THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 27, 2018

Jul 29, 2018

In this issue: 

More time, more workers - US Workforce Act is law

FY19 CW permit window opens

H.R. 6578: status for legacy workers

House okays Tinian divert $51M

Military gets H2B exemptions

Speaking up for the Marianas

Fixing a pension crisis

Encouraging students to code

Marianas in Aim Higher Act

Working for those who work

Yes, it's Shark Week

Dems intro VAWA reauthorization

$2.7M for Saipan, Rota airports

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

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More time, more workers - US Workforce Act is law

The Marianas economy will have access to foreign labor for 10 more years and new protections for U.S. workers and local businesses under terms of the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act. The President signed the Act on Tuesday evening. U.S. Public Law 115-218 provides 13,000 Marianas-only CW visas beginning in fiscal year 2019. That is an increase of 8,001 over the 4,999 set by the Trump administration, which would have been a disaster for our economy. P.L. 115-218 also continues the bar on claims of asylum in the Marianas, without which there would be no parole for Chinese tourists, who make up almost half of all arrivals.

I drafted the Workforce Act, together with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and a working group of congressional offices. We incorporated ideas from many hours of listening sessions with constituents in the Marianas and policies agreed last year in my Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act, Public Law 115-53. [See, Kilili thanks Governor for support of H.R. 339] The US Workforce Act also benefited from a decade of experience here in the congressional office, helping individuals solve problems created by U.S. Public Law 110-229, which first put the Marianas under federal immigration control. A special thanks to Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who helped get the bill over the goal line in the House and to Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who worked with us in the final minutes of Senate passage. And thanks to the President for signing.

FY19 CW permit window reopens

Enactment of the U.S. Workforce Act had immediate impact. An additional 8,001 CW permits for FY19 are now available, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Wednesday, the day after the Act became law. The notice was posted online, while I met with USCIS officials at their office to go over fine points of the implementation process. The Workforce Act resets the FY19 CW cap to 13,000, one more than in FY16. Employers who had applications rejected because of the previous USCIS cap of 4,999 may now apply again. Employers must use the new CW application issued in May; and pay a new $50 anti-fraud fee, in addition to the regular application costs. Other new requirements of US Public Law 115-218, including the preference for renewal applications, will not go into effect until next year. For now, applications are strictly first-come, first-served; so, it would be wise not to wait to apply. Employers should review the announcement for guidance and additional information.

H.R. 6578: status for legacy workers

On Thursday I introduced H.R. 6578, the Northern Mariana Islands Workforce Stabilization Act to make long-term CW workers eligible for permanent status in the Marianas, and after five years, status as U.S. lawful permanent residents. Our new U.S. Workforce Act, U.S. Public Law 115-218, defines “long-term workers” as those who held CW permits for all of the last four years: FY15, 16, 17, and 18. Under the new law, they will be eligible for 3-year permits beginning in FY20. But H.R. 6578 goes farther. My bill gives these legacy workers permanent status. They will not need CW permits; and they and their families can become full members of our community. I have been working towards this goal since 2011, when I introduced H.R. 1466 and brought it to the House floor. Opposition from the CNMI government blocked the bill. I was able to include it, however, in the comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed in 2013.

We have to look forward. Over the next ten years, PL 115-218 gradually decreases the number of CW permits. My Workforce Stabilization Act helps us prepare for that reduction. It also extends permanent status to foreign investors, originally allowed into the Marianas under CNMI law, who now hold U.S. E-2C visas and who remain important to our economy.  H.R. 6578 has 18 cosponsors.

House okays Tinian divert $51M

The conference report to accompany the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 passed the House Thursday authorizing $50.7 million for Air Force divert airfield projects on Tinian. $46 million is for construction of a cargo pad with taxiway extension and $4.7 million for a maintenance facility north of the Tinian airport. Section 2863 of the conference report maintains the requirement in the House version of the NDAA for the Defense Secretary to set up an Economic Adjustment Committee to report on public infrastructure projects needed to support proposed military activities in the Northern Marianas. This would allow Commonwealth officials and the Defense Department to identify investments in civilian infrastructure improvements. In all, the 2019 NDAA authorizes $717 billion for defense spending Congress would then decide whether to fund these projects. The bill also raises military pay by 2.6 percent and increases troop levels across the Armed Forces by about 16,000. The NDAA conference report now heads to the Senate. 

Military gets H2B exemption

Also included in the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act is a provision that would make it easier for employers in Guam and the Northern Marianas to hire certain construction workers and health professionals under the H2B category.  Section 1045 would exempt construction workers working on military buildup activities from the H2B requirement that jobs be “temporary-in-nature.” Health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, working at facilities serving the military would receive the same exemption through 2023. H2B visas issued under this provision would be valid for up to 3 years. The exemption becomes effective upon enactment of the NDAA.

Marianas in Aim Higher Act

On Thursday, Democrats on the Education and the Workforce Committee introduced our new vision for higher education, including my provision covering Northern Marianas College graduates. The Aim Higher Act, H.R.6543, ensures that every student in our country can graduate from college or technical school debt-free. My section of the bill would give NMC graduates with an Associates degree access to in-state tuition rates at public colleges in all states and territories. In contrast to the Democratic vision of free college for all, Committee Republicans have put forward a bill that cuts $15 billion from federal student aid and shifts federal dollars toward predatory, low-quality, for-profit programs. But they have been unable to secure enough support for a floor vote for these bad ideas, even though they are in the majority. Looking ahead to the prospect of a Democratic majority in the next Congress, the Aim Higher Act demonstrates that we believe in expanding educational opportunities for students everywhere in America—including the Marianas.

Dems introduce VAWA reauthorization

The Violence Against Women Act has been critical to strengthening the response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in our islands. That is why I signed on this week as an original cosponsor of H.R. 6545, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018. The bill responds to the needs of all victims regardless of gender, age, race or religion, by enhancing law enforcement tools, and improving programs and services for victims and their families. VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2018 is supported by the National Task Force To End Sexual and Domestic Violence, a collaboration of national, tribal, state, territorial, and local organizations and advocates. The last VAWA reauthorization in 2013 included my language that doubled Sexual Assault Services Program funding for the Marianas.

$2.7M for Saipan, Rota airports

The Commonwealth Ports Authority is receiving three grants totaling $2,688,597 the U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Friday. One grant is for the Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International Airport in Rota and two are for the Francisco C. Ada International Airport in Saipan. Congratulations to CPA.

  • $500,000 will fund an update to the existing airport master plan to show current and future needs of the airport on Rota. Funding is for the final phase of the project consisting of an aeronautical survey.
  • $1,188,597 to replace three passenger loading bridges to improve operational efficiency and meet passenger needs at the Saipan airport.
  • $1,000,000 to update the existing airport master plan study to show current and future needs of the Saipan airport.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 6199 – Restoring Access to Medication and Modernizing Health Savings Accounts Act of 2018 (Passed, 277-142)
  • H.R. 6311 – Increasing Access to Lower Premium Plans and Expanding Health Savings Accounts Act of 2018 (Passed, 242-176)
  • H.R. 184 – Protect Medical Innovation Act of 2017 (Passed, 283-132)
  • H.R. 959 – Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1676 – Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3728 – EMPOWER Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2345 – National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 (Passed, 379-1)
  • H.R. 3994 – ACCESS BROADBAND Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4881 – Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018 (Passed, 378-4)
  • House Amendment to S. 1182 – National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2018 (Passed, 366-52)
  • S. 2245 – KIWI Act (Agreed to by voice vote)

Legislation I Sponsored

  • H.R.6578 – To amend section 6 of the Joint Resolution entitled A Joint Resolution to approve the Covenant To Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America, and for other purposes

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 6609 – To amend title 46, United States Code, to reauthorize the port security grant program, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 6545 – To reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 6543 – To amend and strengthen the Higher Education Act of 1965 so that every student has a path to a quality, debt-free degree or credential that leads to a rewarding career.

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.