Indy DC Download: The House approved debt collection and pregnant workers protection bills

Debt collectors would be barred from threatening to reduce the rank of military service members, and pregnant workers would see increased anti-discrimination protections under legislation approved by the House this week.

Votes on those bills came as the Senate remained focused on confirming President Joe Biden’s nominations, including Cynthia Marten to be deputy secretary of the Department of Education.

Marten had previously led the San Diego Unified School District since 2013.

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for Marten, who was confirmed on a 54 to 44 vote.

Nevada’s House members also have posted lists of projects they have identified for potential funding under the revamped earmark process, allowing members to direct funding to specific projects in their states. The House delegation is seeking a total of $104 million for 33 projects, including $54.5 million in transportation-related earmarks. Not all are expected to be funded as House leaders ease back into the practice.  

Earmarks were banned beginning in 2011, when Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) first became House speaker following a few high-profile scandals, including the construction of a bridge in Alaska that was dubbed “the bridge to nowhere.” 

House votes

The House last week approved the Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act on a 215 to 207 vote, with all but one House Democrat and no Republicans backing the bill.

Rep. Steve Horsford (D-NV) said the passage of the measure, which seeks to implement a series of consumer protections, comes at a time when debt collections have increased as a result of the pandemic. 

“This has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color in Nevada’s Fourth District,” Horsford said. “The Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act will protect small and minority-owned businesses, students with loans, consumers with medical debts, and servicemembers by reinforcing their rights and holding debt collectors accountable.” 

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) dismissed the bill as a partisan exercise. 

“It looks like an agenda bill,” Amodei said, as opposed to really helping improve the debt collection process.

Among the reforms implemented by the bill are an end to the practice of collectors threatening to reduce a military servicemember’s rank, revoke security clearance or prosecute under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Other provisions would ban confessions of judgment, sometimes included in small business loan contracts, requiring a borrower to give up certain rights in court before obtaining a loan. The bill also would prohibit debt collectors from collecting medical debt for two years after the debt is incurred, and from contacting consumers by email or text message without a consumer’s consent. It also would limit debt collection fees.

The House also approved the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act 315 to 101. All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the bill. Amodei was among 99 Republicans to vote for the legislation. 

Amodei called the bill “a good deal.”

He also voted for the measure the last time the House took it up, in September, when he said he backed the bill because it is already the law in Nevada. 

The legislation would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue burden on the employer.

The House also approved a bill to require the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide best practices for schools to establish Behavioral Intervention Teams (BITs). Used by some schools and universities, BITs meet regularly to coordinate interventions for students who might need help. 

The bill was approved on a 323 to 93 vote under a suspension of the rules and received the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The vote split the state’s House delegation with Horsford and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) opposing the measure.

Titus’s office said her concern is that the bill, as currently written, could result in unnecessary interactions with law enforcement. 

“It could unnecessarily push students – especially students of color and children living with disabilities – into the juvenile justice system in situations where non-punitive interventions could be more effective,” her office said.

Horsford’s office raised similar concerns and said that the bill’s authors have pledged to work with them both to address their concerns. 

Earmarks

Two House committees have solicited earmarks. The Appropriation Committee sought earmarks for the fiscal 2022 budget, allowing House members to request up to ten projects for consideration to receive funds from certain pots of money.

The process requires members to certify that neither they, nor their families, would benefit financially from an earmarked project. 

The House Transportation Committee, working on a new surface transportation package, also collected funding requests.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will start taking earmark requests on June 16. 

Titus requested the most amount of money, $40.7 million, for 11 projects. That includes $20 million for four transportation projects. Her request also includes $15.3 million for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which is the most she sought for a single project and the second-highest amount sought for a project by anyone in the House delegation. 

The funds would be used to design and build a new facility and help expand the programs and services of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, which supports the victims of the 1 October shooting and other victims of crime. 

Amodei requested five transportation projects totaling $21 million, including $6 million for the Arlington Ave. bridge over the Truckee River in Reno. That bridge was among a list of 24 in his district deemed to be in poor condition by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report.”

He also requested $6 million for a hydrogen fuel cell bus project in Reno, $5 million to expand Coleman Rd. in Fallon, $2 million for improvements to State Road 28 in Washoe County and $2 million for William St. in Carson City.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) requested nearly $5 million for five projects. She only entertained requests made to her office from state and local governments and institutions of higher learning.

Her largest request was $2 million for the Henderson Workforce Training Center. The funds would be used to outfit the center with advanced manufacturing training equipment. The center received a nearly $7 million federal grant in February to help with construction costs, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. The center, affiliated with the College of Southern Nevada, will be a 25,000 square-foot facility designed to help build the state’s manufacturing workforce. 

Horsford requested a total of $37.6 million for 12 projects. Funding for ten of the projects was requested from the Appropriations Committee. The remaining two projects were transportation-related, totaling $13.5 million, and were requested from the transportation committee. He requested the most projects.  

His list included the largest request for a single project, $15.4 million, was to help Opportunity Village develop a 17.49-acre parcel of land in his district. The nonprofit plans to build a baked goods manufacturing facility and hydroponics/indoor farm that would provide vocational training and employment to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Southern Nevada.

Miscellany

Rosen announced that she will hold a hearing Tuesday in her Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion Subcommittee on reviving international travel and tourism. Witnesses will include Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation at McCarran International Airport. The hearing will be Rosen’s second in her new post.

All members of the delegation also introduced legislation last week to extend the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. The law, which provided $415 million to protect the lake and the Tahoe Basin over seven years, was reauthorized in 2016 and doesn’t expire until 2024. But that reauthorization came after a six-year gap following  the program’s expiration in 2010. The region’s lawmakers don’t want to risk another lapse, they said, so they introduced the measure a few years ahead of the 2024 expiration.

“Lake Tahoe is a treasure that provides a beautiful refuge for Nevadans to enjoy while boosting our state’s tourism economy,” Cortez Masto said in a release. “This legislation has helped fund numerous restoration and conservation projects while supporting local jobs.”

Also, last week, Horsford was appointed to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees military policy in the lower chamber. 

“This appointment will create new opportunities for my office to advocate for military families and veterans and push for the high-quality health care, education, child care, and additional support they deserve,” Horsford said.

His district includes Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, the Nevada Test and Training Range and Hawthorne Army Depot.

Amodei introduced legislation that seeks to ease the federal permitting process for domestic mineral exploration and the development of critical and strategic minerals.

“By streamlining the permitting process, this legislation will decrease our dependency on foreign sources of minerals and allow us to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources while paying respect to economic, national security, and environmental concerns,” Amodei said.

Last week also saw the Treasury Department release guidance on how state and local governments can spend $350 billion in pandemic aid, which included allowing states to make up for lost revenue and fund water and broadband infrastructure projects. The Treasury barred state and local governments from funding tax cuts. 

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.1638 – A bill to protect immigrant families, combat fraud, promote citizenship, and build community trust, and for other purposes.

S.1583 – A bill to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1587 – A bill to allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1651 – A bill to impose certain measures with respect to Hizballah-affected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean and to impose sanctions with respect to senior foreign political figures in Latin America who support Hizballah, and for other purposes.

S.1583 – A bill to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

S.1574 – A bill to codify a statutory definition for long-term care pharmacies.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3166 – To make demonstration grants to eligible local educational agencies or consortia of eligible local educational agencies for the purpose of increasing the numbers of school nurses in public elementary schools and secondary schools.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3122 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to expand parental leave for members of the Armed Forces, to reduce the service commitment required for participation in the career intermission program of a military department, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3121 – To expand child care opportunities for members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3097 – To amend titles 23 and 49, United States Code, to require metropolitan planning organizations to consider greenhouse gas emissions in long-range transportation plans and transportation improvement programs, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3093 – To provide assistance to the hotel industry, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3088 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to ensure that all firearms are traceable, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3101 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the firearm transfer tax, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3080 – To protect law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3079 – To amend title 18, United States Code, to punish criminal offenses targeting law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3155 – To allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3180 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide an elective payment for energy property and electricity produced from certain renewable resources, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.