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D.C. Download: Nevada delegation leaves their mark on FAA bill

Several delegation members got their priorities for drones, passengers with disabilities into the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill signed Thursday.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill isn’t the sexiest piece of legislation, but it’s essential — it governs U.S. air travel, and without a bill in place, the agency cannot collect revenue or make payments to government employees such as air traffic controllers.

The 2024 FAA reauthorization, which passed the House Wednesday and was signed by President Joe Biden Thursday, included a number of reforms for the traveling public. And the Nevada delegation highlighted a few wins as well. 

The News of the Week: The FAA bill

Congress took its twice-a-decade opportunity to adjust air policy in a $66.7 billion must-pass bill that, among other facets, makes numerous consumer protection changes.

It passed with wide bipartisan support — 387-26 in the House and 88-4 in the Senate. All six members of the Nevada delegation voted for it.

For travelers, the bill will make it easier to claim refunds and avoid certain fees. It codifies a Biden administration rule ensuring passengers get a refund if their flight is canceled or delayed by more than three hours if they choose not to get rebooked or take an airline voucher. Airlines can no longer charge fees to families booking seats together in order to sit next to their children. And passengers with disabilities won a number of new accommodations — a priority for Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). (More on this in the next section.)

Congress continually passed short-term FAA extensions this year as they worked out a few points of contention, including whether to allow five more nonstop flights between Western cities and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, one of two airports that the federal government operates and can therefore write policy for. (And the best airport in the region, in my humble opinion! If you can avoid flying to Dulles International Airport, I would very much advise that — though that’s how I get to Las Vegas when I go.)

The additional flights ended up in the bill over objections from the Virginia and Maryland delegations. American Airlines has an existing nonstop flight between Las Vegas and “National,” as us locals call it, but there are no nonstops to Reno from either airport. Delta and Alaska Airlines are expected to be the primary seekers for the new slots, with San Antonio and San Diego already being identified as the likely destinations. 

The Nevada Angle

The Nevada delegation is highly attuned to air travel issues — given its essential nature for the state’s tourism-based economy — and touted the new consumer protections and investments in airports in the bill. Several members also had their policy legislation incorporated into the package.

A provision introduced by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), allowing airports recently reclassified from “small-size” to “medium-size” to have a three-year grace period to continue receiving more generous small hub airport federal funding levels, was included in the bill. This is expected to benefit the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which was upgraded to the medium-size classification recently, and allow federal funds to keep flowing at the higher level — particularly important given that the Airport Improvement Program, which gives planning and capital funds to mostly smaller airports and will likely expand many of them, saw a 20 percent funding boost in the FAA reauthorization as well.

Rosen had five other elements of her bills and amendments included in the final product as well. Many have to do with drones — one permits the FAA to disallow drone flights during public events such as concerts and sports events, an issue that came up before this year’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas and would affect events such as Electric Daisy Carnival.

Another authorizes $50 million in grants for local governments to access drone technology for infrastructure inspection. Another funds Unmanned Aircraft Systems (or drone) Test Sites, at $6 million per year through 2028. Reno has one of the seven test sites in the country. Titus sponsored several of these drone-related measures on the House side.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-NV) Reduce Human Trafficking Through Transportation Act was also part of the final FAA bill. Transit operators and airports can apply for grant funding for their efforts to prevent human trafficking.

Titus, a senior member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and longtime champion of disabled Americans, was able to include several policy changes regarding the rights of people with disabilities while they are passengers. The reauthorization allows them to request specific accommodations such as a seat near a bathroom or a companion. Airlines’ mobile apps must also now meet certain accessibility requirements and the Department of Transportation will now follow a set timeline for investigating disability complaints.

The bill also will improve the flight experience of wheelchair users, setting training standards for aviation workers to know how to assist passengers in wheelchairs and compelling the Department of Transportation to study current regulations governing the transport of lithium battery-powered electric wheelchairs and make new recommendations. (The batteries currently must be removed and stored in carry-on luggage only.)

The Impact

Although the Nevada delegation provisions that made it into the FAA bill are highly technical, their inclusion is a sign of the legislative power of a delegation that lacks seniority compared with other states. Rosen and Titus both sit on the respective committees in which the bill was written.

Around the Capitol

🗑️Senators say yuck to Yucca Cortez Masto and Rosen are taking their strongest shot yet at Yucca Mountain this Congress, introducing a bill to repeal the section of the original 1982 act that identified the Nye County site as a potential future home of the nation’s nuclear waste storage.

The bill has been introduced in previous years. It would also require the Office of Management and Budget to study alternate, job-creating uses of Yucca Mountain.

🏘️$26 million for tribal housing — Seventeen tribal nations across Nevada will receive grant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for affordable housing projects in their communities.

The biggest allocations went to the Walker River Paiute Tribe ($4.3 million), the Duck Valley-Shoshone Paiute Tribes ($3.7 million) and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe ($3.1 million).

☀️Where’d you get that solar cell? — The Biden administration is making big changes to solar trade policy, hiking tariffs on solar cell imports from China up to 50 percent and ending an import exemption on double-sided panels. This also comes as a tariff pause on solar parts from four Southeast Asia countries is set to expire June 6.

The move is a boon to solar manufacturers, but a potential obstacle to solar installation companies, of which Nevada has both. Last year, Rosen led a Senate effort to block solar tariff reinstatement, saying it would cost jobs in the industry and that more time was needed for domestic manufacturers to re-shore their operations.

This time around, Rosen believes the tariff pause she advocated for has helped the domestic solar manufacturing grow but still wants to find ways to continue to support the solar installation industry.

While domestic solar manufacturing has increased thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act that I helped pass and the tariff pause I helped secure, we still have work to do to meet current demand,” she said in a statement to The Nevada Independent

What I’m Reading

Bloomberg: Nevada’s swing state prosperity is no fluke

This former Bloomberg editor-in-chief says the best is yet to come for Nevada.

The Nevada Independent: Las Vegas mayoral candidates debate policy, defend records at Nevada Independent forum

Many former mayors end up in Congress, but how many former members of Congress run for mayor?

The New York Times: New rules to overhaul electric grids could boost wind and solar power

It’s a FERC-enomenon!

Notable and Quotable

“Cheer up. It’s Bike to Work Day.”

— Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), in the highly anticipated (by me) sequel to her Bike to Work Day short film

Vote of the Week

H.R.8369 — On passage: Israel Security Assistance Support Act

Republicans were hoping to divide Democrats on a bill that would prevent the president from withholding weapons transfers to Israel, after he did so earlier this month. They got 16 Democrats to vote no, but no Nevadans. (For more on partisan divides over Israel, read my story on the Senate race from earlier this week.)






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