January’s Congressional Wrap Up

2019-02-19T16:35:32+00:00 February 19, 2019|
(Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

(Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What Passed

The 116th Congress began on January 3, 2019, during a partial government shutdown. The shutdown ended after 35 days on January 25, 2019 when the president signed a continuing resolution (CR) (H.J. Res. 28; P.L. 116-5), which includes funding for critically important science agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to extend fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding levels, and reopen the government through February 15. The final FY 2019 appropriations bills (H.R. Res. 31) were signed into law on February 15.

What’s New

The start of the new Congress brought a surge of new legislation focusing on coastal management. A series of bills introduced in the House were directed at flood insurance, including the Flood Insurance Rate Map Interagency Technology (FIRM IT) Act of 2019 (H.R. 342) and the Taxpayer Exposure Mitigation Act (H.R. 471). The Federally Integrated Species Health (FISH) Act (H.R. 548) would consolidate the management and regulation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) entirely within the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The ESA is currently administered by both the FWS, under the Department of the Interior, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), under the Department of Commerce. The FWS holds primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife, such as whales and anadromous fish, like salmon. Legislation to establish measures to combat invasive lionfish (H.R. 417) was also introduced.

Several new bills to close the coasts of New England (H.R. 287); the north, mid-, and south Atlantic (H.R. 291); Florida (H.R. 286); and California (H.R. 279) to offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration were introduced. Additionally, a bill requiring the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study on the economic and environmental risks to the Great Lakes from oil spills or leaks was introduced in the House (H.R. 795).

Bills supporting career and professional development and safety for scientists was a theme in Congress. Bipartisan, bicameral legislation, the Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2019 (H.R. 539 and S. 118) would require the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop an Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program providing formal training to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other researchers to pursue careers in business. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act in 2019 (H.R. 36), similar to legislation introduced in the 115th Congress, would establish an interagency working group with representatives from each federal science agency led by the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The working group is tasked with expanding research efforts to better understand the factors contributing to sexual harassment in the scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce; developing an inventory of sexual harassment policies at federal science agencies; and then using it to develop a uniform set of policy guidelines.

What’s Next

Once FY 2019 appropriations bills for the remaining unfunded federal agencies have been signed into law, appropriators will begin working to write and pass appropriations bills for FY 2020. The president’s budget request, which is the first step of this process, is expected to be released in March, although the Office of Management and Budget has yet to confirm a release date.

We’ve updated our legislative tracker! Check it out for more detail on each bill, including information on sponsors, cosponsors, committee referrals, and more.

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