THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - November 9, 2017

Nov 13, 2017

In this issue:


Vets Committee wants islands reports

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs must report on how it provides hospital care, medical, mental health, and geriatric services to veterans in the Marianas and other U.S. insular areas under terms of my amendment to the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee agreed to my amendment on Wednesday during mark-up of the bill. Originally limited to Pacific veterans in the Marianas, American Samoa, and Guam, I revised my amendment at the request of Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico) to include her district and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. The required report will give Congress a roadmap for removing barriers to access and providing our island veterans with quality VA care at home. At the mark-up, Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tennessee) talked about our meeting beforehand on this issue and reiterated his commitment to visit personally and see how veterans are faring throughout America. Last month, the Chairman agreed to hold a hearing in 2018 on helping insular veterans.

Investigating Agent Orange Sites

Responding to constituent concern about exposure to the Agent Orange defoliant widely used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War, in April I enlisted the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate. Representatives Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) joined me in the request. We want to know where the U.S. stored, transferred, and used Agent Orange or its components and of any associated site contamination. Last Friday, GAO affirmed their commitment to examine issues related to Agent Orange, including where it was located and its health and environmental risks. GAO expects their review to be completed by Spring 2018. Over 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were used during the war. It has been linked to serious health problems in veterans.

House, Senate agree defense bill

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees issued their conference report this afternoon reconciling between the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018. The bill, H.R. 2810, now goes to the House and the Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber. Among provisions of particular interest to the Marianas:

  • Unlimited H visas safe
  • $12.9M for Tinian divert 
  • Palau agreement approved 

- Unlimited H visas safe

After intervention by the congressional office, a technical error in the Senate version of the 2018 NDAA, threatening the Marianas’ unlimited access to foreign workers using H visas, has been corrected. H visas are used for temporary and seasonal workers in various categories, including professional occupations, agriculture, or construction. In addition to preserving the Marianas’ exemption from the numerical limit on H visas that applies nationwide and is usually oversubscribed the 2018 NDAA creates a new subcategory of the H-2B visa and allows up to 4,000 for services or labor directly associated with the military build-up. This provision only applies to the Northern Marianas if and when the current immigration transition period ends and the Commonwealth government agrees on terms of the build-up.

- $12.9M for Tinian divert

The conference report also includes an additional $12.9 million for the Air Force divert airfield project on Tinian. Together with $9 million that Congress authorized in the 2017 NDAA, a total of $21.9 million is now available to lease the additional 142 hectares on the north side of Tinian airport needed for the divert project. The decision to site the divert fieldand support facilities on Tinian was made last December with the approval of Tinian leadership and Governor Torres and my support.

- Palau agreement approved

After a seven-year wait, the agreement to extend Palau’s  Compact of Free Association through 2024 will finally be approved when the conference report is enacted into law. I have been an outspoken proponent of the strategic importance of Palau to the United States and of the need to keep America’s commitment to this trusted ally. In April, my bill to extend the Compact, H.R. 2085, passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously; and the extension of the Compact has now been included in the larger, must-pass NDAA.

Prevailing wage study now in use

The Commonwealth’s 2016 Prevailing Wage and Workforce Study is now in use by the U.S. Department of Labor for making prevailing wage determinations for H-1B, H-1B1, E-3, and H-2B visas, or permanent labor certification programs. I received confirmation of this in a letter today from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Nancy M. Rooney. Prevailing wage certifications are required to ensure that foreign workers entering under these visa categories are not competing unfairly with U.S. workers or driving down wages by working for less than is generally paid for a particular job in a particular geographic location.






On the Floor

  • H.R. 3441 — Save Local Business Act (Passed, 242 - 181)
  • H.R. 2201 — Micro Offering Safe Harbor Act (Passed, 232-188)
  • H.R. 3043 — Hydropower Policy Modernization Act (Passed, 257 - 166)
  • H.R.3705 — Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act of 2017 (Passed, 422-0)
  • H.R. 1066 — VA Management Alignment Act of 2017 (Passed, 399-0)
  • H.R. 3122 — Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 918 — Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1133 — Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2123 — VETS Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2601 — VICTOR Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3634 — SERVE Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3562 — To amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to furnish assistance for adaptations of residences of veterans in rehabilitation programs under chapter 31 of such title, and for other purposes (Passed, 400-0)
  • H.R. 3949 — VALOR Act (Agreed to by by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4173 — Veterans Crisis Line Study Act of 2017 (Passed, 420-0)
  • H.R. 3911 — Risk-Based Credit Examination Act (Passed, 389 - 32)
  • H.R. 2148 — Clarifying Real Estate Loans (Agreed to by voice vote)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.4198 — Security and Financial Empowerment Act of 2017
  • H.R.4242 — VA Care in the Community Act


On the Floor

  • H.R. 4243 — VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017
  • Conference report to accompany H.R. 2810 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018
  • H.R. 3739 – Presidential Allowance Modernization Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3973 – Market Data Protection Act of 2017
  • H.R. 2331 – Connected Government Act
  • H.R. 3071 – Federal Acquisition Savings Act of 2017

Committee Activity

Tuesday, November 14

  • Committee on Natural Resources oversight hearing titled “Examining Challenges in Puerto Rico’s Recovery and the Role of the Financial Oversight and Management Board"

Wednesday, November 15

  • Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor” with the Honorable R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing