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Indy DC Download: House passes pay equity and workplace safety legislation as Senate takes up bill to address Asian hate crimes

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
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The U.S. Capitol

Back from its two-week recess, the House approved gender pay-equity and workplace-safety bills as the Senate began considering a measure to help address a recent rise in violent attacks against Asian-Americans.

Last week’s votes came as a group of 10 GOP senators began talks with 10 Senate Democrats on an infrastructure package—costing as much as $800 billion—that they hope could win 60 votes in the Senate in order to overcome a filibuster. It would be a counter-proposal to the $2 trillion package President Joe Biden recently released, which would be paid for by a tax increase on corporations. 

The Senate also continued to approve Biden’s nominations, including Wendy Sherman to be the number two at the State Department. Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for Sherman.

Sherman, who was confirmed on a 56 to 42 vote, helped negotiate the 2015 agreement with Iran to curb the Islamic nation’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018 because he said it did not address ballistic missile tests or Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Biden has said he plans to return the nation to the deal, which along with Iran and the U.S., included China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Infrastructure

In order to pressure members of Congress to support Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the White House last week published grades, assigned by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), for infrastructure in all 50 states

Nevada, which ASCE last reviewed in 2018, received a C. That grade included 28 bridges and more than 1,000 miles of highways that were deemed to be in poor condition. 

In a call with reporters Monday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that Nevada's infrastructure was in relatively good shape compared to other states with larger, more dense populations. 

“If it's any consolation, that is actually one of the lowest numbers I've seen for any state,” Buttigieg said. “But that's not much comfort, if you're wondering whether a bridge in your community is going to be meeting the needs for the future.”

He noted that state and local governments maintain safety standards so there is no imminent danger, but said the backlog of maintenance that has built up over the years needs to be addressed. 

“You can't expect any one community to do this,” Buttigieg said. “There's got to be a federal goal. There's got to be a federal investment.”  

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report,” which was used by ASCE for its Nevada assessment, the 28 bridges represent only 1.4 percent of Nevada’s 2,056 bridges. That was the lowest percentage of any state in the ARTBA study.

Most of the bridges, 24, are located in the state’s 2nd congressional district, represented by Mark Amodei (R-NV), the report said. 

Amodei said he did not dispute that there are infrastructure needs in his district. But he did take issue with Biden’s proposal, which included other Biden agenda items that are not traditional infrastructure. 

“I'm all for projects,” Amodei said. “I won’t quibble with your facts on CD-2 and some stereotypical, classic infrastructure examples,” Amodei said in a brief interview Friday. “The problem is what they've laid out—there is no bill— but what they've laid out is a hell of a lot more programs than projects.”

As an example, he highlighted a provision in the Biden plan to provide $174 billion to incentivize the purchase of electric cars.

“Listen, is clean energy the current wave and the wave of the future? Absolutely,” Amodei said.

But why can't the market do that? I mean, it is doing it. Hell, there's an electric Ford Mustang already. Why do you need $174 billion taken away from projects for programs?”

The most traveled of the old bridges in Amodei’s district is the I-80 overpass built over the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, which has 52,500 daily crossings. That was followed by the Arlington Ave. bridge over the Truckee River in Reno, which has about 13,000 daily crossings.

Clark County had the 121st and 124th most crossed and structurally deficient bridges in the nation. They are I-515 over Desert Inn Road (SR590) which has 127,000 daily crossings, and I-515 over North Eastern Avenue with 122,400 crossings a day.

The White House also said of its bill that the more than 243,000 renters in Nevada spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and that Biden’s plan to provide $200 billion to increase housing supply could help them.

The Biden plan would also provide $100 billion to increase broadband access. The White House said that 72 percent of Nevadans live in areas where there is only one internet provider, which typically leads to high costs for service, and 14 percent of state households do not have an internet subscription. 

Though Republicans, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), echoed Amodei's concerns over the broad nature of the package, one of the senators is working on a compromise.

Capito, one of the group, told CNBC last week that she'd like to see a bill in the neighborhood of between $600 billion and $800 billion, which would include traditional infrastructure and broadband.

Later she stressed to reporters in the Capitol that nothing has been settled, including how to pay for it.

“It’s just a ballpark figure,” she said. 

Her comments spurred Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who is close to Biden, to speculate that one possible path could be to pass a smaller bipartisan package and then pass the remainder of Biden's proposal, including home health aid and manufacturing, through the reconciliation process. Reconciliation allows the Senate to circumvent the filibuster and pass legislation affecting revenues and the deficit on a simple majority vote. That would allow Democrats, who control 50 votes in the chamber, to pass a measure with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. That’s how Democrats passed their $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, in March. 

“It's a strong approach that strikes me as a reasonable path forward that allows us to accomplish both a strong bipartisan infrastructure package, and the rest of the total agenda that the Biden administration has laid out,” Coons told reporters Thursday.

House and Senate votes

The House approved the Paycheck Fairness Act on a 217 to 210 vote. All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the bill, which includes provisions that would protect against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues and require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons.

“Women in the U.S. make 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts – and the disparity is even greater for women of color,” Rep. Dina Titus said on Twitter before the bill’s approval. “In order to ensure a full economic recovery, we must empower women in the workplace. I'm proud to co-sponsor the #PaycheckFairnessAct.”

Only one Republican voted for the bill, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). 

Amodei said he opposed the bill because it would make it easier for lawyers to sue employers.  

“Nobody's opposed to equal pay,” Amodei said. “But the litigation all day, every day is not, I think, is not the way home on that.”

The House also approved legislation that would help stem workplace violence for nurses and other caregivers. 

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require employers in the health care and social service sectors to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention plan. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73 percent of all violent incidents that happened in American workplaces happened to health care and social assistance employees. 

The House passed the measure on a 254 to 166 vote. All of Nevada's House Democrats voted for the bill.

Amodei opposed the bill. He said the measure could also lead to more litigation, that OSHA is already working on a rule to do this and the bill would short circuit that process. 

“Don’t you even want to see the work product?” Amodei asked.

“This just sounds more like talking points, or a political agenda than really helping people that find themselves the victims of violence,” Amodei continued. 

In the Senate, Democrats, including Cortez Masto and Rosen, voted to advance legislation to address the increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Senate voted 49 to 45 to take up a bill. Introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HA), the measure would require the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes. The point person would also support state and local law enforcement agencies to respond and coordinate with local and federal authorities to mitigate racially discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.

The bill comes after a series of vicious attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, including the shooting of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian. 

Cortez Masto signed on to a statement released by a group of eight Democratic senators of color urging the Senate to pass the bill.

“Confronting this crisis and stopping this hatred demands a swift and coordinated federal response,” the senators said. “We need a designated official at the Department of Justice to oversee reported hate crime incidents, prioritize and expeditiously review the cases, and ensure that victims are protected and justice is served – now and in the future.”

Miscellany

Cortez Masto introduced legislation last week to require that franchisees be given full and accurate financial information from franchise corporations when franchisees seek loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). 

“Franchise owners in Nevada and around the country have told me about how franchise corporations painted rosy pictures of the money these businesses could make—and how they later found out that they’d sunk their life savings into unprofitable stores,” Cortez Masto said in a release.

When SBA-backed franchisees fail, it is the taxpayers who ultimately take the loss.  

Her office released a report on the matter last week, which detailed the business practices of 10 franchise brands, including restaurant chain Burgerim, Complete Nutrition and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) met with Biden at the White House last week along with other leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to discuss civil rights, voting rights and criminal justice. Horsford currently is the CBC’s first vice-chair, the CBC’s number-two leadership spot. 

Horsford told MSNBC that they discussed the need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The House passed the bill last month and Democrats are negotiating with Sen. Tim Scott (D-SC), the only African-American Republican senator on a compromise bill. 

Horford also lamented the recent shooting of Daunte Wright, a Minnesota man shot by police during a traffic stop last week.

“This is trauma that our families experience every single day,” Horsford said. 

The CBC also pressed Biden to name Shalanda Young as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), according to The Washington Post. She currently serves as OMB deputy.

Horsford also serves as chair of the CBC First 100 Days Transition Task Force, which works with the Biden administration to place leaders of color in key positions within the federal service.

The CBC was told that Biden intends to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, should a seat become vacant, the Post reported. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) announced that Nevada would receive $360 million to help childcare providers operate safely and maintain their workforce during the pandemic. 

“With this funding, child care centers will have the resources they need to either stay open or reopen safely, and child care will be more affordable for Nevada families,” Lee said in a release.

The American Rescue Plan provided the funds. About $222.4 million came from the law's $24 billion child care stabilization fund. Those funds can be used to help child care providers reopen or stay open, provide safe learning environments, keep workers on payroll and provide mental health support for educators and children.

Another $138.7 million would help families afford child care and increase compensation for early childhood workers.

Also, Rosen held her first hearing of the newly created tourism subcommittee she leads. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority president Steve Hill and MGM International Resort's Jorge Perez both testified on the need for aid to the tourism and travel industry.

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.1120 A bill to establish minimum standards of disclosure by franchises whose franchisees use loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1195 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend and modify the credit for alternative fuel vehicle refueling property.

S.1157 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow workers an above-the-line deduction for union dues and expenses and to allow a miscellaneous itemized deduction for workers for all unreimbursed expenses incurred in the trade or business of being an employee.

S.1147 A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain retired members of the uniformed services who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation, and for other purposes.

S.1108 A bill to regulate large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

S.1099 A bill to amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to make permanent the protections under Medicaid for recipients of home and community-based services against spousal impoverishment.

S.1068 A bill to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an occupational safety and health standard to protect workers from heat-related injuries and illnesses.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1193 A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to expand the allowable use criteria for new access points grants for community health centers.

S.1109 A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, in consultation with the National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency, to establish a grant program to create or expand programs at minority-serving institutions and historically Black colleges and universities that promote minority business ownership and entrepreneurship, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1195 A bill to allow Americans to earn paid sick time so that they can address their own health needs and the health needs of their families.

S.1183 A bill to allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs as authorized by a State or Indian Tribe, and for other purposes.

S.1178 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow for a credit against tax for employers of reservists.

S.1170 A bill to amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to improve the efficiency of summer meals.

S.1156 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for a refundable adoption tax credit.

S.1147 A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain retired members of the uniformed services who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation, and for other purposes.

S.1137 A bill to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit gay and trans panic defenses.

S.1108 A bill to regulate large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

S.1097 A bill to establish a Federal rotational cyber workforce program for the Federal cyber workforce.

S.1083 A bill to provide for the restoration of legal rights for claimants under holocaust-era insurance policies.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2569 To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for a presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents for veterans who served in close proximity to the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2510 To regulate large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

H.R. 2465 To allow Americans to earn paid sick time so that they can address their own health needs and the health needs of their families.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2491 To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to enhance provisions related to wage discrimination, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2542 To provide protection for survivors of domestic violence or sexual violence under the Fair Housing Act.

H.R. 2465 To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to enhance provisions related to wage discrimination, and for other purposes.

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