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Indy DC Download: Biden signs COVID bill while House approves gun control and union rights measures

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressGovernment
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East front of the U.S. Capitol Building

President Joe Biden this week signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-aid bill with $4.1 billion flagged for Nevada as the House approved two gun control bills and legislation to bolster union organizing. 

The action came as the Senate approved three nominations, including Merrick Garland to be attorney general. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) both voted for Garland. They also voted to advance the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to be Interior Secretary. The Senate will vote on Haaland's confirmation Monday.

But it was the signing of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill that grabbed all the headlines.

COVID

All members of Nevada's congressional Democrats voted for the bill. No Republicans backed the bill, including Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), citing concerns over its cost and a stated desire to better focus the aid on those that genuinely need it.

In an interview Friday, Amodei said there were good things in the bill like more funding to get more people vaccinated. But he said there was a lot that was not, including funding $86 billion to bail out multi-employer pension plans.  

“That has nothing to do with COVID,” Amodei said.

He also believes that there is risk for waste and abuse.

“I'm worried about that,” Amodei said. “I'm not going to prejudge it. I'm just saying the potential there for abuse is sky high.” 

In addition to $4.1 billion for Nevada state and local governments, the bill provides more than $1 billion for Silver State schools.

The measure comes as the state posted a headline unemployment rate in January of 8.1 percent, four and a half percentage points above the January 2020 rate, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). The January 2021 rate was slightly down from the 8.2 percent recorded in December.

While the state has seen nine consecutive months of employment growth, it faces headwinds on the unemployment front, DETR said. About two-thirds of the net job losses over the past year were concentrated in the leisure and hospitality industry. DETR also noted that the unemployment rate only narrowly defines the unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state's unemployment rate would be roughly 19.6 percent if it counted those involuntarily working part-time or searching for work less frequently.

At its pandemic-related peak, the state’s unemployment hit 28.2 percent in April, climbing to 33.5 percent in Las Vegas.

To help the unemployed while they find new jobs, a provision in the new law extends the $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance bonus payment through Sept. 6 for households earning up to $150,000 (the first $10,200 of unemployment insurance benefits are not taxable). 

The law also extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which helps the self-employed and gig workers through Sept. 6. The extension also applies to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extends aid to the long-term unemployed to up to 53 weeks for those who have exhausted previous extensions and the state’s initial 26-week allotment of unemployment compensation.

Unemployed or furloughed workers also will be eligible for help paying for the cost of COBRA health insurance, which allows workers who lose their jobs to keep their employee-offered health insurance as long as they pay both the employer-side and employee premiums. 

Guns and unions

After the House approved the massive COVID aid bill, the chamber passed two measures restricting gun purchases, including one expanding background checks in certain situations and another lengthening the time allowed to complete background checks. 

All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for both bills. The expanded background checks bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, passed on a 227 to 203 vote with eight Republicans joining all but one Democrat. The other measure, known as the Enhanced Background Checks Act, passed 219 to 210, with two GOP members joining all but two Democrats to pass the measure.

Amodei, a staunch Second Amendment supporter, opposed both bills just as he did in Feb. 2019.  

He argued that changing the laws would make it harder for law-abiding citizens to get guns. 

“I just think it is what it is and that is ‘we hate the Second Amendment,’" Amodei said of the bill’s proponents. 

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose father was killed by gun violence when he was 19, said in a statement that the bills would save lives. He also referred to the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. 

“To me stopping gun violence is personal,” Horsford said. “When I was just 19, my father was shot and killed. The pain and suffering of losing a loved one to a senseless death is something that I know all too well. And three years ago my community in Las Vegas suffered the deadliest shooting in U.S. history when a man opened fire on crowds of festival-goers killing 60 people and injuring others. Enough is enough.” 

The expanded checks measure would require background checks for firearm transfers between private parties, including online and gun shows. The bill prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check.

The other bill would close the so-called “Charleston loophole.” In 2017, the shooter of nine worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, purchased a gun because of a quirk in the background check system.

The bill would extend the background check review period from three to ten business days. After the initial ten business day period, if a background check has not been completed, a purchaser may request an expedited review to spur the FBI to finish their investigation. The FBI would then have an additional 10 business days to complete the background check before a sale could proceed. 

The House also passed legislation, 225 to 206, that would make it easier for workers to unionize. All of Nevada's House Democrats supported the bill. Only five Republicans voted for the bill. 

Amodei was not among them. He opposed the identical bill in Feb. 2020 over concern that the bill would overturn "right-to-work" laws. Nevada has a right-to-work law on the books, which prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers making membership in a union, or payment of union dues, a condition of employment.

The measure would also expand the definition of an employee to allow independent contractors to join unions. 

Amodei argued that the bill is a gift from Democratic leaders to the unions, who tend to support Democrats, and that the unions in Nevada are thriving. 

“It's a big political win for some of the leadership folks,” Amodei said. But “Nevada would be collateral damage...because quite frankly, people are doing well here, whether they're in unions or not, whether they're in Reno or Las Vegas, or Elko.” 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said the measure, known as Protecting the Right to Organize Act or the PRO Act, would help workers make a living.

"We've seen first hand how unions enable workers to have better pay, better benefits, better working conditions," Titus said on the House floor. "Unions also help address the gender wage gap and promote diversity. Indeed they are the tide that lifts all ships. Yet across the country, the right to unionize has come under assault. In the face of these attacks, the PRO Act is the strongest upgrade to workers' collective bargaining rights in nearly a century.” 

Senate

The gun bills are unlikely to get out of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that he does plan to bring them up in the chamber, but there are not 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

The Senate is split 50-50 with the Democrats in control through Vice President Kamala Harris's ability to break ties. So, at least 10 Republicans would need to vote with all Democrats to advance the bills.

The same goes for the union rights bill. Nevertheless, Schumer, Thursday urged the GOP to support the gun bills. 

"Now, with Democrats in the majority, the Senate will finally have the opportunity to act on this critical issue," Schumer said Thursday. "When I bring commonsense gun safety legislation to the Senate floor, my Republicans colleagues should support it."

Also in the Senate, Rosen gave a speech in favor of Haaland’s confirmation to be Interior Secretary. 

“This cabinet position is of great importance to our nation, and especially to western states like mine,” said Senator Rosen, noting that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls much of the nation's public lands, including the 85 percent federal land in Nevada.

“She has spent her entire career fighting to protect public lands, waters, monuments, and cultural sites,” Rosen said. “And, I know, if confirmed, she will work with me and Senator Cortez Masto to strike the right balance between critical protections for our public lands, environment, and wildlife, and needed economic development across.”

If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American in history to lead the Interior Department.

Cortez Masto also was rated the third-most effective Democratic Senator, according to a new analysis for the last two-year legislative session, from the University of Virginia's Center for Effective Lawmaking. 

The ratings are based on a combination of fifteen metrics related to bills that each member of Congress sponsors, how far they move through the lawmaking process, and how substantial the policy proposals are.

Cortez Masto sponsored 84 bills in the 116th Congress, of which three became law. That included legislation designed to address the online problem of “deep fakes,” the level of violent crimes on Native American lands and the high level of suicides among law enforcement officers.

Cortez Masto’s accolade came the week she came out in favor of the talking filibuster, where those opposing legislation must continually hold the Senate floor until a compromise is reached or they tire and quit. 

Senators who block legislation “should have to stand on the Senate floor and be transparent about [their] obstruction,” she said.  

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.726 – A bill to transfer administrative jurisdiction over certain Bureau of Land Management land from the Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for use as a national cemetery, and for other purposes.

S.696 – A bill to amend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 to allow counties to use certain funds to provide or expand access to broadband telecommunications services and other technologies.

S.695 – A bill to improve the Safe Routes to School Program, and for other purposes.

S.694 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to provide grants for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy improvements at public school facilities, and for other purposes.

S.652 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Challenge Grant Program to promote technological innovation in our Nation's communities.

S.651 – A bill to amend SAFETEA-LU to improve the Intelligent Transportation System Program Advisory Committee, to require information and resources for the development of local smart communities, to help establish a 21st century transportation workforce, and for other purposes.

S.650 – A bill to enable the payment of certain officers and employees of the United States whose employment is authorized pursuant to a grant of deferred action, deferred enforced departure, or temporary protected status.

S.649 – A bill to improve the process for awarding grants under certain programs of the Department of Transportation to certain counties in which the majority of land is owned or managed by the Federal Government and to other units of local government and Tribal governments in those counties, and for other purposes.

S.648 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to make a technical correction to the water rights settlement for Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, and for other purposes.

S.647 – A bill to improve the process for awarding grants under certain programs of the Department of Agriculture to certain counties in which the majority of land is owned or managed by the Federal Government and to other units of local government and Tribal governments in those counties, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.738 – A bill to provide for grants for States that require fair and impartial police training for law enforcement officers of that State and to incentivize States to enact laws requiring the independent investigation and prosecution of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

S.724 – A bill to require the Federal Communications Commission to make the provision of Wi-Fi access on school buses eligible for E-rate support.

S.681 – A bill to report data on COVID-19 immigration detention facilities and local correctional facilities that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and for other purposes.

S.618 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify and extend the deduction for charitable contributions for individuals not itemizing deductions.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.697 – A bill to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint commemorative coins in recognition of the Bicentennial of Harriet Tubman's birth.

S.693 – A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to provide for the halt in pension payments for Members of Congress sentenced for certain offenses, and for other purposes.

S.624 – A bill to amend the Mineral Leasing Act to increase certain royalty rates, minimum bid amounts, and rental rates, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.738 – A bill to provide for grants for States that require fair and impartial police training for law enforcement officers of that State and to incentivize States to enact laws requiring the independent investigation and prosecution of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

S.736 – A bill to regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

S.728 – A bill to facilitate the expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes, and for other purposes.

S.726 – A bill to transfer administrative jurisdiction over certain Bureau of Land Management land from the Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for use as a national cemetery, and for other purposes.

S.688 – A bill to prohibit contracting with persons that have business operations with the Maduro regime, and for other purposes.

S.681 – A bill to report data on COVID-19 immigration detention facilities and local correctional facilities that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and for other purposes.

S.674 – A bill to support public health infrastructure.

S.650 – A bill to enable the payment of certain officers and employees of the United States whose employment is authorized pursuant to a grant of deferred action, deferred enforced departure, or temporary protected status.

S.648 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to make a technical correction to the water rights settlement for Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, and for other purposes.

S.620 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, and the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission to conduct studies and report to Congress on actions taken to expand access to telehealth services under the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs during the COVID-19 emergency.

REP. DINA TITUS

H.R. 1813 – To amend title 49, United States Code, to ensure that revenues collected from passengers as aviation security fees are used to help finance the costs of aviation security screening by repealing a requirement that a portion of such fees be credited as offsetting receipts and deposited in the general fund of the Treasury.

H.R. 1808 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1785 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for current year inclusion of net CFC tested income, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1731 – To award grants to States to establish or improve, and carry out, Seal of Biliteracy programs to recognize high-level student proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in both English and a second language.

H.R. 1697 – To amend title 23, United States Code, to increase accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities.

H.R. 1696 – To protect the rights of passengers with disabilities in air transportation, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1670 – To amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to authorize the use of funds for comprehensive reproductive health care services, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1659 – To amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to require the collection of small business loan data related to LGBTQ-owned businesses.

H.R. 1652 – To deposit certain funds into the Crime Victims Fund, to waive matching requirements, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1622 – To reduce the number of preventable deaths and injuries caused by underride crashes, to improve motor carrier and passenger motor vehicle safety, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1620 – Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 1789 – To amend title 31, United States Code, to save Federal funds by authorizing changes to the composition of circulating coins, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1679 – To prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from conditioning any permit, lease, or other use agreement on the transfer of any water right to the United States, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1603 – To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for terms and conditions for nonimmigrant workers performing agricultural labor or services, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1808 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 1831 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1842 – To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint commemorative coins in recognition of the Bicentennial of Harriet Tubman's birth.

H.R. 1808 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1790 – To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to set forth a method of determining maximum out-of-pocket limits and annual updates to premium tax credit eligibility.

H.R. 1670 – To amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to authorize the use of funds for comprehensive reproductive health care services, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1655 – To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide coverage under the Medicare program for FDA-approved qualifying colorectal cancer screening blood-based tests, to increase participation in colorectal cancer screening in under-screened communities of color, to offset the COVID-19 pandemic driven declines in colorectal cancer screening and for other purposes.

H.R. 1620 – Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021

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