Indy DC Download: Senate passes tech innovation bill while House takes steps on infrastructure – The Nevada Independent

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The Senate approved legislation to spur technological innovation as a House panel approved $547 billion transportation infrastructure legislation that included $54.5 million requested by Nevada's House members for 11 state projects.  

The vote on the Senate innovation bill, also designed to give the U.S. tech industry a leg up against China, came just before Senate Republicans blocked the chamber from taking up Democratic legislation to address the gender pay gap. The motion to proceed to the Paycheck Fairness Act failed 49 to 50; it needed 60 votes to advance. 

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) believes that fixing gender pay equity should be a no-brainer.

“Women make up half of the population,” Rosen said, adding that it’s “fundamental” and essentially a “nonpartisan issue.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) argued that the cause of the pay equity gap is the result of choices made by women, who tend to be the primary caregivers in households. He said the Democratic bill would reduce flexibility, enforce rigid payscale and open employers up to lawsuits, making it harder for women to be hired. 

Lee called for a Senate vote on a GOP measure, the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would change federal labor law to allow private-sector businesses to offer workers paid time off instead of overtime pay. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) objected, arguing that Lee's bill would not guarantee workers could actually use the time earned and that employers would have a month to pay workers if their use of the time off is denied. 

While the House did not hold any roll call votes, the chamber remotely conducted a slew of committee business, including the transportation bill markup.  

Infrastructure

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the infrastructure measure, known as the Invest in America Act, on a 38 to 26 vote after a 19-hour markup session. Only two Republicans on the panel voted for the bill.

The committee’s passage of the legislation begins the House process of passing President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Jobs Plan. Other committees, including the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy in the House, must still approve its portion of the package. Rep. Steven Horsford is a member of the tax committee, and Rep. Dina Titus sits on the transportation panel.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to pass a broad infrastructure package by the July 4th recess. Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have said Biden's plan spends too much. They also oppose a provision to raise the corporate tax rate to cover the bill's cost.

A group of GOP Senators, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), broke off talks with Biden last week without reaching a deal.

But a second group of Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is negotiating with a group of Democrats to craft a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Collins said last week that the group has a tentative deal that would provide roughly $1.2 trillion with half of that redirected to previously appropriated spending and the rest to new funding. Details still need to be worked out with the White House.

The committee-passed infrastructure bill would provide $547 billion over five years, of which $343 would go to roads and bridges, including $4 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Transit would receive $109 billion, and passenger and freight rail would get $95 billion.

The committee bill included all transportation projects requested by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Titus and Horsford. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) did not ask for funding for any transportation projects.

Amodei sought five transportation projects totaling $21 million, including $6 million for the Arlington Ave. bridge over the Truckee River in Reno. That bridge was among a list of 24 in his district deemed to be in poor condition by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report.”

Titus requested $20 million for four projects, including $7 million for the Charleston Boulevard underpass in Las Vegas, which is prone to flooding.

“These federal resources will make it easier for Las Vegans and our visitors to get around town,” Titus said in a release.

Horsford asked for $13.5 million for two projects. Most of the funding—$12 million—was for retrofitting street lights in North Las Vegas with energy-efficient LED bulbs. 

Innovation

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Rosen on Tuesday praised Senate passage, on a 68 to 32 vote, of the United States Innovation and Competition Act, which would provide about $200 billion over five years for technology research in order to better compete with China.

Both noted that Nevada had increased its tech industry footprint, including constructing an Apple data center in downtown Reno and the growing Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) in Storey County. TRIC is home to the Tesla Gigafactory and a Switch data center, among other firms.

“Nevada’s technology industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs and will help position our state for a bright future, but we have to make sure our state and nation are prepared to compete in our international economy,” Cortez Masto said adding that bill “will help our state attract additional industries, create more jobs, and boost our economic competitiveness on the world stage.”

The bill includes provisions that Cortez Masto helped secure, including one to beef up protections for research conducted on U.S. soil from international espionage and another to enhance protections for intellectual property. 

Rosen, who serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, also helped secure provisions in the bill. One would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support rural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development through grants for teaching STEM in rural schools. She also helped draft and include language to provide grants for worker education, training, development and entrepreneurship for advanced manufacturing and reauthorizing a program that allows the NSF to work with community colleges. 

Bills

The Senate approved, by unanimous consent, a bill championed by Cortez Masto that would keep private the contents of peer support and peer counseling provided to law enforcement officers. The measure would also require the Department of Justice to develop best practices and professional standards for peer support counseling programs.

“Giving law enforcement officers across Nevada access to quality and confidential mental health counseling services will save lives, reduce the stigma of seeking help, and lead to better policing,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Rosen, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s tourism subcommittee, and Cortez Masto also last week introduced separate legislation to help revitalize the tourism industry.

Rosen's bill, Travel Optimization by Updating and Revitalizing Infrastructure to Support Mobilization Act, would update the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan with immediate-term and long-term strategies. Those strategies would guide the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies on infrastructure investments to revive the travel and tourism industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By making these additional investments, we can help American travel and tourism get back to creating jobs, drive economic growth, and allow visitors to see and take part in the unique and worthwhile experiences that our communities and our states have to offer,” Rosen said in a statement.

The National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan was established under the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The plan, which includes policy recommendations intended to aid the industry, was developed by the DOT in consultation with the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism, state departments of transportation, and other appropriate public and private transportation stakeholders.

DOT published the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan in January 2021. The plan is designed to inform policy and investment until 2024. But the plan does not fully consider the fallout from the pandemic because the pandemic and its impacts are still unfolding, Rosen's office said.

The TOURISM Act, which Cortez Masto cosponsored, is endorsed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, the Vegas Chamber, the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Henderson Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Chamber of Commerce Las Vegas, Rosen's office said.

Cortez Masto also introduced, with a group of four other senators, the Visit America Act to create an assistant secretary position within the Department of Commerce. The secretary would be focused on bolstering America’s travel and tourism industry and coordinating a strategy across federal agencies by establishing annual goals and recommendations.

The bill would “make sure our government is doing everything it can to revitalize our country’s tourism and travel industry in the wake of the pandemic,” Cortez Masto said.

Cortez Masto also reintroduced legislation that would address a shortage of teachers certified to teach the nation’s 5 million students in public schools—or one in ten students—who are English learners (EL).

“There's 32 states that have a shortage of teachers for EL students,” Cortez Masto told The Nevada Independent last week. “That's a lot of states. So this is an area we really have to focus on putting the resources into building that capacity.”

The Reaching English Learners Act, which she introduced in the last legislative session, would create a grant program for colleges and universities to train future teachers to instruct ELs.  

Hearings

Last week, members of the delegation participated in several hearings, including Horsford, who pressed leaders at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over the agency focusing on low-income, minority communities.

“Americans with the highest incomes account for a disproportionately larger share of under-reported taxes, while at the same time, lower income communities, especially black and brown communities, are targeted more by the IRS,” Horsford said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing Thursday. “This is not fair, and it must end.”

Doug O'Donnell, IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, who appeared before the committee, told Horsford that high-income taxpayers are statistically more likely to come under IRS scrutiny. But he agreed that the IRS could do better.

“It's been part of the discussion from the beginning that our coverage on the large multinationals, on the multi-tiered partnerships, on the high wealth is much lower than we think is appropriate,” O’Donnell said.

At a hearing on the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, Rosen discussed with Colonial Chief Executive Joseph Blount a bill she introduced in the last Congress to protect the electrical grid.

Blount told Rosen that her bill, the Cyber Sense Act, could help the pipeline industry.

“I think that’s a great program for electric utilities, and I think that would help our side of the business be more secure and less susceptible to any threats is a great idea,” Blount said.

Rosen's bill would create a voluntary program at the Department of Energy (DOE) to test the cybersecurity of products and technologies intended for use in the nation's bulk-power system, which provides the electricity that supports national defense, emergency services and critical infrastructure. It would also establish a testing process for the products and a reporting process of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and require DOE to keep a related database on the products.

Miscellany

Rosen last week said she would be willing to vote to get rid of the filibuster to protect “our fundamental rights as Americans.”

Her comments came after a Washington Post profile published Wednesday, in which Rosen said she backed reforming the filibuster. Rosen, who is proud of her efforts to work across the aisle with her GOP colleagues, had previously signaled that she would be reluctant, if not unwilling, to vote to get rid of the rule requiring 60 votes to end debate and advance most legislation in the Senate.

“That interview actually happened several weeks ago,” Rosen said Thursday when asked about her comment and the article.

“And so I wanted to make it clear that I’m going to protect democracy at all costs,” Rosen said. 

Her comment comes as the Senate is expected to vote at the end of the month on the For the People Act, far-reaching voting rights, election and campaign reform legislation. Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), oppose the bill for, among other things, what they say amounts to a federal takeover of elections from states and localities. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) also opposes the bill for being too partisan, he said in a recent op-ed. Manchin has also been a vocal advocate of the filibuster, and has said he would not vote to get rid of the rule. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has made a similar vow, which—given the 50-50 party split in the Senate—dooms any effort to ditch the filibuster unless she and Manchin have a change of heart. 

Their positions contrast with Rosen’s, who sees voting rights as an issue worthy of axing the filibuster.  

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2037 – A bill to amend title XVIII to strengthen ambulance services furnished under part B of the Medicare program.

S.1963 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to award institutions of higher education grants for teaching English learners.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2015 – A bill to amend the FAST Act to require an update to the national travel and tourism infrastructure strategic plan, and for other purposes.

S.2014 – A bill to permit legally married same-sex couples to amend their filing status for tax returns outside the statute of limitations.

S.2008 – A bill to strengthen the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

S.1979 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand and modify the credit for increasing research activities, and for other purposes.

S.1978 – A bill to prohibit the use of funds for the 2026 World Cup unless the United States Soccer Federation provides equitable pay to the members of the United States Women's National Team and the United States Men's National Team.

S.1975 – A bill to protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

S.1964 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to provide for the establishment of a Ski Area Fee Retention Account, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2015 – A bill to amend the FAST Act to require an update to the national travel and tourism infrastructure strategic plan, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2014 – A bill to permit legally married same-sex couples to amend their filing status for tax returns outside the statute of limitations.

S.2013 – A bill to provide for the coverage of medically necessary food and vitamins and individual amino acids for digestive and inherited metabolic disorder under Federal health programs and private health insurance, to ensure State and Federal protection for existing coverage, and for other purposes.

S.2012 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include certain communities, and for other purposes.

S.1996 – A bill to protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

S.1975 – A bill to protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

S.1964 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to provide for the establishment of a Ski Area Fee Retention Account, and for other purposes.

S.1864 – A bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require a section on reproductive rights in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and for other purposes.

S.1856 – A bill to enhance the security operations of the Transportation Security Administration and stability of the transportation security workforce by applying the personnel system under title 5, United States Code, to employees of the Transportation Security Administration, and for other purposes.

S.1848 – A bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services, to improve safety, well-being, and permanency for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning foster youth, and for other purposes.

S.1810 – A bill to provide incentives to physicians to practice in rural and medically underserved communities, and for other purposes.

S.1795 – A bill to address mental health issues for youth, particularly youth of color, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3800 – To protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3799 – To direct the Secretary of the Treasury to develop and administer a national incentive program to provide prizes for qualified vaccinated individuals.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3779 – To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to award institutions of higher education grants for teaching English learners.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3800 – To protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

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