Saturday, March 26, 2016

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson: March 24, 2016 Legislative Updates

Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
On March 16, Senator Nelson, as Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined the Committee in approving S. 2658, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016.  This legislation addresses consumer protections, drone safety, airline safety improvements, and increases funding levels for airport infrastructure.

The current FAA reauthorization is due to expire March 31, 2016.  A bill authorizing a short term extension passed the Senate on March 15, 2016 and passed the House of Representatives on March 21, 2016.  This short term extension bill, expected to be signed by the President, will authorize the FAA through July 15, 2016.

Supporting Israel
On March 17, Senator Nelson became a cosponsor of S. 2531, the Combating BDS Act of 2016. This legislation allows state and local governments to enact laws that divest state and local assets from entities that engage in unfair boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) activities targeted at Israel.

Addressing Opioid Addiction and Substance Abuse
On March 10, Senator Nelson voted to pass S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which passed in the Senate by a vote of 94 to 1.  Senator Nelson is a cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation, which awards grants to states to coordinate efforts to curb drug addiction and to better treat individuals suffering from addiction. 

Fighting the Zika Virus
On March 18, the Senate passed S. 2512, Adding Zika Virus to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act, by Unanimous Consent.  The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Nelson, would add the Zika virus to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program, creating an incentive for drug makers to accelerate their search for a cure.  The bill must be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President before becoming law. 

Advancing Wireless Technology
On March 3, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, where Senator Nelson serves as Ranking Member, approved S. 2555, the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless (MOBILE NOW) Act.  This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Thune and Nelson in February and is designed to advance next generation wireless technology.  It contains provisions to address consumers’ ever increasing desire for mobile broadband services by ensuring more spectrum is made available for commercial use, while protecting the mission critical needs of federal spectrum users, including national security operations.  The bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Creating an Independent Digital Security Commission
On March 7, Senator Nelson became a cosponsor of S. 2604, the Digital Security Commission Act of 2016. The bill would create an independent commission composed of leading experts in digital technology, cryptography, law enforcement, intelligence, privacy, and business to study and recommend policies that balance national security and individuals’ privacy.

Providing Incentives for Research on Alzheimer’s Treatments and Cures
On March 9, Senator Nelson became a cosponsor of S. 2067, the Ensuring Useful Research Expenditures is Key for Alzheimer's (EUREKA) Act.  This bipartisan legislation would direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish EUREKA prize competitions to accelerate breakthroughs in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  In 2015, about 500,000 Floridians were living with Alzheimer’s, and this number is expected to rise to 720,000 by 2025.

Addressing U.S. Physician Shortage
On March 14, Senator Nelson introduced S. 2671, the Advancing Medical Resident Training in Community Hospitals Act.  This bipartisan bill would fix a glitch in the Medicare Graduate Medical Education rule that prevents hospitals that already accept part-time medical residents on a rotating basis from establishing their own full-time residency programs.  The bill would help address the current physician shortage by allowing 11 hospitals across the nation to immediately begin opening medical residency programs to train new physicians.

Advancing Research for Neurological Diseases
On March 2, Senator Nelson became a co-sponsor of S. 849, the Advancing Research for Neurological Diseases Act, which would establish a data collection system to track the incidence and prevalence of neurological conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.  Currently, there is no national collection system in place to compile data.  More information can improve research quality and potentially speed the development of cures.

Setting Goals Towards Clean Energy
On March 3, Senator Nelson became an original cosponsor of S.Res. 386, a resolution introduced by Senator Cardin that expresses the sense of the Senate that the United States should establish a goal of producing more than 50 percent of electricity from clean and carbon-free resources by 2030 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, create jobs, and improve public health and national security. The legislation was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Calling for Student Loan Forgiveness for Victims of Fraud
On March 9, Senator Nelson joined 34 other Senators in a letter to President Obama requesting that the loan forgiveness process for students be streamlined, and that the obstacles for loan discharge be removed. The letter states that if a student is a victim of fraud by their school, they should not have to file paperwork to request discharge of their federal student loan debt, and the U.S. Department of Education should forgive the debt automatically regardless of the government’s ability to recoup the funds from the school.

Supporting President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration
On March 8, Senator Nelson joined an Amicus Brief urging the Supreme Court to allow implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.  On November 9, 2015, the U.S. Federal Court for the Fifth District in Texas blocked President Obama’s actions – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) – following a lawsuit filed by twenty-six states.  DAPA and DACA would provide temporary relief from deportation to approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants.  The Amicus Brief signed by Senator Nelson urges the Supreme Court to reverse the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, and allow for implementation.

Calling for Enforcement of Worker Visa Requirements
On March 9, Senator Nelson wrote to the Department of State, Department of Labor, and the Department of Homeland Security urging proper enforcement of existing requirements for the H-2A program. Over the past five years, citrus growers in Florida have reported an increasing number of “absconders,” or H-2A visa recipients who travel to the U.S. to work for a specific employer but leave before the end of their visa contract to work for someone else in the United States. Senator Nelson’s letter draws attention to this emerging problem, which will could impact more citrus growers, additional crop industries in Florida, and agricultural interests in other states.

Urging Deepwater Horizon Claims Center to Expedite Backlog
On March 8, 2016, Senator Nelson sent a letter to Patrick Juneau, Administrator of the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center, urging him to expedite review of the claims that remain outstanding nearly six years after the Deepwater Horizon spill. The claims process, initiated in 2010, stopped accepting claims last June.  According to the claims center, it has received more than 383,000 claims for damages, including more than 104,000 from Florida.

Supporting Disaster Assistance for the Panhandle
On March 18, Senator Nelson sent a letter to President Obama asking that he approve the State’s new request for a Major Disaster Declaration and Individual Assistance for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.  Senator Nelson previously sent a letter on March 1 in support of the State’s initial request for an emergency declaration and limited federal assistance.  The original request was denied on March 17.  If granted, the assistance would provide grants for emergency needs such as temporary housing and home repairs.  Northwest Florida was hit with severe storms in February, which included multiple tornadoes that damaged hundreds of buildings and homes.

Supporting Medicare Advantage in Puerto Rico
On March 11, Senator Nelson joined 11 other Members of Congress in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding the agency’s proposed payment policies for Medicare Advantage plans in Puerto Rico for 2017.  The letter supported the proposed payment policies and classified them as a “significant step in the right direction.”

Investigating Pharmaceutical Sales Practices Contributing to Waste in Medicare
On March 10, Senator Nelson joined his colleagues in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) asking the agency to investigate whether drug companies exclusively sell expensive drugs in vials that contain more medicine than the average patient needs.  The letter was sent in response to a New York Times article that reported that this practice wastes nearly $3 billion annually from Medicare and private health insurers on cancer medicines.

Improving Evaluations of Telehealth
On March 10, Senator Nelson joined Senator Thune in a letter to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality requesting improvements to its draft Technical Brief on telehealth.  Senators Nelson and Thune originally requested this report in December 2014 to understand the value of telehealth technologies.  The requested improvements include expanding the scope of the Technical Brief to include more recent and widely-cited studies and to consider how remote patient monitoring (RPM) may contribute to improved patient outcomes and savings. 

Protecting Cafeteria Workers
On March 21, Senator Nelson joined 45 Senators in a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Perez calling for an audit of Compass Group, a company that provides cafeteria services to many federal agencies, including the U.S. Capitol. A subsidiary of Compass Group was recently found to be reclassifying Senate cafeteria workers’ job titles in order to pay workers a lower wage. The letter requests an evaluation of all of the company’s federal contracts to ensure workers are being paid a fair wage for the jobs they are performing.

Safeguarding Workers’ Pensions
On March 1, Senator Nelson joined a letter with Senate Finance Committee Democrats urging Senator Hatch to take action on multiemployer pension issues, which are pension plans sponsored by more than one employer and maintained as part of a collective bargaining agreement with a union. Although most multiemployer pension plans have enough resources to pay their promised benefits, a few large plans are expected to become insolvent within the next few years, which would affect tens of thousands of beneficiaries in Florida, including retired Teamsters and mineworkers. The letter calls on the Finance Committee to start work on a bipartisan plan that preserves the benefits that workers earned.

Calling for Proper Enforcement of Tax Laws
On March 4, Senator Nelson and Senator Wyden wrote to IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, regarding IRS efforts to effectively enforce laws related to tax exempt organizations. Under current law, groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code are exempt from tax if they are exclusively engaged in the promotion of social welfare. However, recent news accounts have suggested the IRS may not be enforcing its own rules for 501(c)(4) groups and other tax exempt groups. The letter presses the agency to take its enforcement responsibility seriously and poses multiple questions to Commissioner Koskinen to gain insight into whether the IRS is enforcing the law.

Increasing the Quality of Taxpayer Services
On March 2, Senator Nelson wrote to IRS Commissioner Koskinen regarding a recent Tampa Bay Times article that highlighted long lines at the IRS’s Taxpayer Assistance Center in Tampa. In the article, some individuals reported being turned away for assistance despite waiting anywhere between 6 to 8 hours. In his letter, Senator Nelson pressed the IRS Commissioner to do whatever is needed to ensure taxpayers are getting the assistance they need. In response, the IRS promised to send additional resources to the State and assist taxpayers.

Confirming Dr. John King as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education
On March 18, Senator Nelson voted to confirm Dr. John King as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. His confirmation received bipartisan support with a final vote of 49-40.

Recognizing NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly
On Monday, March 7, the Senate agreed to S. Res. 385, a Resolution congratulating Scott Kelly on his record-breaking year in space and thanking him for his service. This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senator Booker and cosponsored by Senators Nelson, Menendez, Peters, and Cruz.  A NASA Astronaut and officer in the U.S. Navy, Kelly returned to Earth in early March after completing a 340 day mission aboard the International Space Station, the longest stay in space ever by a NASA astronaut. His “year in space” is a critical test case for future long-duration crewed missions.  To read Senator Nelson’s speech delivered on the Senate Floor on March 2 recognizing the achievement visit: