Category Archives: Congress at Work

Securing Jobs for Cabinet and Congress Members, Inspector Generals, and Apprentices - and Honoring Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman thumbnail

Securing Jobs for Cabinet and Congress Members, Inspector Generals, and Apprentices – and Honoring Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman

To provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as Secretary of Defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the Armed Forces (HR 35) – Prior to passage of this bill, a former service member could not be appointed as Secretary of Defense until separation from active duty for at least seven years. This legislation allows someone to be appointed after only four years from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of the Armed Forces. The bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) on Jan. 15, passed in the House and the Senate on Jan. 22 and signed into law by President Biden on Jan. 22.

Officer Eugene Goodman Congressional Gold Medal Act (S 35) – This act authorizes awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his actions to protect the Senate chamber during the Capitol security breach on Jan. 6. It passed in the Senate amid a standing ovation. In addition to Officer Goodman’s recent promotion to acting deputy sergeant-at-arms for the Senate, this medal represents the highest honor Congress can bestow. The act was introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on Jan. 22, and passed in the Senate on Feb. 12. The House is also considering plans to honor the officer.

National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 (HR 447) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) on Jan. 25. The purpose of the legislation is to amend the 1937 National Apprenticeship Act to include youth apprenticeships, and for other purposes. The legislation authorizes the establishment of criteria for quality standards, apprenticeship agreements and acceptable uses for grant funds awarded under this act. The bill passed in the House on Feb. 5 and is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Inspector General Protection Act (HR 23) – This act requires the president to notify Congress any time an inspector general is placed on nonduty status, and to nominate a new inspector general within 210 days after a vacancy occurs. Otherwise, within 30 days after the end of that period, the president must explain to Congress the reasons why there is not yet a formal nomination, with a target date for making that nomination. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) on Jan. 4. It passed in the House on Jan. 5 and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Regarding consent to assemble outside the seat of government (H.Con.Res. 1) – In light of the disruption of Congressional duties due to the coronavirus, the House passed this concurrent resolution authorizing the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate to assemble the House and the Senate outside the District of Columbia whenever the public interest warrants it. Introduced by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), this bill was both presented and passed in the House on Jan. 4. It is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2021 (HR 22) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) on Jan. 4 and passed in the House the next day. It would require federal agencies to make budget justification materials accessible to the public on a website managed by the Office of Management and Budget. Available information should include a list of the agencies that submit budget justification materials to Congress and the dates they were submitted, with links to the actual materials. This bill is currently under review in the Senate.

Protecting American Ports, Federal Buildings, Allies, Oceans, and Whistleblowers thumbnail

Protecting American Ports, Federal Buildings, Allies, Oceans, and Whistleblowers

Congress protects WhistleblowersSave Our Seas 2.0 Act (S 1982) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Alan Sullivan (R-AK) on June 26, 2019. The purpose of the legislation is to improve efforts to clean up marine debris, encourage recycling and strengthen domestic infrastructure to prevent the creation of new marine debris. The bill passed in the Senate in January 2020, the House in December, and was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 18, 2020.

Digital Coast Act (S 1069) – This bill revised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Digital Coast program for critical coastal management and data tracking for the ocean and the Great Lakes coasts. It was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) on April 9, 2019, passed in both Houses, and was signed into law on Dec. 18, 2020.

Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2019 (S 2258) – This Act was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on July 24, 2019. It is designed to prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report criminal antitrust violations to the federal government. The bill authorizes an employee to seek relief by filing a complaint with the Department of Labor or a lawsuit in the US. district court if he believes he is discharged or otherwise discriminated against by his employer for reporting violations. The legislation passed in the Senate in October 2019, in the House in December 2020, and was signed into law on Dec. 23, 2020.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 [Including Coronavirus Stimulus & Relief] (HR 133) – With overwhelming bipartisan support, this legislation is the vehicle for both the government funding bill for 2021 and another phase of economic stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is the fifth-longest bill to be passed by Congress in the history of the country. The Act was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, 2020.

Secure Federal Leases from Espionage and Suspicious Entanglements (LEASE) Act (S 1869) – This bill requires disclosure of ownership of high-security space leased to a Federal agency, including whether that owner is a foreign person and the country associated with the entity. It was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on June 13, 2019, passed in the Senate in March 2020, the House in November, and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 31, 2020.

Securing America’s Ports Act (HR 5273) – This Act requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to increase by 100 percent the rate of scanning commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail entering the United States via land ports. The plan will utilize large-scale non-intrusive inspection systems, such as X-ray and gamma-ray imaging technology. This bill was introduced by Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) on Nov. 26, 2019. It passed in the House in February 2020, the Senate in December, and was enacted on Jan. 5 by President Trump.

Eastern European Security Act (HR 2444) – This bill authorizes the president to offer low-cost loans to NATO Eastern European allies (formerly part of the Soviet Bloc that still rely on Russian military gear) in order to more easily purchase U.S. weapons and equipment. The goal is for them to invest in American defense innovation instead of Russian or Chinese hardware. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) on May 1, 2019, passed in the House last March, and in the Senate on Jan. 1. It was one of the last pieces of major legislation passed by the 116th Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on Jan. 13.

Prosecution for Use of Performance Enhancement Drugs, Modernizing Government Technology, and Enhancements for Veterans and Their Caregivers thumbnail

Prosecution for Use of Performance Enhancement Drugs, Modernizing Government Technology, and Enhancements for Veterans and Their Caregivers

Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019 (HR 835) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) on Jan. 29, 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to give U.S. officials the power to prosecute individual athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs at international sports competitions involving American athletes. The legislation has been criticized by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as undermining the global anti-doping movement based on international cooperation, and because no other nation has extra-territorial jurisdiction in this field. The bill passed in the House in October, the Senate in November, and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 4.

IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 (HR 1668) – This bill requires the Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish minimum security standards for Internet of Things devices owned or controlled by the Federal Government. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) on March 11, 2019, passed in both Houses, and was signed into law on Dec. 4.

Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act (HR 5901) – Introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on Feb. 13, this bill authorizes the establishment of an Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program. The purpose of the program is to help executive agencies adopt secure modern technology in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security. The program must provide regular reports to Congress. The legislation passed in the House in September, in the Senate in November, and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 3.

Veterans COMPACT Act of 2020 (HR 8247) – Short for Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment, this bill authorizes a variety of programs, policies, and reports that fall under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Components of the legislation address transition assistance, suicide care, mental health education and treatment, healthcare, and female veteran care. It includes a program to provide education and training for caregivers and family members of veterans with mental health disorders. The bill also establishes a Task Force on Outdoor Recreation for Veterans to recommend public lands or other outdoor spaces to be used for medical treatment and therapy. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) on Sept. 14. It passed in the House in September, the Senate in November, and was signed by the president on Dec. 5.

Wounded Veterans Recreation Act (S 327) – This bill offers a free lifetime pass to National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands to any U.S. resident who has been medically determined to be permanently disabled (must furnish adequate proof of disability and citizenship or residency), as well as to any veteran with a service-connected disability. It was introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on Feb. 4, 2019, passed in the Senate in June, the House in November, and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 3.

Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures (TEAM) for Veteran Caregivers Act (S 2216) – Designed to upgrade VA caregiver programs by identifying and formally recognizing caregivers of veterans, and notify them of assistance available under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. The bill also temporarily extends benefits for veterans who are determined to be ineligible for the family caregiver program, including a monthly personal caregiver stipend. This bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on July 23, 2019. It passed in the Senate in November, the House in December, and is currently waiting for enactment by the president.

A Flush of Protections for Veterans and Native Americans thumbnail

A Flush of Protections for Veterans and Native Americans

Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2020 (HR 6168) – Introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) on March 10, this bill increases Vet compensation benefits by 1.3 percent (the same as for Social Security recipients). The increase impacts veteran disability compensation, compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. This bill passed in the House in May and the Senate in September, and was signed into law by the president on Oct. 20.

Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act (HR 2372) – Designed to improve mental health care for veterans and reduce suicide rates, this bill was introduced by Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) on April 25, 2019. It requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on all arrangements between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and non-VA organizations related to suicide prevention and mental health services. The bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in September, and was enacted on Oct. 20.

Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act of 2019 (S 3147) – This Act was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Dec. 19, 2019. The bill passed in the Senate in December 2019, the House in November, and is waiting to be signed by the president. Following the investigation of events that ended in tragic veteran deaths in 2017 and 2018, this legislation aims to increase VA health center accountability. Specifically, it requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit reports to Congress detailing VA policies and procedures relating to patient safety and quality of care. The first report is due within 30 days after the bill is written into law.

Whole Veteran Act (HR 2359) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Connor Lamb (D-PA) on April 25, 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to expand VA Health efforts to deploy a holistic model of care that focuses on patient engagement and total health. It includes integrating non-drug approaches, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, with standard medical treatment. The bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in October, and was signed into law by the president on Oct. 30.

Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act (HR 1812) – This legislation extends readjustment counseling and related mental health services to non-combat veterans. These benefits are now available to National Guard and Reserve troops whose service includes fighting national disasters and other emergency and crisis situations. Introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) on March 18, 2019, this bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in September, and was signed by the president on Oct. 20.

A bill to nullify the Supplemental Treaty Between the United States of America and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of Indians of Middle Oregon, concluded on Nov. 15, 1865 (S 832) – This bill nullifies the supplemental treaty between the United States and this particular tribe in Middle Oregon, which was signed in 1865. The treaty restricted the tribe members from leaving the reservation, among other conditions. The Department of the Interior has stated that the treaty was never enforced by the federal government or Oregon. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on March 19, 2019, passed in both Houses, and signed into law on Oct. 20.

Native American Business Incubators Program Act (S 294) – This bill establishes a grant program to provide business incubation and other business services to Native American entrepreneurs and businesses. It was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) on Jan. 31, 2019, passed in both Houses, and signed by the president on Oct. 20.

Dial 9-8-8 for a Mental Health Crisis; Enforcement Against Violence in the Native American Community; and Enhanced Protections for Veterans and Wildlife

National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 (S 2661) – Introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Oct. 22, 2019, this bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to designate 988 as the universal telephone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide access to competent, specialized services for high-risk populations such as LGBTQ youth; minorities; and people who live in rural areas. The Act was passed in the Senate in May, the House in September, and was signed into law on Oct. 17.

Savanna’s Act (S 227) – Named in memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a young woman brutally murdered in Fargo in 2017. This legislation addresses violence against the most vulnerable members of the Native American community via better response protocols for missing and murdered cases, and improved access to data and reporting statistics on missing and murdered native women. The Act was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Jan. 25, 2019. The bill passed in the Senate in March, the House in September, and was signed into law by the President on Oct. 10.

Not Invisible Act of 2019 (S 982) – This bill accompanies Savanna’s Act by authorizing coordination of efforts between the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reduce violent crime on Indian lands and against Indians. Specifically, the bill requires the joint commission to collaborate on prevention efforts, grants and programs related to missing Indians, and the murder and human trafficking of Indians.The bill was introduced by Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) on April 2, 2019. It passed in the Senate in March, the House in September and was signed into law by the President on Oct. 10.

Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 (S 1785) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on March 13, 2019. It is designed to improve transition assistance, mental health care, care for women veterans and telehealth care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among other provisions, this legislation requires the VA to submit a plan for mental health care for veterans during the first year after discharge or release from active military, naval or air service. It also mandates that the Department of Defense (DOD) and VA jointly review and report on the records of each former member of the Armed Forces who committed suicide within one year of separation in the prior five years before this bill was passed. The bill passed in the Senate in August, the House in September and was enacted on Oct. 17.

America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S 3051) – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) on Dec. 12, 2019, this legislation aims to restore wetlands and wildlife populations. Specifically, the bill reauthorizes funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) at $60 million a year until 2025. The NAWCA includes a voluntary matching grant provision that receives a $3 match from program partners, such as Ducks Unlimited, for every dollar spent by the federal government. Since first enacted in 1989, The NAWCA has conserved more than 30 million acres and created an average of 7,500 new jobs a year. This bill has passed in the House and the Senate and is awaiting the President’s signature.

Space Weather Forecasting, New Safety and Transparency Reporting Guidelines, Paying to Charge Federal Electric Vehicles, and a Plan to Celebrate Route 66

PROSWIFT Act (S 881) – This Act was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on March 26, 2019. The legislation is designed to improve understanding and forecasting of weather events in space. The bill details provisions designed to improve the ability of the United States to both forecast and mitigate the effects of space weather. The bill designates the National Science and Technology Council’s Space Weather Operations, Research, and Mitigation Working Group as the authority to direct other agency initiatives. The bill establishes a pilot program to enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enter into contracts with the commercial sector to provide space weather data, in adherence to certain standards. The bill passed in the Senate in July and in the House in September, and is currently waiting to be enacted by the President.

CHARGE Act (S 2193) – This bill requires the General Services Administration to issue a charge card to federal agencies in order to pay for charging up federal electric motor vehicles at commercial charging stations. The bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on July 19, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in November 2019 and in the House on Sept. 14, 2020. It is currently awaiting signature by the President.

PIPES Act of 2020 (S 2299) – This bill would amend title 49 of the United States Code to enhance the safety and reliability of pipeline transportation. It was introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) on July 25, 2019, passed in the Senate on Aug. 6, 2020. It is currently in the House for consideration. This bill would fund appropriations through the fiscal year 2023 to address pipeline safety and infrastructure as authorized under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.

Microloan Transparency and Accountability Act of 2020 (HR 6078) – Introduced by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) on March 4, this legislation modifies disbursement and reporting protocols for certain financial assistance by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Specifically, the bill establishes a technical assistance grant of 5 percent for intermediaries who issue 25 percent of their loans to rural small businesses. The legislation also requires the SBA to report, among other metrics, the number, amount, and percentage of such loans that went into default in the previous year; the number of microloans issued to small businesses in rural areas; and the average size, rate of interest and amount of fees charged for each microloan. This bill passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is in the Senate for consideration.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2020 (HR 4894) – Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced this legislation on Oct. 29, 2019. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to make many of the budget justification materials submitted to Congress also available to the public. The legislation passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is now in the Senate for consideration.

Route 66 Centennial Commission Act (S 1014) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on April 3, 2019. It establishes a Route 66 Centennial Commission and specifies the duties of the commission, including membership, powers, reporting requirements, and a termination date of no later than June 30, 2027. The intent is to honor U.S. Route 66 on the occasion of its centennial anniversary in 2026. This bill passed in the Senate on Aug. 10 and goes to the House next for consideration. A similar bill (HR 66: Route 66 Centennial Commission Act) was introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and passed in the House in February 2019, giving the current Senate bill a high probability of making it into law.

Supporting Veteran Careers, Protecting the Food Supply, and Reducing Wasted Government Spending

Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (S 153) – This bill encourages veterans to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields in a variety of ways, including making veterans eligible for certain National Science Foundation (NSF) programs. The Act directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to improve veteran and military spouse representation in STEM fields, and authorizes funding for the Government Accountability Office to study 1) the academic success rates of student veterans pursuing an undergraduate degree in STEM and related fields; and 2) the barriers faced by such students in pursuing such degrees. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (D-FL) on Jan. 16, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in December, the House in January, and was signed into law by the president on Feb. 11.

Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 (S 2107) – This legislation directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire and train more agricultural inspectors at land, air and sea ports to prevent African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases from entering the United States. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). It was introduced on July 11, 2019, passed the Senate (October) and then House (February) and is currently waiting to be signed by the president.

Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 (S 375) – This bipartisan bill is designed to reduce federal government waste in the form of overpayments, underpayments, payments made to ineligible recipients or payments that are not properly documented. It authorizes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish pilot programs to test potential accountability mechanisms for compliance requirements, such as updating a plan to improve the integrity and usage of Social Security death data. The Act was introduced on Feb. 7, 2019, by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE); it passed the Senate in July, the House in February and is currently waiting to be enacted.

Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 (S 394) – This law requires eligible presidential candidates (as of September of an election year) to develop and release transition team ethics plans, including how they will address their own conflicts of interest, prior to election day. It also is designed to focus a transitioning government on ongoing issues in the public interest during the changeover so that priorities are not shifted to solely address those of special interest lobbyists. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Feb.7, 2019, was passed by the Senate in August and the House in February. It is awaiting signature by the president.

United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (HR 5340) – Introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), this legislation represents the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. This bill passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the president on Jan. 29. Mexico has also signed the agreement. However, Canada is still in the process of getting it ratified through Parliamentary procedures.

PIRATE Act (HR 583) – This bill dramatically increases the fine for operating a “Pirate Radio” station, in which people set up their own stations outside the official Federal Communications Commission (FCC) system. The maximum fine increases from $19,639 to $100,000 per day, with a maximum total fine capped at $2 million, up from $147,290. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) in January 2019. It passed in the House in February 2019 and in Senate in January 2020. The bill was signed into law on Jan. 24.

Blocking Robocalls, Stepping Up Suicide Prevention for Vets, and Appropriating Funds for a New Space Force

Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (S 151) – Approximately 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year, a 22 percent increase over 2018. That works out to an average of 178.3 robocalls per person, per year. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this law was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. The legislation requires that phone companies ensure all calls come from real numbers, do not charge extra to block robocalls, and authorize government regulators to punish scammers with fines of up to $10,000 per call. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ); it was signed into law by the president on Dec. 30, 2019.

Building Blocks of STEM Act (S 737) – This bill modifies National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs that support STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to promote the role of teachers and caregivers in encouraging participation by female students in STEM activities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the development of gender-inclusive computer science enrichment programs in pre-kindergarten through elementary school. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). It was introduced on March 11, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 24.

Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act (HR 2333) – This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators. The bill responds to reports that coordinators are overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities, particularly in light of the recent increase in veteran suicides. The Act was introduced on April 18, 2019, by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY); it passed the House in May, the Senate in December and was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 1865) – This annual appropriations bill sets government spending limits for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020). Among a myriad of provisions, the bill extends funding for various health-related programs; deters pharmaceutical companies from blocking lower-cost generic alternatives from entering the marketplace; and repeals the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plans, the medical device excise tax, and the health insurance fee that was initially imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the bill was passed by the House and Senate in mid-December and signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2019.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – This $738 billion defense bill authorizes fiscal year 2020 appropriations and policies for the Department of Defense. Provisions include authorization for a sixth, stand-alone branch of the U.S. military service (Space Force); guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; allows for Liberian nationals living in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure to apply for permanent residency; funding for improvements to military housing and health care; funding to purchase 60 F-35s for the Air Force; and a dictate that prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it maintains a Russian-made missile system. Note that passage of this bill does not provide budget appropriations, which is authorized in subsequent legislation. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 17, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

FUTURE Act (HR 5363) – This bill permanently authorizes funding for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and increases appropriations for Pell Grants. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) on Dec. 9, 2019, passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019.

The “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” Act of 2019 (SECURE Act) (12/2019)

The “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” Act (SECURE Act), part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 1865, P.L. 116-94), was enacted on December 20, 2019. The SECURE Act expands opportunities for individuals to increase their savings, and makes administrative simplifications to the retirement system.

Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act)

 

Key provisions affecting individuals:

Repeal of the maximum age for traditional IRA contributions.

Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions were not allowed once the individual attained age 70½. Starting in 2020, the new rules allow an individual of any age to make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long as the individual has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self-employment.

Required minimum distribution age raised from 70½ to 72.

Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from their plan by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70½. The age 70½ requirement was first applied in the retirement plan context in the early 1960s and, until recently, had not been adjusted to account for increases in life expectancy.

For distributions required to be made after Dec. 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70½ after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plan or IRA is increased from 70½ to 72.

Partial elimination of stretch IRAs.

For deaths of plan participants or IRA owners occurring before 2020, beneficiaries (both spousal and nonspousal) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the beneficiary s life or life expectancy (in the IRA context, this is sometimes referred to as a “stretch IRA”).

However, for deaths of plan participants or IRA owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most nonspouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within ten years following the plan participant s or IRA owner s death. So, for those beneficiaries, the “stretching” strategy is no longer allowed.

Exceptions to the 10-year rule are allowed for distributions to (1) the surviving spouse of the plan participant or IRA owner; (2) a child of the plan participant or IRA owner who has not reached majority; (3) a chronically ill individual; and (4) any other individual who is not more than ten years younger than the plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancy (as allowed under the rules in effect for deaths occurring before 2020).

Expansion of Section 529 education savings plans to cover registered apprenticeships and distributions to repay certain student loans.

A Section 529 education savings plan (a 529 plan, also known as a qualified tuition program) is a tax-exempt program established and maintained by a state, or one or more eligible educational institutions (public or private). Any person can make nondeductible cash contributions to a 529 plan on behalf of a designated beneficiary. The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free. Distributions from a 529 plan are excludable up to the amount of the designated beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses.

Before 2019, qualified higher education expenses didn’t include the expenses of registered apprenticeships or student loan repayments.

But for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2018 (the effective date is retroactive), tax-free distributions from 529 plans can be used to pay for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated beneficiary s participation in an apprenticeship program. In addition, tax-free distributions (up to $10,000) are allowed to pay the principal or interest on a qualified education loan of the designated beneficiary, or a sibling of the designated beneficiary.

Kiddie tax changes for gold star children and others.

In 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA, P.L. 115-97), which made changes to the so-called “kiddie tax,” which is a tax on the unearned income of certain children. Before enactment of the TCJA, the net unearned income of a child was taxed at the parents’ tax rates if the parents’ tax rates were higher than the tax rates of the child.

Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the taxable income of a child attributable to net unearned income is taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. Children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income also have a reduced exemption amount under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules.

There had been concern that the TCJA changes unfairly increased the tax on certain children, including those who were receiving government payments (i.e., unearned income) because they were survivors of deceased military personnel (“gold star children”), first responders, and emergency medical workers.

The new rules enacted on Dec. 20, 2019, repeal the kiddie tax measures that were added by the TCJA. So, starting in 2020 (with the option to start retroactively in 2018 and/or 2019), the unearned income of children is taxed under the pre-TCJA rules, and not at trust/estate rates. And starting retroactively in 2018, the new rules also eliminate the reduced AMT exemption amount for children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income.

Penalty-free retirement plan withdrawals for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child.

Generally, a distribution from a retirement plan must be included in income. And, unless an exception applies (for example, distributions in case of financial hardship), a distribution before the age of 59-1/2 is subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount includible in income.

Starting in 2020, plan distributions (up to $5,000) that are used to pay for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child are penalty-free. That $5,000 amount applies on an individual basis, so for a married couple, each spouse may receive a penalty-free distribution up to $5,000 for a qualified birth or adoption.

Taxable non-tuition fellowship and stipend payments are treated as compensation for IRA purposes.

Before 2020, stipends and non-tuition fellowship payments received by graduate and postdoctoral students were not treated as compensation for IRA contribution purposes, and so could not be used as the basis for making IRA contributions.

Starting in 2020, the new rules remove that obstacle by permitting taxable non-tuition fellowship and stipend payments to be treated as compensation for IRA contribution purposes. This change will enable these students to begin saving for retirement without delay.

Tax-exempt difficulty-of-care payments are treated as compensation for determining retirement contribution limits.

Many home healthcare workers do not have taxable income because their only compensation comes from “difficulty-of-care” payments that are exempt from taxation. Because those workers do not have taxable income, they were not able to save for retirement in a qualified retirement plan or IRA.

For IRA contributions made after Dec. 20, 2019 (and retroactively starting in 2016 for contributions made to certain qualified retirement plans), the new rules allow home healthcare workers to contribute to a retirement plan or IRA by providing that tax-exempt difficulty-of-care payments are treated as compensation for purposes of calculating the contribution limits to certain qualified plans and IRAs.

Key provisions affecting employer-provided retirement plans:

Unrelated employers are more easily allowed to band together to create a single retirement plan.

A multiple employer plan (MEP) is a single plan maintained by two or more unrelated employers. Starting in 2021, the new rules reduce the barriers to creating and maintaining MEPs, which will help increase opportunities for small employers to band together to obtain more favorable investment results, while allowing for more efficient and less expensive management services.

New small employer automatic plan enrollment credit.

Automatic enrollment is shown to increase employee participation and higher retirement savings. Starting in 2020, the new rules create a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. The credit is in addition to an existing plan start-up credit, and is available for three years. The new credit is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with an automatic enrollment design.

Increase credit for small employer pension plan start-up costs.

The new rules increase the credit for plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set up retirement plans. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit on the credit to the greater of (1) $500, or (2) the lesser of: (a) $250 multiplied by the number of nonhighly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or (b) $5,000. The credit applies for up to three years.

Expand retirement savings by increasing the auto enrollment safe harbor cap.

An annual nondiscrimination test called the actual deferral percentage (ADP) test applies to elective deferrals under a 401(k) plan. The ADP test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or non-elective contributions under either of two safe harbor plan designs and meets certain other requirements. One of the safe harbor plans is an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan.

Starting in 2020, the new rules increase the cap on the default rate under an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan from 10% to 15%, but only for years after the participant’s first deemed election year. For the participant’s first deemed election year, the cap on the default rate is 10%.

Allow long-term part-time employees to participate in 401(k) plans.

Currently, employers are generally allowed to exclude part-time employees (i.e., employees who work less than 1,000 hours per year) when providing certain types of retirement plans—like a 401(k) plan—to their employees. As women are more likely than men to work part-time, these rules can be especially harmful for women in preparing for retirement.

However, starting in 2021, the new rules will require most employers maintaining a 401(k) plan to have a dual eligibility requirement under which an employee must complete either a one-year-of-service requirement (with the 1,000-hour rule), or three consecutive years of service where the employee completes at least 500 hours of service per year. For employees who are eligible solely by reason of the new 500-hour rule, the employer will be allowed to exclude those employees from testing under the nondiscrimination and coverage rules, and from the application of the top-heavy rules.

Loosen notice requirements and amendment timing rules to facilitate adoption of nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor plans.

The actual deferral percentage nondiscrimination test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or nonelective contributions under either of two plan designs (referred to as a “401(k) safe harbor plan”), as well as certain required rights and features, and satisfies a notice requirement. Under one type of 401(k) safe harbor plan, the plan either (1) satisfies a matching contribution requirement, or (2) provides for a nonelective contribution to a defined contribution plan of at least 3% of an employee’s compensation on behalf of each nonhighly compensated employee who is eligible to participate in the plan.

Starting in 2020, the new rules change the nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor to provide greater flexibility, improve employee protection, and facilitate plan adoption. The new rules eliminate the safe harbor notice requirement, but maintain the requirement to allow employees to make or change an election at least once per year. The rules also permit amendments to nonelective status at any time before the 30th day before the close of the plan year. Amendments after that time are allowed if the amendment provides (1) a nonelective contribution of at least 4% of compensation (rather than at least 3%) for all eligible employees for that plan year, and (2) the plan is amended no later than the last day for distributing excess contributions for the plan year (i.e., by the close of following plan year).

Expansion of portability of lifetime income options.

Starting in 2020, the new rules permit certain retirement plans to make a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer to another employer-sponsored retirement plan, or IRA, of a lifetime income investment or distributions of a lifetime income investment in the form of a qualified plan distribution annuity, if a lifetime income investment is no longer authorized to be held as an investment option under the plan. This change permits participants to preserve their lifetime income investments and avoid surrender charges and fees.

Qualified employer plans barred from making loans through credit cards and similar arrangements.

After Dec. 20, 2019, plan loans may no longer be distributed through credit cards or similar arrangements. This change is intended to ensure that plan loans are not used for routine or small purchases, thereby helping to preserve retirement savings.

Nondiscrimination rules modified to protect older, longer service participants in closed plans.

Starting in 2020, the nondiscrimination rules as they pertain to closed pension plans (i.e., plans closed to new entrants) are being changed to permit existing participants to continue to accrue benefits. The modification will protect the benefits for older, longer-service employees as they near retirement.

Plans adopted by filing due date for year may be treated as in effect as of close of year.

Starting in 2020, employers can elect to treat qualified retirement plans adopted after the close of a tax year, but before the due date (including extensions) of the tax return, as having been adopted as of the last day of the year. The additional time to establish a plan provides flexibility for employers who are considering adopting a plan, and the opportunity for employees to receive contributions for that earlier year.

New annual disclosures required for estimated lifetime income streams.

The new rules (starting at a to-be-determined future date) will require that plan participants’ benefit statements include a lifetime income disclosure at least once during any 12-month period. The disclosure will have to illustrate the monthly payments the participant would receive if the total account balance were used to provide lifetime income streams, including a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the participant and the participant s surviving spouse and a single life annuity.

Fiduciary safe harbor added for selection of annuity providers.

When a plan sponsor selects an annuity provider for the plan, the sponsor is considered a plan “fiduciary,” which generally means that the sponsor must discharge his or her duties with respect to the plan solely in the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries (this is known as the “prudence requirement”).

Starting on Dec. 20, 2019 (the date the SECURE Act was signed into law), fiduciaries have an optional safe harbor to satisfy the prudence requirement in their selection of an insurer for a guaranteed retirement income contract, and are protected from liability for any losses that may result to participants or beneficiaries due to an insurer’s future inability to satisfy its financial obligations under the terms of the contract. Removing ambiguity about the applicable fiduciary standard eliminates a roadblock to offering lifetime income benefit options under a plan.

Increased penalties for failure-to-file retirement plan returns.

Starting in 2020, the new rules modify the failure-to-file penalties for retirement plan returns.

The penalty for failing to file a Form 5500 (for annual plan reporting) is changed to $250 per day, not to exceed $150,000.

A taxpayer’s failure to file a registration statement incurs a penalty of $10 per participant per day, not to exceed $50,000.

The failure to file a required notification of change results in a penalty of $10 per day, not to exceed $10,000.

The failure to provide a required withholding notice results in a penalty of $100 for each failure, not to exceed $50,000 for all failures during any calendar year.

 

Protecting TV Viewers, Whistleblowers and Supreme Court Justices; New Status Provisions for Immigrant Workers; and OTC Drugs

Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019 (HR 4258) – This bill reauthorizes the Marshal of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Police to protect the Justices of the Supreme Court, their employees and official guests outside of the Supreme Court grounds. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ). It was introduced on Sept. 9, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Nov. 27, 2019.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (HR 5038) – This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for terms and conditions for nonimmigrant workers performing agricultural labor. Under this law, certified agricultural worker (CAW) status may be granted to someone who 1) performed at least 1,035 hours of agricultural labor during the two-year period prior to Oct. 30, 2019, 2) was inadmissible or deportable on that date, and 3) has been continuously present in the United States from that date until receiving CAW status. The CAW status is valid for five and a half years with the option to extend, and the Department of Homeland Security may grant dependent status to the spouse or children of a principal alien. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Nov. 12, 2019, and passed in the House in December 2019. It is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (HR 5035) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Doyle Jr. (D-PA) on Nov. 12, 2019, passed in the House of Representatives and currently awaits review in the Senate. The legislation would ban hidden fees from cable providers by requiring them to disclose all itemized charges, fees and estimated taxes in the total price before a consumer signs up for a video package (whether offered individually or as part of a bundle). The bill also would give customers the right to cancel service without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing the service plan.

The Over-the-Counter Monograph Safety, Innovation and Reform Act (S 2740) – Introduced on Oct. 30, 2019, by Sen. John Isakson (R-GA), this bill would add new incentives to the FDA’s process for approving drugs that do not require a prescription. It would allow an over-the-counter drug manufacturer to request 18 months of exclusivity upon FDA approval for products that are new to the OTC market. The application would require a user fee ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of OTC product. This legislation passed the Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and is currently under consideration in the House.

Engineering Biology Research and Development Act of 2019 (HR 4373) – This bill would establish a federal engineering biology research initiative to bolster U.S. leadership in engineering biology, among other provisions. The bill was introduced on Sept. 18, 2019, by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) and passed the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently in the Senate.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act (HR 4713) – Following the emergence of whistleblowers worried about their civil rights, this legislation would give the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office new authority to ensure that the rights of individuals subject to its programs and activities are protected. Specifically, the bill would allow each Homeland Security department to appoint its own civil rights and liberties officer and grant them the authority to access all relevant department records, as well as subpoena non-federal entities. The bill was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and passed in the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.