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East front of the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2017. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

The House approved a far-reaching voting rights measure as the Senate passed a $1.9 trillion COVID aid package, including boosting funding for communities suffering from the loss of jobs in the travel and tourism sector to $750 million from the $450 million provided in the House package.

While the House passed the voting bill—which would also revamp campaign finance and ethics laws—the Senate embarked on a marathon series of votes, known as a vote-a-rama, on the package, the second time this year. The bill, which passed on a party-line 50 to 49 vote, now goes back to the House, which initially passed the measure Feb. 26.

The $300 million in additional funds earmarked for areas with tourist-related job loss was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to help win the support of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for the package, known as the American Rescue Plan.

The Alaska Republican ultimately did not support the package. She had made no secret that her state's economy, like Nevada's, has been battered by the pandemic and that she wants more aid for Alaska in the bill and Schumer made a play to try to win her vote.

The $750 million is part of $3 billion included for the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to provide grants to communities in need of economic aid. The provision was pushed in the House by Rep. Dina Titus, chairman of a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the EDA.

“The increase in funding that Sen. Schumer included on top of what was in the House bill will help create new jobs in communities like Southern Nevada,” Titus said in a statement provided by her office. 

“The American Rescue Plan is supported by a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and I hope Sen. Murkowski will vote for it,” she continued.

Nevada will also receive about $4 billion from a $350 billion pool of funds for states, localities and tribal governments.

President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats also agreed to limit the $1,400 direct payments in the bill to individuals earning less than $80,000 a year and households earning less than $160,000 a year. The amount would begin to ramp down for taxpayers earning more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000.

Under the bill passed by the House last week, the $1,400 checks would have started to phase out at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, and would have cut off for those making $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. 

According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, the change could result in about 8 million fewer households receiving a payment.

The pandemic has relegated Nevada to nearly a year of extremely high unemployment. The state’s rate hit 9.2 percent in December—the second-highest in the nation. That includes the loss of about 3,600 jobs in the outdoor recreation industry and roughly $161.5 million loss in labor income, according to a report commissioned by Get Outdoors Nevada and first reported last week by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Senate Democrats also agreed to extend the $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance bonus payment through Sept. 6, for households earning up to $150,000 and not to tax first $10,200 in unemployment insurance benefits. The agreement came after about nine hours of negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who wants to better target the aid. Manchin also flirted with backing a GOP amendment to extend the $300 bonus through July 18. The House bill increased the payment to $400 and extended it through August.  

Biden also supports the change, according to a statement from White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “The President supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome,” Psaki said.

For the People Act

All of the state’s House Democrats voted for the massive voting rights bill, formally known as the For the People Act, which passed 220 to 210, and received no GOP votes.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) called the measure “the most significant voting rights and democracy reform bill in more than half a century.”

The bill would establish automatic and same-day voter registration, restore the vote to felons who have served their sentences and require at least 15 consecutive days of early voting. It would also make it easier to cast ballots by mail and require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw new congressional districts.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said the legislation would help “restore public faith in government” following “four years of assaults on our democracy” under former President Donald Trump’s administration and “the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

The bill would also require digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of funds for political ads and require organizations spending money in elections—including super PACs and certain nonprofit groups—to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said the measure would “curb corruption, strengthen our democracy, continue to ensure the security of our elections, and protect every American’s most basic right: the right to vote.”

The legislation would also establish a public campaign finance option for those seeking federal office. The bill would match donations up to $200, considered small-dollar, to participating congressional candidates at a 6-1 ratio. Therefore, a $200 donation to a candidate would attract $1,200 in matching public funds for a total contribution of $1,400.

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) opposed the bill. Among his issues with the measure, the congressman said, is ultimately, federal funds are fungible and that taxpayers would be responsible for the public campaign financing option.

“Do we really need to increase funding for federal elections?” Amodei asked. 

He was not persuaded that the new 2.75 percent surcharge on certain criminal fines and civil and administrative penalties collected by the federal government included in the bill would cover the bill's cost.

“I'm unaware of the fact that says ‘we're swimming in money that will fund this,’ which translates to, ‘we're gonna borrow it,’” Amodei said.

The Congressional Budget Office said that the bill would increase revenues by $3.2 billion between 2021 and 2031. 

Delegation Democrats split over an amendment to the bill that would have lowered the voting age to 16. The amendment was defeated 125 to 302, with no Republicans voting for it.

Titus voted against the amendment. Her office said she believes the voting age should be consistent with the age requirement to participate in jury duty and register for the Selective Service. In addition, if adopted, the amendment would have created a confusing system in which 16-year-olds could vote for their member of Congress, but not for their governor.

Lee and Horsford supported the amendment. 

Lee’s office said she believes that young people are capable of educating themselves on the issues, and they are contributing members of our society who often have jobs, pay taxes, and deserve to have their voices heard.

Horsford agreed. His office said he is deeply impressed by the compassion and activism of America’s young people, who are leading the way against climate change, gun violence, and other critical social issues facing our nation. Horsford voted for a similar amendment last year. 

Approval by the Senate is uncertain at best, with Democrats and Republicans evenly divided 50 to 50. However, Democrats control the Senate by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris's ability to break ties. The bill would need 10 Republicans to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-N), along with all Senate Democrats in 2019, both co-sponsored the Senate version of the measure. 

Senate Democrats have yet to re-introduce their bill, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, said she has a hearing on the House bill scheduled for later in March. She also told Mother Jones last week that Democrats should get rid of the legislative filibuster to pass the bill. 

“I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill,” Klobuchar said.

A day before the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke on the Senate floor in favor of bolstering voting rights to counter voting restriction efforts at the state level. According to the Brennan Center, at least 33 Republican-led states seek to restrict voting access, including with new voter ID laws. 

Schumer did not say when he would bring up the bill. He also likely does not have the 50 votes needed to change the filibuster with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) opposed to the idea.  

COVID aid

Meanwhile, the Senate began consideration of the House-passed $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill. Passage is expected as soon as Saturday morning. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is leading an effort to prolong Senate consideration by offering a series of amendments. He also required that all 600-plus pages be read aloud by the clerk, which took about 10 hours.  

Cortez Masto’s office said she was still reviewing the changes made to who can receive the $1,400 direct payments. 

But her office said she has a relatively favorable view of the bill. Her office highlighted a provision she pushed to cover the health insurance premium for eligible individuals and families to remain on their employer-based coverage, known as COBRA, offered to individuals who lose their jobs. The provision would remain in effect until Sept. 30. 

Cortez Masto is also reviewing other proposals and changes. One possible change had been a bid from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour via 5 percent tax on large corporations. But it’s unclear if that would be pursued.

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen supported an amendment to increase the minimum wage. The amendment failed 42 to 58. The amendment needed 60 votes to be added in the package since the $15 minimum wage provision included by the House was dropped in the Senate after the parliamentarian ruled it violated budget rules. 

Cortez Masto’s office said she supports a federal increase to at least $12. Nevada’s minimum wage will hit $12 in 2024 under a measure approved by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolask in 2019. The state’s minimum wage is currently $9 an hour for workers without work-provided health care benefits. 

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday on the state of investing by average Americans, Cortez Masto lamented that wages have remained stagnant for the last 30 years despite productivity gains.

“I come from the state of Nevada, and in Southern Nevada from our hospitality industry, you can literally graduate from high school and there was a time when you could go make a good living for your family, put a roof over your head,” Cortez Masto said, adding that productivity should translate to higher wages.  

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and was last boosted in 2009. 

Rosen backs boosting the federal minimum wage and is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill to raise it to $15 by 2025.

The offices of Titus, Horsford and Lee also said that they back raising the minimum wage when asked, but did not indicate support for Wyden’s tax idea. Titus and Horsford said that Congress should pass a bill introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Lee stressed that it should be a graduated increase and that she wants to work across the aisle on the issue. 

Amodei said that the issue was more a political symbol than anything else. He also questioned the need for the federal government to step in where state legislatures, such as in Nevada, have already acted.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would increase wages for at least 17 million people, but also put 1.4 million Americans out of work, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition to the $1,400 direct payment and the $300 supplement provided in the $900 billion aid measure enacted in December, the package also included $350 billion for state, local and tribal aid, of which about $4 billion would go to Nevada

The bill will go back to the House after the Senate passes it, likely with no GOP votes. Democrats hope to get the bill to Biden before many of the aid provisions in the $900 billion pandemic package enacted in December expire in mid-March. Those include the $300 weekly bonus jobless payment and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUC), which helps the self-employed and gig workers.

Police reform 

The House also approved a bill that would set nationwide standards for policing. The bill is named for George Floyd, an African-American who died May 25 while in the Minneapolis Police Department's custody. Floyd's death sparked protests around the nation against police brutality and systemic racism in America.

The bill passed 220 to 210, with all of Nevada's House Democrats supporting it. One Republican voted for the measure, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX), but he later said he cast his vote by mistake

The measure would prohibit racial and religious profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants and end qualified immunity offered to police officers, so individuals could recover damages when police violate their rights. It also would create a police misconduct registry to establish a record of problem officers and would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

Horsford, the second in command of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the bill would help stop the use of excessive force.

“These reforms are supported by many within the law enforcement community, and they will save lives,” Horsford said in a release. “I hope the Senate will take swift action to pass this historic legislation so President Biden can sign it into law.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), the bill’s chief sponsor, told the Associated Press last week that she intends to hold talks on the bill with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the chamber’s only Black Republican who has his own police reform measure. 

Scott told the AP that the sticking points were qualified immunity and prosecutorial standards and that in both areas, “We have to protect individual officers.”

“That's a red line for me,” Scott said, adding, “Hopefully we'll come up with something that actually works.”

Amodei said he’d take a look at anything that comes out of the Senate but was skeptical of a compromise. An effort to pass a reform bill died last year when Scott and the Democrats could not agree on a compromise package. 

Miscellany

Amodei was among the lawmakers lampooned by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Thursday night. 

Fallon made fun of several House members' official photographs, including Amodei's, who he said looked like the child, portrayed by actor Jonathan Lipnicki, from Jerry Maguire. 

Amodei, who has a self-deprecating sense of humor, welcomed the comparison when asked if he’d seen Fallon’s bit.  

“The kid in Jerry Maguire is pretty cool,” Amodei said. “He's probably doing a lot better than me.”

“Hey, listen, after being in this business for a while, you got to go a long way to really insult somebody,” Amodei joked.  

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.609 A bill to withdraw the National Forest System land in the Ruby Mountains subdistrict of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the National Wildlife Refuge System land in Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Elko and White Pine Counties, Nevada, from operation under the mineral leasing laws.

S.607 A bill to discourage speculative oil and gas leasing and to promote enhanced multiple use management of public land and National Forest System land, and for other purposes.

S.567 A bill to provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.541 A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

S.508 A bill to establish a working group on electric vehicles.

S.507 A bill to increase deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in low-income communities and communities of color, and for other purposes.

S.506 A bill to establish the Clean School Bus Grant Program, and for other purposes.

S.504 A bill to establish the Green Spaces, Green Vehicles Initiative to facilitate the installation of zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure on National Forest System land, National Park System land, and certain related land, and for other purposes.

S.502 A bill to amend chapter 53 of title 49, United States Code, to incorporate zero-emission fueling technology into the definition of "capital project".

S.494 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for a credit for zero-emission buses.

S.493 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for the issuance of exempt facility bonds for zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.611 A bill to deposit certain funds into the Crime Victims Fund, to waive matching requirements, and for other purposes.

S.588 A bill to establish the Advisory Committee on Climate Risk on the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

S.556 A bill to establish a Federal Advisory Council to Support Victims of Gun Violence.

S.547 A bill to provide relief for multiemployer and single employer pension plans, and for other purposes.

S.529 A bill to require a background check for every firearm sale.

S.514 A bill to obtain and direct the placement in the Capitol or on the Capitol Grounds of a monument to honor Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

S.505 A bill to amend title 9 of the United States Code with respect to arbitration.

S.499 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand eligibility for the refundable credit for coverage under a qualified health plan, to improve cost-sharing subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and for other purposes.

S.490 A bill to modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.513 A bill to improve access to economic injury disaster loans and emergency advances under the CARES Act, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.610 A bill to address behavioral health and well-being among health care professionals.

S.609 A bill to withdraw the National Forest System land in the Ruby Mountains subdistrict of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the National Wildlife Refuge System land in Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Elko and White Pine Counties, Nevada, from operation under the mineral leasing laws.

S.608 A bill to help small business broadband providers keep customers connected.

S.571 A bill to fully fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund and reaffirm the importance of prevention in the United States healthcare system.

S.567 A bill to provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.556 A bill to establish a Federal Advisory Council to Support Victims of Gun Violence.

S.547 A bill to provide relief for multiemployer and single employer pension plans, and for other purposes.

S.544 A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to designate one week each year as "Buddy Check Week" for the purpose of outreach and education concerning peer wellness checks for veterans, and for other purposes.

S.541 A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

S.529 A bill to require a background check for every firearm sale.

S.527 A bill to protect victims of stalking from gun violence.

S.514 A bill to obtain and direct the placement in the Capitol or on the Capitol Grounds of a monument to honor Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

S.512 A bill to require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect and report certain data concerning COVID-19.

S.508 A bill to establish a working group on electric vehicles.

S.505 A bill to amend title 9 of the United States Code with respect to arbitration.

S.504 A bill to establish the Green Spaces, Green Vehicles Initiative to facilitate the installation of zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure on National Forest System land, National Park System land, and certain related land, and for other purposes.

S.500 A bill to prohibit the transfer or sale of certain consumer health information, and for other purposes.

S.499 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand eligibility for the refundable credit for coverage under a qualified health plan, to improve cost-sharing subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and for other purposes.

S.493 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for the issuance of exempt facility bonds for zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.

S.490 A bill to modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 1597 To provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1524 To require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1585 To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the treatment of veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll as radiation exposed veterans for purposes of the presumption of service-connection of certain disabilities by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

H.R. 1581 To support library infrastructure.

H.R. 1488 To promote international exchanges on best election practices, cultivate more secure democratic institutions around the world, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1480 To require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve the detection, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues among public safety officers, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1467 To amend the Peace Corps Act to ensure access to menstrual products for Peace Corps volunteers, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1458 To modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1453 To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a credit to small employers with respect to each employee who is a military spouse and eligible to participate in a defined contribution plan of the employer.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1597 To provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1448 To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program on dog training therapy, and to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses who do not have mobility impairments.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1597 To provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1524 To require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1458 To modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 1458 To modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 1597 To provide for conservation and economic development in the State of Nevada, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1560 To establish a Federal Advisory Council to Support Victims of Gun Violence.

H.R. 1524 To require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

H.R. 1446 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021

This article was updated on Saturday March 6, 2021, at 12:17 p.m. to reflect the passage of the Senate's American Rescue Plan. 

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