will vote on the package on Thursday evening which consists of six FY 2019 appropriations bills providing funding through September 30, 2019 (Agriculture-Rural Development; Commerce-Justice-Science; Financial Services; Interior-Environment; State-Foreign Operations; and Transportation-HUD) and modeled primarily on measures that have previously passed the Senate or were approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan support earlier this year.
The House will then take a second vote on a continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security through Friday, February 8, 2019 at enacted FY 2018 levels in order to allow time for President Trump to reach agreement with Congress on border security. The legislation includes no new funding for Trump's proposed border wall and the legislation will likely not be considered in the GOP-controlled Senate, charting an uncertain path to ending the shutdown. President Trump has invited congressional leaders from both parties to a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon on border security, in the first face-to-face meeting between the President and leadership since the shutdown began on December 22. The meeting comes after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the Democratic proposal "a non-starter."
The House on Thursday will also be voting on H. Res. 6, which makes several rules changes, including: reviving the so-called "Gephardt Rule" that automatically raises the debt ceiling once the House passes a budget; changing the rules regarding motions "to vacate the chair," a procedural tool that could be used to force out a sitting House speaker; creating a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; creating a bipartisan select committee tasked with coming up with proposals to "modernize and improve" the way Congress operates; removing the dynamic scoring requirement for major legislation; setting new ethics rules for current and former members of Congress; and reviving a rule that requires 72 hours before major legislation can get a vote in the House.
Several items were not able to be completed by the outgoing 115th Congress during the two-month lame-duck period, including: confirmation of dozens of executive and judicial Trump Administration nominees; a package of public lands bills; a tax extenders and technical corrections package; a disaster relief package; Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform legislation; long-term National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reauthorization; long-term Violence Against Women Act reauthorization; immigration reform; JOBS Act 3.0 legislation; election security legislation; and autonomous vehicle legislation. Some or all of these legislative items will likely be back on the agenda in the new Congress and President Trump will need to formally re-nominate any nominees who are not confirmed by January 3.  
Week in Review

Federal Government Partially Shuts Down
Beginning at 12:01am on Saturday, December 22, 2018, the federal government partially shut down after Republicans and Democrats in Congress could not agree on a stopgap funding measure that included enough money for President Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall to garner his signature. The partial shutdown-affecting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury-is set to continue for at least several more days until an agreement can be reached between President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The departments whose funding lapsed represent about a quarter of the $1.24 trillion in government discretionary spending for FY 2019. An estimated 400,000 federal employees are working without pay and 350,000 are furloughed . If the shutdown standoff continues, all workers in the departments and agencies affected by the closing will miss their next paycheck on January 11. Read more.
Trump Signs $867 Billion Farm Bill Into Law; Administration Proposes Rule to Toughen SNAP Work Requirements
On December 20, President Trump signed the $867 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-334) into law at a public ceremony at the White House; a Joint Explanatory Statement is available here. The Senate passed the conference report on Dec. 11 by a vote of 87-13 and the House passed the legislation on Dec. 12 by a vote of 369-47. Agriculture and nutrition programs are reauthorized for five years, through FY 2023 or the related crop year, under the legislation. The measure does not expand work requirements for recipients under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), however, it does modify waivers and exemptions, as well as oversight of the program. Commodity support programs are reauthorized with some changes to how benefits are calculated and to the definition of family member for payment purposes. The measure does not include restrictions on payments that were in the Senate bill. The measure increases acreage under the Conservation Reserve Program and cap payments. It also increases funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and reduces funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The agreement legalizes hemp and also covers crop insurance, farm credit, rural development, energy, horticulture, trade, and research.
Additionally, on Dec. 20, the Trump Administration separately unveiled a proposed rule which would force hundreds of thousands more Americans to hold jobs if they want to keep receiving SNAP benefits, pursuing through executive powers what it could not achieve in Congress. The country's food assistance program, which is run by the Agriculture Department, already requires most adults without dependents to work if they collect SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three-year period. But USDA regulations allow states to waive the requirement in areas with unemployment rates that are at least 20 percent greater than the national rate. The USDA is now proposing that states could waive the requirement only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. The proposed changes would also force states to reapply for waivers every year, rather than every two years. The change would not apply to elderly people or pregnant women. Read more here and  here.
Trump Signs Five-Month NFIP Extension Into Law
On December 21, President Trump signed the National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act (Public Law 115-397) into law, which authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to enter into new contracts for flood insurance and borrow from the Treasury up to specified amounts through Friday, May 31, 2019. The Senate passed the bill on November 29 by voice vote and the House passed it on Dec. 21 by a vote of 315-48. Enactment of the bill marks the tenth short-term extension of the NFIP since the last long-term NFIP reauthorization expired on September 30, 2017. On Dec. 27, FEMA stated that the NFIP cannot be renewed during the partial government shutdown and that it was suspending all sales of new flood policies-or renewals of expiring plans. However, FEMA reversed course on Dec. 28 and stated that "all NFIP insurers have been directed to resume normal operations immediately and advised that the program will be considered operational since December 21, 2018 without interruption." Read more. 
Trump Signs First Step Act and Juvenile Justice Reform Act Into Law
On December 21, President Trump signed the First Step Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-340), landmark criminal justice reform legislation , and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-357), which renews juvenile just and at-risk youth programs, into law. The Senate passed the First Step Act on Dec. 18 by a vote of 87-12 and the House passed it on Dec. 20 by a vote of 358-36. In addition to numerous policy changes regarding federal sentencing guidelines, recidivism reduction measures, solitary confinement, and pregnant inmates, the legislation reauthorizes, through FY 2023, federal grants under the Second Chance Act (PL 110-199) that support prisoner reentry projects, substance abuse treatment, mentorships, and career training. Read more.
The Senate passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act by voice vote on Dec. 11 and the House passed it on Dec. 13 by voice vote. The measure authorizes $176 million annually from FYs 2019 through 2023 for Justice Department initiatives, including state formula grants and incentive grants. Read more.
Trump Signs Executive Order to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk
On December 21, President Trump signed Executive Order 13855, entitled " Promoting Active Management of America's Forests, Rangelands, and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk ." The E.O. i s aimed at preventing catastrophic wildfires by directing the Interior and Agriculture Departments to develop plans to remove brush and dead trees on millions of acres of federally owned land. The E.O. directs the Departments to identify ways to reduce "regulatory barriers" to better manage forests and get rid of hazardous fuels and calls for "treating" 4.25 million federal acres to cut fuel loads. It also allows for a total of 4.4 billion board feet of timber to be harvested from Forest Service- and Interior-managed lands in 2019. In the wake of California's deadly Camp fire in early November, Trump also ordered the agencies to develop a wildfire strategy by December 31, 2020 with state and local partners to minimize the risk of property loss and injuries. The E.O. also calls for addressing invasive species and working to mitigate flooding and erosion risks that result from wildland fires. It also requires the agencies' secretaries to "identify salvage and log recovery options from lands damaged by fire during the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, insects, or disease" by no later than March 31, 2019. Read more.
Congress Passes Water Infrastructure Improvement Act
On December 19, the House passed, by a vote of 351-10, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (H.R. 7279); the Senate passed the bill on Dec. 22 by voice vote, sending it to President Trump to be signed into law. The bill codifies the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2012 "Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework" guidance into law. The bill allows a municipality to meet multiple Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements by identifying efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs and sequencing investments so that the highest priority projects are addressed first, often saving municipalities' significant time and precious ratepayer resources. The bill also establishes an ombudsman within EPA to serve as a liaison between EPA headquarters, regional offices and municipalities on integrated planning issues, as well as promotes the use of "green infrastructure," such as permeable pavement and strategic placement of soil and vegetation, to help reduce the flow of stormwater into sewer systems or local waterways. The bill is supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, American Public Works Association, and the National Association of Regional Councils. Read more.
Congress Passes National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization & Harmful Algal Bloom Legislation
On December 18, the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S. 2200); the House passed the bill on Dec. 20 by a vote of 379-9, sending it to President Trump to be signed into law. The bill reauthorizes, through FY 2023, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which provides vital drought information to farmers, ranchers, and other industries affected by severe weather conditions. The legislation would encourage important partnerships with the private sector, integrate seasonal and subseasonal drought and water forecasts, improve the use of citizen-science, and support ongoing soil moisture monitoring to better aid farmers. The bill also includes the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017, which authorizes $102.5 million over five years to combat harmful algal blooms (HABs); establishes a process for NOAA and the EPA to declare a "Harmful Algal Bloom of Significance," which would trigger disaster-like funding for affected communities; reauthorizes, through FY 2023, the Harmful Algal Bloom Federal Interagency Task Force and formally adds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Task Force; and expands grant eligibility to include proposals for the intervention and mitigation of HABs. Read more here and here.
Trump Signs 87 Additional Bills Into Law
In addition to the Farm Bill, NFIP extension bill, and the two criminal justice reform bills, President Trump signed an additional 87 bills into law between December 17-31, including:
  • Improving Access to Maternity Care Act (Public Law 115-320), which collects information on health professional shortage areas identified as in need of maternity care health services and distribute maternity care health professionals to those areas;
  • Sickle Cell Disease and Other Heritable Blood Disorders Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-327), which reauthorizes a sickle cell disease prevention and treatment program and to provide grants for research, surveillance, prevention, and treatment of heritable blood disorders through FY 2023;
  • Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early (PREEMIE) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-328), which reauthorizes the 2006 PREEMIE Act through FY 2023;
  • Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-342), which reauthorizes and expands federal congenital heart disease (CDC) research, data collection, and public awareness activities through FY 2024;
  • Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-343), which reauthorizes, amends, and expands the Safe Motherhood initiative within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including authorizing support for State and tribal Maternal Mortality Review Committees that meet certain requirements through FY 2023;
  • Traumatic Brain Injury Program Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-348), which reauthorizes appropriations for programs and activities relating to the study, prevention, and treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) through FY 2024;
  • Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-354), which reauthorizes the Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund through FY 2021; authorizes appropriations through FY 2021 for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security for programs responding to severe forms of human trafficking; expands DOJ's grant program for state and local governments to provide services to victims of human trafficking; and amends federal criminal law to modify penalties for certain offenses related to human trafficking;
  • Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-355), which reauthorizes certain grants for programs that support victims of human trafficking through FYs 2021 and 2022;
  • Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology (CENOTE) Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-356), which authorizes the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to evaluate the use of unmanned maritime system technology for use in data collection;
  • Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-386), which revises certain boundaries and removes certain units in the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System throughout the southeastern U.S.;
  • Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (Public Law 115-396), which amends the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 to reform the procedures for the initiation, review, and resolution of claims alleging that employing offices of the legislative branch have violated the rights and protections provided to their employees, including protections against sexual harassment;
  • Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-400), which amends the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to improve the management of fisheries;
  • Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act (Public Law 115-401), which reauthorizes and expands activities related to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias through FY 2024;
  • State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-403), which reauthorizes federal grants for State Offices of Rural Health through FY 2022;
  • Museum and Library Services Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-405), which reauthorizes, amends, and expands the programs of the Institute for Museum and Library Services through FY 2025;
  • Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-406), which authorizes a program to train health care and social service providers to identify, treat, and respond appropriately to victims of human trafficking;
  • Vehicular Terrorism Prevention Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-408), which requires the Department of Homeland Security to assess and develop a strategy to improve its efforts to support emergency response providers and the private sector to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the threat of vehicular terrorism;
  • Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-409), which requires the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network, to be known as the Ashanti Alert communications network, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults; and the
  • Innovations in Mentoring, Training, and Apprenticeships Act (Public Law 115-410), which requires the National Science Foundation to award grants to develop and improve STEM courses and degrees, combining formal education with applied learning experiences.